IMAP MOVE extension (imapmove)

Last modified: 2013-01-20


Applications Area Directors

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Description of Working Group:

The Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), defined in RFC 3501, specifies a protocol for transferring email messages between a server that implements a message store, and a client. It also includes commands for manipulating the message store -- creating, deleting, and renaming mailboxes, adding a message to a mailbox, and copying messages from one mailbox to another.

It's often the case that an IMAP client needs to move (not copy) messages from one mailbox to another. The mechanism that IMAP provides to do that is a multi-step process:

  1. Copy the messages from the source mailbox to the target mailbox.
  2. Flag the original messages in the source mailbox as deleted.
  3. Expunge the deleted messages from the source mailbox.

Implementors have long pointed out some shortcomings with this approach. Because the moving of a message is not an atomic process, interruptions can leave messages in intermediate states. Because multiple clients can be accessing the mailboxes at the same time, clients can see messages in intermediate states even without interruptions. If the source mailbox contains other messages that are flagged for deletion, the third step can have the side effect of expunging more than just the set of moved messages. And servers with certain types of back-end message stores might have efficient ways of moving messages, which don't involve actual copying of data. Such efficiencies are often not available to the copy/flag/expunge process.

The IMAP MOVE extension (imapmove) working group has the single task of developing an IMAP MOVE extension that defines a single command to move a set of messages from a source mailbox to a target mailbox in a single operation. The group will use draft-gulbrandsen-imap-move as a starting point, and will produce a Standards Track document.

As part of the protocol development, implementation experience on both the client and server side is highly desireable, so that the actual operational value of this extension can be assessed. The working group will document the results of this experience on the working group wiki.

No other IMAP extension work is in scope for this working group.

Goals and Milestones

Done Initial adoption of IMAP MOVE protocol document
Done Establishment of implementation tracking on the working group wiki
Done IMAP MOVE protocol document to IESG as Proposed Standard
Done Initial assessment of implementation results
Done Final report on implementation results:

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