Poor IDN Support From Major Webmail Providers


As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm sick of people not being able to spell or pronounce shkspr.mobi correctly. So I've decided to double down and start using my alternate domain 莎士比亚.org. It's pronounced "Sha-shi-bi-ya", if that helps.

Getting my email account set up with my hosting provider was easy enough but it turned out to be quite tricky to send email to my account.

This is what happened when I tried to send an email from Gmail to [email protected]莎士比亚.org:
GMail IDN Support

Error
The address "[email protected]莎士比亚.org" in the "To" field was not recognised

A Quick Bit of History

The Internet was build and designed for English speaking people. At its core, many systems only understand the Latin alphabet. Not the fancy Latin alphabet with exotic accents and symbols, mind, just A-Z, 0-9, and a handful of punctuation marks. There simply isn't the capability to do "foreign" characters.

As non-English speakers began to use the Internet, they wanted methods to read and write addresses in their own languages - not an unreasonable desire!

Thus was born "Punycode" - a method to turn non-English characters into something the infrastructure could understand.

For example, 莎士比亚.org is rendered in Punycode as xn--jlq54w7ypemw.org. You don't have to understand how it works - just accept that it does 🙂

I tried the four most popular free email providers to see if their interfaces would accept the following email addresses as valid destinations:

[email protected]莎士比亚.org
[email protected]

The results were not encouraging.

Yahoo

Yahoo Email IDN-fs8

Outlook

Outlook IDN Test

The recipient's address can only contain letters (a-z or A-Z), numbers (0-9) and specific symbols (such as @). Please try again.

iCloud

Apple's iCloud was curious. It marked both the IDN and Punycode version in red to indicate that they were invalid. Yet the mail was allowed to send.
iCloud Test
However, it immediately failed with this error
iCloud IDN fail

Reason: syntax error; address contains 8bit characters

Now What?

Internationalised Domain Names have existed since 2010. With billions of people accessing the web from non-English speaking countries, it's essential that web services adapt to accept to serve their needs.

It's simply inexcusable to alienate so many potential users.

6 thoughts on “Poor IDN Support From Major Webmail Providers

  1. I still tend to stumble occasionally over old sendmail m4 configs where only the big seven TLDs are accepted ;-).

  2. As someone who can only just about manage to get by with English, do you have any tips or advice on getting an IDN?
    I'd like to get one for testing also but understand that I want to do more than just have an email address with an IDN recognised as valid. I want to make sure it can be successfully be used in all parts of a system and successfully send to such addresses.
    All help greatly appreciated.

    1. I registered mine with Vidahost (use code "edent" for a discount!) - but your current host or registrar should be able to register one for you.

      You are limited in the characters you can have - and some domains are more forgiving than others. For example, Dan Lane uses ☎.tk (that's the telephone symbol).

      Generally speaking, you can't mix languages - so you can't have Russian and Japanese in the same domain.

      I use Verisign to validate my Punycode, but other services are available.

      Finally, some registrars have very strict registration rules. I wasn't able to register a .中国 (Chinese) domain because I couldn't prove I had the rights to the trademark for "Shakespeare".

          1. Had some issues but some help from Dan at Vidahost helped sort things out. With the intention of deliberately picking things that will be awkward for other people, I got матт.com (yes, that's Cyrillic) and mrläcey.com (because umlauts are easy for people to miss).

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