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MIME (Multi-Purpose Internet Mail Extensions)

Contributor(s): Lawrence T. Hoff, Christian Kirsch, and Frank Norman

What is MIME?

MIME (Multi-Purpose Internet Mail Extensions) is an extension of the original Internet e-mail protocol that lets people use the protocol to exchange different kinds of data files on the Internet: audio, video, images, application programs, and other kinds, as well as the ASCII text handled in the original protocol, the Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP). In 1991, Nathan Borenstein of Bellcore proposed to the IETF that SMTP be extended so that Internet (but mainly Web) clients and servers could recognize and handle other kinds of data than ASCII text. As a result, new file types were added to "mail" as a supported Internet Protocol file type.

Servers insert the MIME header at the beginning of any Web transmission. Clients use this header to select an appropriate "player" application for the type of data the header indicates. Some of these players are built into the Web client or browser (for example, all browsers come with GIF and JPEG image players as well as the ability to handle HTML files); other players may need to be downloaded.

New MIME data types are registered with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

MIME is specified in detail in Internet Request for Comments 1521 and 1522, which amend the original mail protocol specification, RFC 821 (the Simple Mail Transport Protocol) and the ASCII messaging header, RFC 822.

This was last updated in September 2005

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