I'm running into a problem with a NAGIOS system sending emails to a popular email-to-SMS service. The email-to-SMS service takes emails with text in the Subject: line, and sends them on to the mobile number encoded in the To: field. So far so good. Sadly, sendmail (and postfix before it) seem to be inserting a gratuitous CRLF into the (necessarily long) Subject: line, and that's causing my SMS messages to be truncated at the CRLF if and only if the Subject: line contains one or more colons past the gratuitous CRLF.

I am confident that the messages are being created correctly, but just to be sure, here's me creating a completely noddy test message to myself, with a long Subject: line:

echo "foo" | mail -s "1234567 101234567 201234567 301234567 401234567 501234567 601234567 701234567 801234567 90123456789" reaper@teaparty.net

Note there's no extra colon in this Subject: line; all I'm doing here is showing that an extra CRLF is inserted on the wire. Here's the result of sudo ngrep -x port 25:

44 61 74 65 3a 20 46 72    69 2c 20 33 31 20 4d 61    Date: Fri, 31 Ma
79 20 32 30 31 33 20 31    30 3a 34 33 3a 35 35 20    y 2013 10:43:55
2b 30 31 30 30 0d 0a 54    6f 3a 20 72 65 61 70 65    +0100..To: reape
72 40 74 65 61 70 61 72    74 79 2e 6e 65 74 0d 0a    r@teaparty.net..
53 75 62 6a 65 63 74 3a    20 31 32 33 34 35 36 37    Subject: 1234567
20 31 30 31 32 33 34 35    36 37 20 32 30 31 32 33     101234567 20123
34 35 36 37 20 33 30 31    32 33 34 35 36 37 20 34    4567 301234567 4
30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37    20 35 30 31 32 33 34 35    01234567 5012345
36 37 0d 0a 20 36 30 31    32 33 34 35 36 37 20 37    67.. 601234567 7
30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37    20 38 30 31 32 33 34 35    01234567 8012345
36 37 20 39 30 31 32 33    34 35 36 37 38 39 0d 0a    67 90123456789..
55 73 65 72 2d 41 67 65    6e 74 3a 20 48 65 69 72    User-Agent: Heir
6c 6f 6f 6d 20 6d 61 69    6c 78 20 31 32 2e 34 20    loom mailx 12.4
37 2f 32 39 2f 30 38 0d    0a 4d 49 4d 45 2d 56 65    7/29/08..MIME-Ve
72 73 69 6f 6e 3a 20 31    2e 30 0d 0a 43 6f 6e 74    rsion: 1.0..Cont
65 6e 74 2d 54 79 70 65    3a 20 74 65 78 74 2f 70    ent-Type: text/p
6c 61 69 6e 3b 20 63 68    61 72 73 65 74 3d 75 73    lain; charset=us

About half way down (marked in bold+italic), between the 501234567 and the 601234567 in the original Subject: header, you can see a CRLF being inserted (0x0d 0x0a, on the left-hand side hex dump, .. on the right-hand side plain text).

The receiving MTA seems happy to post-process this, and when I look at the on-disc stored mail at the receiving end, I see only a LF (0x0a) in the Subject: line, and the line is parsed correctly and in its entirety by, eg, alpine. Nevertheless, the CRLF is there on the wire, and between me and the (excellent) email-to-SMS support people, we've established that these are the cause of the problem.

So my question is: is it lawful for an MTA to insert a gratuitous CRLF on the wire?

If it is, and I can prove it, then it's the email-to-SMS house's problem, because they are being intolerant. If it isn't, or it is but I can't prove it, then it becomes my problem, so an answer with references would be most useful.

Edit: I can now come clean that the email-to-SMS service in question is kapow. Once this problem was explained to them, they got it, worked with me to develop and test a fix, and have deployed the fix. My long subject lines with colons in now get relayed correctly into SMSes. I don't normally trumpet individual companies, especially not on SF, but I thought it worthy of note that kapow Did The Right Thing. (Disclaimer: I have no connection with kapow except as a paying customer who's happy about the way they dealt with his problem.)


Well, if I understand RFC 822, they are legal in certain cases, I think it's an artifact from the days of small screens with 24x80 resolutions..

These sections seem to be fairly clear Subjects can be folded, and folding is a CRLF plus LWSP(linear white space) character.. it's possible they've been supeseded, Wietse (on the postfix lists) knows his RFCs inside out if you want a definitive answer.


    Each header field can be viewed as a single, logical  line  of
    ASCII  characters,  comprising  a field-name and a field-body.
    For convenience, the field-body  portion  of  this  conceptual
    entity  can be split into a multiple-line representation; this
    is called "folding".  The general rule is that wherever  there
    may  be  linear-white-space  (NOT  simply  LWSP-chars), a CRLF
    immediately followed by AT LEAST one LWSP-char may instead  be
    inserted.  Thus, the single line

        To:  "Joe & J. Harvey" <ddd @Org>, JJV @ BBN

    can be represented as:

        To:  "Joe & J. Harvey" <ddd @ Org>,


        To:  "Joe & J. Harvey"
                        <ddd@ Org>, JJV


        To:  "Joe &
         J. Harvey" <ddd @ Org>, JJV @ BBN

         The process of moving  from  this  folded   multiple-line
    representation  of a header field to its single line represen-
    tation is called "unfolding".  Unfolding  is  accomplished  by
    regarding   CRLF   immediately  followed  by  a  LWSP-char  as
    equivalent to the LWSP-char.

    Note:  While the standard  permits  folding  wherever  linear-
           white-space is permitted, it is recommended that struc-
           tured fields, such as those containing addresses, limit
           folding  to higher-level syntactic breaks.  For address
           fields, it  is  recommended  that  such  folding  occur
           between addresses, after the separating comma.


    Once a field has been unfolded, it may be viewed as being com-
    posed of a field-name followed by a colon (":"), followed by a
    field-body, and  terminated  by  a  carriage-return/line-feed.
    The  field-name must be composed of printable ASCII characters
    (i.e., characters that  have  values  between  33.  and  126.,
    decimal, except colon).  The field-body may be composed of any
    ASCII characters, except CR or LF.  (While CR and/or LF may be
    present  in the actual text, they are removed by the action of
    unfolding the field.)

    Certain field-bodies of headers may be  interpreted  according
    to  an  internal  syntax  that some systems may wish to parse.
    These  fields  are  called  "structured   fields".    Examples
    include  fields containing dates and addresses.  Other fields,
    such as "Subject"  and  "Comments",  are  regarded  simply  as
    strings of text.

    Note:  Any field which has a field-body  that  is  defined  as
           other  than  simply <text> is to be treated as a struc-
           tured field.

           Field-names, unstructured field bodies  and  structured
           field bodies each are scanned by their own, independent
           "lexical" analyzers.


    For some fields, such as "Subject" and "Comments",  no  struc-
    turing  is assumed, and they are treated simply as <text>s, as
    in the message body.  Rules of folding apply to these  fields,
    so  that  such  field  bodies  which occupy several lines must
    therefore have the second and successive lines indented by  at
    least one LWSP-char.

Edit by the questioner: I hope NickW will forgive me for adding a note to the effect that RFC822 has been obsoleted by RFC2822, but the new RFC says pretty much the same thing in its section 2.2.3, and explicitly confirms that such folding should be removed before any further processing is done:

Each header field is logically a single line of characters comprising the field name, the colon, and the field body. For convenience however, and to deal with the 998/78 character limitations per line, the field body portion of a header field can be split into a multiple line representation; this is called "folding". The general rule is that wherever this standard allows for folding white space (not simply WSP characters), a CRLF may be inserted before any WSP. For example, the header field:

       Subject: This is a test

can be represented as:

       Subject: This
        is a test

Note: Though structured field bodies are defined in such a way that folding can take place between many of the lexical tokens (and even within some of the lexical tokens), folding SHOULD be limited to
placing the CRLF at higher-level syntactic breaks. For instance, if a field body is defined as comma-separated values, it is recommended that folding occur after the comma separating the structured items in preference to other places where the field could be folded, even if it is allowed elsewhere.

The process of moving from this folded multiple-line representation of a header field to its single line representation is called "unfolding". Unfolding is accomplished by simply removing any CRLF that is immediately followed by WSP. Each header field should be treated in its unfolded form for further syntactic and semantic evaluation.

This is not to detract from the fact that NickW unerringly pointed me at pretty much exactly what I needed to know, only to help this answer stay relevant for anyone who might stumble across it in the future.

  • I'm certainly not offended :) – NickW Jun 4 '13 at 8:24

Sendmail server (SendMail) imposes SMTP line length limits but it is much higher (990 bytes or more for smtp mailers).

SendMail != SendEmail

As I understand Nagios uses by default SendEmail client to send emails. It seems that email client you make Nagios use imposes such "harsh" limits on length of email header/subject line.

Check and report email client configured in commands.cfg configuration file.
(notify-host-by-email and notify-service-by-email settings).

  • I know about the line length issue, and the L=/F=L parameters, and I agree with you that this isn't the issue. My NAGIOS is sending just using echo "" | mail -s "$VARIABLE$ $ANOTHERVAR$" - but in any case, the issue is more profound than that, which is why I quoted the simple mail-based example above - to take NAGIOS out of the picture. – MadHatter May 31 '13 at 13:38

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