|Introduction | Sustainability Factors | Content Categories | Format Descriptions | Contact|
|Full name||MBOX Email Format|
MBOX (sometimes known as Berkeley format) is a generic term for a family of related file formats used for storing collections of electronic mail messages. MBOX formats store all of the messages of an entire folder (not an entire mailbox) in a single database file and new messages are appended to the end of the file. Each message is immediately prefaced by a separation line and terminated by an empty line. Only the the first message in an MBOX database file will only be prefaced by a separator line, while every other message will begin with two end-of-line sequences (one at the end of the message itself, and another to mark the end of the message within the MBOX database file stream) and a separator line (marking the new message). The end of the database file is implicitly reached when no more message data or separator lines are found.
A message encoded in MBOX format begins with a "From " line, continues with a series of non-"From " lines, and ends with a blank line. A "From " line means any line in the message or header that begins with the five characters 'F', 'r', 'o', 'm', and ' ' (space). The "From " line structure is From sender date moreinfo:
After the "From " line is the message itself in RFC 5322 format. The final line is a completely blank line with no spaces or tabs.
There are four variants of MBOX: MBOXO, MBOXRD, MBOXCL and MBOXCL2. The four versions all build on the common MBOX structure and are differentiated primarily by changes to the "From " line and and the use of the "Content Length:" field in the message header in determining the start of a new message within the aggregated file. Moreover, the versions and tool sets for one version are not necessary compatible with one another. See General section for incompatibility details.
MBOX files also include the message attachments, if any, in their original MIME format.
|Relationship to other formats|
|Defined via||IMF, Internet Mail Format|
|Has subtype||MBOXO, MBOXO Email Format|
|Has subtype||MBOXRD, MBOXRD Email Format|
|Has subtype||MBOXCL, MBOXCL Email Format|
|Has subtype||MBOXCL2, MBOXCL2 Email Format|
|LC experience or existing holdings|
|Disclosure||There is no authoritative specification aside from RFC 4155. Its subtypes are partially documented and there is variation within the subtypes.|
|Documentation||Information available from a number of sources including RFC 4155, and Qmail.org.|
Prom reports that, while not a native format for many proprietary clients, MBOX (and EML) has "achieved a certain status as de facto standards because most modern email clients and servers can import and export one or both of the formats" including Thunderbird, Apple Mail, Outlook and Eudora. In addition, external programs such as Aid4Mail, Emailchemy and Xena can convert between the two formats and numerous proprietary formats. Once in an MBOX or EML format, the data can be parsed into XML using standardized schemas such as the Email Account Schema defined in the CERP project.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses the CERP-developed toolset to normalize messages to MBOX before converting to XML. The ePADD project developed at Stanford University Libraries ingests only MBOX or IMAP accounts. Native or normalized MBOX files also can be used as access copies because they can be imported into a variety of email clients.
|Licensing and patents||[Unknown, probably none].|
|Transparency||Text processing tools can be readily used on the plain text files used to store the email messages.|
The message structure helps declare the subtype but there’s a lot of variation even within the established patterns.
|Technical protection considerations||None|
||MBOX database files sometimes have an "mbox" extension, but according to the specification, this is not required nor expected.|
|Internet Media Type||application/mbox
||Not registered in IANA but listed in RFC 4155|
|Magic numbers||Not applicable.||
MBOX database files, which are the focus of this document, do not have a magic number. As described in RFC 4155, MBOX database files can be recognized by having a leading character sequence of "From" followed by a single Space character (0x20), followed by additional printable character data. Gary Kessler states that MBOX TOC files, which act as an index to the MBOX database file, have the magic number 00 0D BB A0, followed by four bytes which appear to be the number of e-mails in the associated MBOX file. Comments welcome.
|Wikidata Title ID||Q285972
Jonathan de Boyne Pollard describes the many incompatibilities among the MBOX formats:
Wikipedia reports that "different MBOX formats use various mutually incompatible mechanisms to enable message file locking, including fcntl(), lockf(), and "dot locking" which are problematic in network mounted file systems, such as the Network File System (NFS). Because more than one message is stored in a single file, some form of file locking is needed to avoid the corruption that can result from two or more processes modifying the mailbox simultaneously. This could happen if a network email delivery program delivers a new message at the same time as a mail reader is deleting an existing message. MBOX files should be locked also while they are being read. Otherwise the reader may see corrupted message contents if another process is modifying the mbox at the same time, even though no actual file corruption occurs."
Because MBOX stores the contents of an entire folder in one file, the size of the MBOX single file can become exceedingly large. Any corruption in the file may affect the ability of certain clients to access individual messages or even the entire folder.
The naming scheme was developed by Daniel J. Bernstein, Rahul Dhesi, and others in 1996. Each version originated from a different version of Unix.