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Standards Review and Recommendation Publication 

SRRPUB12 – E-Mail and Document Interchange Guidelines


Revised August 28, 2002 Version 1.5

Standards Review and Recommendations Publications (SRRPUB) are issued by the Department of Information Resources (DIR). They are intended to be used as guidance by Texas state agencies and institutions of higher education and do not mandate any particular action.

Introduction

The Legislature passed several bills that addressed the availability of government information in electronic format, require agencies and universities to use e-mail to communicate with the public, and facilitate accessibility.

The Legislature passed several bills that addressed the availability of government information in electronic format, require agencies and universities to use e-mail to communicate with the public, and facilitate accessibility.

The State Strategic Plan for Information Resources Management provides a mission and vision along with goals and objectives for the use of technology and provision of public services for the people of Texas. In support of these initiatives, this SRRPUB addresses standards for E-Mail systems and document interchange between and among state agencies and the public.

Status of E-Mail and Related Standards

DIR staff monitor industry trends and track the status of standards being developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and other standards bodies and organizations. The standards for interoperability between TCP/IP based E-Mail systems and document interchange are currently robust and should be used by agencies when purchasing or upgrading current office automation systems.

"Groupware" standards and technology build on the interoperability between E-Mail /document interchange, to include other office systems: scheduling (calendar), voice mail, and FAX. However, the standards for groupware and demonstrated interoperability between vendor products may take another 12-18 months. SRRPUB12 will be updated as the other standards mature and vendors have implemented the standards in products. Specifying a set of standards that meet agency operational requirements allows for interoperability from multiple vendors, and getting the best price through competitive negotiations. The basic messaging capabilities should support:

  • Reliable delivery of mail
  • Easy & reliable attachment support

Internet Transport standards

Standards can assist in building a messaging architecture that is reliable, scaleable, and cost effective. These include:

  • Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP) backbone
  • Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) attachment support
  • Post Office Protocol (POP) delivery
  • Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) delivery

The most current version of each of the above standards is available through the IETF Website. The Internet Mail Consortium (IMC) also tracks the development and interoperability of Internet mail standards. A current list of RFCs and Internet Drafts can be found at http://www.imc.org/mail-standards.html.

Mail Attachments and Interoperability

Attaching a document to an E-Mail message has been one way to share information between and among state agencies and the public. However, government entities should consider the audience and potential for making information widely available via the Web. SRRPUB11 provides guidelines for publishing information using HTML and the Web. HTML is well suited for hypertext, multimedia, and the display of small and reasonably simple documents. HTML is based on the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for defining and using document formats. The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) is currently working with ISO and other standards organizations on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) as a data format for structured document interchange on the Web. If documents are made available via the Web, then an E-Mail message announcing a new document or a response to a specific request would only contain the location or Uniform Resource Locator (URL), not the document itself. This process has several advantages:

  • increases access by other government entities and the public
  • decreases the data/packet transmission overhead especially when sending to multiple addressees
  • facilitates compliance with the State Publication Depository Program and the Texas Records and Information Locator (TRAIL) program

In all other cases, where the information must be attached to a message, the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) standards should be followed. The MIME standards include:

  • RFC 2045, specifies the various headers used to describe the structure of MIME messages.
  • RFC 2046, defines the general structure of the MIME media typing system and defines an initial set of media types.
  • RFC 2047, describes extensions to RFC 822 to allow non-US-ASCII text data in Internet mail header fields.
  • RFC 2048, specifies various Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) registration procedures for MIME-related facilities.
  • RFC 2049, describes MIME conformance criteria as well as providing some illustrative examples of MIME message formats, acknowledgments, and the bibliography.

Document Types and Interoperability

In addition to selecting e-mail systems that support the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) standards, word processing and other application specific software (e.g., spreadsheet, presentation) require additional consideration. The most basic transfer is ASCII text files, however this form of conversion and exchange could limit the use of the information by the receiving individual/organization. Converting a text based document to ASCII will only impact formatting, converting a complex document with tables or objects could render the document useless. Attempting to attach a document using the latest version of the application can also limit use by the receiving individual/organization.

Most applications have a "save as" function which allows a file to be saved as an older version that can be converted/opened by different vendor applications (e.g., it is not advisable to try exchanging Word documents created with Office 97 with anyone who does not have the exact same software version. However, the file could be saved as a Word 6.0 or older version, or a WordPerfect file format). In all cases the sender should allow the application to set the file extension format (e.g., .doc, .wpd, .xls, pdf) as unique file extensions can have an adverse effect on the file transfer or conversion.

The other option is to convert the file to the Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF). The Acrobat Reader can be downloaded for free, and files can be printed or viewed in their original format. While formatting is retained, the text is not searchable. The originator of the document should first check the Acrobat "Read Me" file for any known problems with specific applications. Additional information can be obtained from the Adobe Acrobat Website.

Recommendations

  1. DIR recommends that all Texas state government agencies implement/transition to systems that comply with the above standards for interoperability between E-Mail systems and document interchange.
  2. Agencies should consider publishing documents on a Website to increase access to government information and services.