Why can't you send email to a Chinese address?


We all know what an email address looks like and how to validate them, right?

A few years ago I got the Chinese domain name 莎士比亚.org. You can browse to it, link to it, and send email to it. Or can you?

When I tried two years ago, none of the major email providers supported sending to non-ASCII email addresses.

Today, I tried again with six of the big "Western" webmail providers. How did they do?

Show Me The Data!

I tested by trying to send an email to [email protected]莎士比亚.org and the Punycode representation [email protected]

[email protected]莎士比亚.org [email protected]
Gmail
Outlook
Yahoo
iCloud
OWA
FastMail

Winners!

Both Gmail and Outlook failed the last time I tried them - I'm very pleased to say that both of them now support sending to Chinese addresses.

One strange thing to note, when looking through Outlook's message details, I found this example of Mojibake.
Outlook showing encoding errors, mangling up the email address

Losers!

Yahoo

The biggest loser is Yahoo. Very strange considering Jerry Yang, their founder, is Taiwanese-American. Even stranger given Yahoo's continued dealings with China.

The Yahoo webmail portal simply wouldn't let me send to a Chinese domain name.

Yahoo unable to send a message to a Chinese email address

The Punycode representation appeared to send but immediately failed.

Yahoo unable to send a message to a Chinese email address

iCloud

Apple's much-vaunted "It Just Works" philosophy obviously doesn't extend to International email addresses. It accepted the Punycode but gave this delightful error message on the Chinese domain.

iCloud showing a delivery failure notification

OWA

Microsoft's Outlook Web Access got very confused and tried to look up the email address in the local directory.

Outlook Web Access showing no match found

Errr?

⭐ FastMail

Lots of people recommended that I try Fastmail - it really didn't like the look of the Chinese domain and painted it with a red error colour. That said, it sent the email without further complaint.

Fastmail apparently showing that the email address is invalid

What about a Chinese Local-Part?

Email is a venerable protocol. That's a polite way of saying it is old and outdated. The local-part of the email address ([email protected]) is generally restricted to a handful of 7 Bit ASCII characters. None of the email providers I tried would let me sign up with a Chinese name. So no 你好@yahoo.com for me!

But what happens if you're foolish enough to try to send an email to 你好@莎士比亚.org?

Well you'll probably get this error message:

Technical details of permanent failure: local-part of envelope RCPT address contains utf8 but remote server did not offer SMTPUTF8

In 2012, RFC 6531 defined how International Email Addresses should work. Over four years later and support is still not widespread.

It's 2016 and the majority of the world can't send an email to their preferred name.

3 thoughts on “Why can't you send email to a Chinese address?

  1. 你好 Terence! Interesting experiment. You would think that with China being such a big market they would get their act together and make email that actually works with Chinese characters. Is this the same problem with Japanese or Korean?

  2. Terence - There is now an email service that offers and supports internationalized email addresses in 12 languages, including Chinese. See http://datamail.in or http://电邮.在线

    This has all happened recently. I registered the Chinese email 小山@电邮.在线 with DataMail. I have successfully exchanged emails between my Chinese DataMail address and my ASCII gmail address. I have had this email address for less than 2 weeks.

    Additional info at https://schappo.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/chinese-email-address.html

    André Schappo

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