Internet > Email > Advanced use >

Text Standard Format (TSF)

Date: Thu, 8 Jul 1993 18:00:51 -0700
From: postel (Jon Postel)
To: iab, iesg
Subject: Handling PostScript RFCs
Cc: rfc-editor
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is now the policy of the RFC Editor to publish the ASCII form of an RFC first. If the author wishes to subsequently submit a postscript version of the document that matches the ASCII version, that may be done. The RFC Editor will post the postscript version in the master RFC repository and alert the primary repositories to the existence of the postscript version.

It must be remembered that the ASCII version is the official version, and that a postscript version is a secondary version.

- Jon Postel; Handling PostScript RFCs; 8 Jul 1993.

You can format the text of a message so that it won't get messed up when it is forwarded around the Internet.

The formatting of an email or newsgroup posting can get messed up after several replies or forwards due to the insertion of indentation characters at the beginning of each line, elongating them until they get cut again, making them difficult to read for you and others. What might appear to start as a heart touching lesson in the wisdom of life, after four or five cycles, begins to look like an advanced test in message decryption.

You can greatly reduce the chances of your messages being messed up by putting them in Text Standard Format (TSF), a bare bones style that doesn't depend on non-text features such as line wrap, bolding, list numbering, or special characters. As described in the email at the top of this page, the Request For Comments series that documents the Internet's technical development has been released in a text-only format for decades. The first RFC 1 from 7 April 1969, contains some great examples of text-only graphics, and recent RFC's often contain similar constructions, showing how the simplest of communications technologies can be used to describe the most advanced.

When putting a message into TSF, you should perform the conversion once at the end of your composition, since it is difficult to edit once you have manually cut the line lengths. Typically you would go to this kind of effort only for important messages when you suspect it will be forwarded more than once.

To convert text to TSF, the first step is to manually add carriage returns to ensure that each line is under 70 characters to avoid truncations during later processing. The following procedure describes a fast and relatively exact method:

  1. Go to the top of the text and type the numbers 1 through 0 on a line by itself, like the following:
       1234567890
    Then select the string, copy it, and then paste it seven times to create a ruler of seventy characters like the following:
       1234567890123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890

  2. Go through the text from top to bottom and add manual carriage returns at the end of every line (usually with <shift+enter>) to ensure all of the lines are shorter than the 70 character line.

At seventy characters or less, the lines are short enough to pass through most email programs and mailing list software with enough room for addition of a forward character or two without being messed up. If you think your email will get forwarded more than twice, you can perform the procedure with a 60 character line, maximizing the chances of surviving at least five cycles.

To complete the process of converting your message to TSF, you can add the usual typographical flourishes by manually centering headings with spaces, underlining text with dashes on a separate line, numbering sections manually, and using dashes, small 'o's, and other characters for bullets, as shown in the example below. This kind of formatting works well, among other reasons, because indent spaces align the same in any font.


         Text Standard Format
         ====================

         1.0   Section One
         -----------------

         Text neutral formats:

         a.  Bullet one of the list
             with manual line break.

             -   Level two bullet 1.
             -   Level two bullet 2.

                 o   Level three bullet.
                 o   Another level 3 bullet.

         b.  Second level one bullet.

         c.  Three level one bullets.

Resources. The following resource provides more information about email and text formatting:

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