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MIME::Head - MIME message header (a subclass of Mail::Header)


Before reading further, you should see MIME::Tools to make sure that you understand where this module fits into the grand scheme of things. Go on, do it now. I'll wait.

Ready? Ok...


    ### Create a new, empty header, and populate it manually:
    $head = MIME::Head->new;
    $head->replace('content-type', 'text/plain; charset=US-ASCII');
    $head->replace('content-length', $len);

    ### Parse a new header from a filehandle:
    $head = MIME::Head->read(\*STDIN);

    ### Parse a new header from a file, or a readable pipe:
    $testhead = MIME::Head->from_file("/tmp/test.hdr");
    $a_b_head = MIME::Head->from_file("cat a.hdr b.hdr |");


    ### Output to filehandle:

    ### Output as string:
    print STDOUT $head->as_string;
    print STDOUT $head->stringify;

Getting field contents

    ### Is this a reply?
    $is_reply = 1 if ($head->get('Subject') =~ /^Re: /);

    ### Get receipt information:
    print "Last received from: ", $head->get('Received', 0);
    @all_received = $head->get('Received');

    ### Print the subject, or the empty string if none:
    print "Subject: ", $head->get('Subject',0);

    ### Too many hops?  Count 'em and see!
    if ($head->count('Received') > 5) { ...

    ### Test whether a given field exists
    warn "missing subject!" if (! $head->count('subject'));

Setting field contents

    ### Declare this to be an HTML header:
    $head->replace('Content-type', 'text/html');

Manipulating field contents

    ### Get rid of internal newlines in fields:

    ### Decode any Q- or B-encoded-text in fields (DEPRECATED):

Getting high-level MIME information

    ### Get/set a given MIME attribute:
    unless ($charset = $head->mime_attr('content-type.charset')) {
        $head->mime_attr("content-type.charset" => "US-ASCII");

    ### The content type (e.g., "text/html"):
    $mime_type     = $head->mime_type;

    ### The content transfer encoding (e.g., "quoted-printable"):
    $mime_encoding = $head->mime_encoding;

    ### The recommended name when extracted:
    $file_name     = $head->recommended_filename;

    ### The boundary text, for multipart messages:
    $boundary      = $head->multipart_boundary;


A class for parsing in and manipulating RFC-822 message headers, with some methods geared towards standard (and not so standard) MIME fields as specified in the various Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions RFCs (starting with RFC 2045)


Creation, input, and output


Class method, inherited. Creates a new header object. Arguments are the same as those in the superclass.


Instance method.

Returns true if this header has any the following properties:

    More than one Content-Type, Content-ID, Content-Transfer-Encoding or Content-Disposition header.

    A Content-Type or Content-Disposition header contains a repeated parameter.

Messages with ambiguous content should be treated as a security risk. In particular, if MIME-tools is used in an email security tool, ambiguous messages should not be delivered to end-users.

from_file EXPR,OPTIONS

Class or instance method. For convenience, you can use this to parse a header object in from EXPR, which may actually be any expression that can be sent to open() so as to return a readable filehandle. The "file" will be opened, read, and then closed:

    ### Create a new header by parsing in a file:
    my $head = MIME::Head->from_file("/tmp/test.hdr");

Since this method can function as either a class constructor or an instance initializer, the above is exactly equivalent to:

    ### Create a new header by parsing in a file:
    my $head = MIME::Head->new->from_file("/tmp/test.hdr");

On success, the object will be returned; on failure, the undefined value.

The OPTIONS are the same as in new(), and are passed into new() if this is invoked as a class method.

Note: This is really just a convenience front-end onto read(), provided mostly for backwards-compatibility with MIME-parser 1.0.


Instance (or class) method. This initializes a header object by reading it in from a FILEHANDLE, until the terminating blank line is encountered. A syntax error or end-of-stream will also halt processing.

Supply this routine with a reference to a filehandle glob; e.g., \*STDIN:

    ### Create a new header by parsing in STDIN:

On success, the self object will be returned; on failure, a false value.

Note: in the MIME world, it is perfectly legal for a header to be empty, consisting of nothing but the terminating blank line. Thus, we can't just use the formula that "no tags equals error".

Warning: as of the time of this writing, Mail::Header::read did not flag either syntax errors or unexpected end-of-file conditions (an EOF before the terminating blank line). MIME::ParserBase takes this into account.

Getting/setting fields

The following are methods related to retrieving and modifying the header fields. Some are inherited from Mail::Header, but I've kept the documentation around for convenience.


Instance method, inherited. Add a new occurrence of the field named TAG, given by TEXT:

    ### Add the trace information:
               'from by with smtp');

Normally, the new occurrence will be appended to the existing occurrences. However, if the optional INDEX argument is 0, then the new occurrence will be prepended. If you want to be explicit about appending, specify an INDEX of -1.

Warning: this method always adds new occurrences; it doesn't overwrite any existing occurrences... so if you just want to change the value of a field (creating it if necessary), then you probably don't want to use this method: consider using replace() instead.

count TAG

Instance method, inherited. Returns the number of occurrences of a field; in a boolean context, this tells you whether a given field exists:

    ### Was a "Subject:" field given?
    $subject_was_given = $head->count('subject');

The TAG is treated in a case-insensitive manner. This method returns some false value if the field doesn't exist, and some true value if it does.

decode [FORCE]

Instance method, DEPRECATED. Go through all the header fields, looking for RFC 1522 / RFC 2047 style "Q" (quoted-printable, sort of) or "B" (base64) encoding, and decode them in-place. Fellow Americans, you probably don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Europeans, Russians, et al, you probably do. :-).

This method has been deprecated. See "decode_headers" in MIME::Parser for the full reasons. If you absolutely must use it and don't like the warning, then provide a FORCE:

          Just shut up and do it.  Not recommended.
          Provided only for those who need to keep old scripts functioning.

          Just shut up and do it.  Not recommended.
          Provided for those who REALLY know what they are doing.

What this method does. For an example, let's consider a valid email header you might get:

    From: =?US-ASCII?Q?Keith_Moore?= <>
    To: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Keld_J=F8rn_Simonsen?= <>
    CC: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Andr=E9_?= Pirard <>
    Subject: =?ISO-8859-1?B?SWYgeW91IGNhbiByZWFkIHRoaXMgeW8=?=

That basically decodes to (sorry, I can only approximate the Latin characters with 7 bit sequences /o and 'e):

    From: Keith Moore <>
    To: Keld J/orn Simonsen <>
    CC: Andr'e  Pirard <>
    Subject: If you can read this you understand the example... cool!

Note: currently, the decodings are done without regard to the character set: thus, the Q-encoding =F8 is simply translated to the octet (hexadecimal F8), period. For piece-by-piece decoding of a given field, you want the array context of MIME::Words::decode_mimewords().

Warning: the CRLF+SPACE separator that splits up long encoded words into shorter sequences (see the Subject: example above) gets lost when the field is unfolded, and so decoding after unfolding causes a spurious space to be left in the field. THEREFORE: if you're going to decode, do so BEFORE unfolding!

This method returns the self object.

Thanks to Kent Boortz for providing the idea, and the baseline RFC-1522-decoding code.

delete TAG,[INDEX]

Instance method, inherited. Delete all occurrences of the field named TAG.

    ### Remove some MIME information:

Instance method, inherited. Get the contents of field TAG.

If a numeric INDEX is given, returns the occurrence at that index, or undef if not present:

    ### Print the first and last 'Received:' entries (explicitly):
    print "First, or most recent: ", $head->get('received', 0);
    print "Last, or least recent: ", $head->get('received',-1);

If no INDEX is given, but invoked in a scalar context, then INDEX simply defaults to 0:

    ### Get the first 'Received:' entry (implicitly):
    my $most_recent = $head->get('received');

If no INDEX is given, and invoked in an array context, then all occurrences of the field are returned:

    ### Get all 'Received:' entries:
    my @all_received = $head->get('received');

NOTE: The header(s) returned may end with a newline. If you don't want this, then chomp the return value.

get_all FIELD

Instance method. Returns the list of all occurrences of the field, or the empty list if the field is not present:

    ### How did it get here?
    @history = $head->get_all('Received');

Note: I had originally experimented with having get() return all occurrences when invoked in an array context... but that causes a lot of accidents when you get careless and do stuff like this:

    print "\u$field: ", $head->get($field);

It also made the intuitive behaviour unclear if the INDEX argument was given in an array context. So I opted for an explicit approach to asking for all occurrences.

Instance method, override. Print the header out to the given OUTSTREAM, or the currently-selected filehandle if none. The OUTSTREAM may be a filehandle, or any object that responds to a print() message.

The override actually lets you print to any object that responds to a print() method. This is vital for outputting MIME entities to scalars.

Also, it defaults to the currently-selected filehandle if none is given (not STDOUT!), so please supply a filehandle to prevent confusion.


Instance method. Return the header as a string. You can also invoke it as as_string.

If you set the variable $MIME::Entity::BOUNDARY_DELIMITER to a string, that string will be used as line-end delimiter. If it is not set, the line ending will be a newline character (\n)

unfold [FIELD]

Instance method, inherited. Unfold (remove newlines in) the text of all occurrences of the given FIELD. If the FIELD is omitted, all fields are unfolded. Returns the "self" object.

MIME-specific methods

All of the following methods extract information from the following fields:


Be aware that they do not just return the raw contents of those fields, and in some cases they will fill in sensible (I hope) default values. Use get() or mime_attr() if you need to grab and process the raw field text.

Note: some of these methods are provided both as a convenience and for backwards-compatibility only, while others (like recommended_filename()) really do have to be in MIME::Head to work properly, since they look for their value in more than one field. However, if you know that a value is restricted to a single field, you should really use the Mail::Field interface to get it.

mime_attr ATTR,[VALUE]

A quick-and-easy interface to set/get the attributes in structured MIME fields:

    $head->mime_attr("content-type"         => "text/html");
    $head->mime_attr("content-type.charset" => "US-ASCII");
    $head->mime_attr(""    => "homepage.html");

This would cause the final output to look something like this:

    Content-type: text/html; charset=US-ASCII; name="homepage.html"

Note that the special empty sub-field tag indicates the anonymous first sub-field.

Giving VALUE as undefined will cause the contents of the named subfield to be deleted:

    $head->mime_attr("content-type.charset" => undef);

Supplying no VALUE argument just returns the attribute's value, or undefined if it isn't there:

    $type = $head->mime_attr("content-type");      ### text/html
    $name = $head->mime_attr(""); ### homepage.html

In all cases, the new/current value is returned.

The special sub-field tag @duplicate_parameters (which can never be a real tag) returns an arrayref of tags that were duplicated in the header, or undef if no such tags were found. For example, given the header:

    Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="foo"; boundary="bar"



would return:

    [ 'boundary' ]

A duplicate "boundary" tag should be treated as a security risk, as should duplicate Content-Type headers in a message. Since such messages cannot be parsed unambiguously, we strongly recommend that they never be delivered to end-users.


Instance method. Try real hard to determine the content transfer encoding (e.g., "base64", "binary"), which is returned in all-lowercase.

If no encoding could be found, the default of "7bit" is returned I quote from RFC 2045 section 6.1:

    This is the default value -- that is, "Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7BIT"
    is assumed if the Content-Transfer-Encoding header field is not present.

I do one other form of fixup: "7_bit", "7-bit", and "7 bit" are corrected to "7bit"; likewise for "8bit".

mime_type [DEFAULT]

Instance method. Try real hard to determine the content type (e.g., "text/plain", "image/gif", "x-weird-type", which is returned in all-lowercase. "Real hard" means that if no content type could be found, the default (usually "text/plain") is returned. From RFC 2045 section 5.2:

   Default RFC 822 messages without a MIME Content-Type header are
   taken by this protocol to be plain text in the US-ASCII character
   set, which can be explicitly specified as:

      Content-type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

   This default is assumed if no Content-Type header field is specified.

Unless this is a part of a "multipart/digest", in which case "message/rfc822" is the default. Note that you can also set the default, but you shouldn't: normally only the MIME parser uses this feature.


Instance method. If this is a header for a multipart message, return the "encapsulation boundary" used to separate the parts. The boundary is returned exactly as given in the Content-type: field; that is, the leading double-hyphen (--) is not prepended.

Well, almost exactly... this passage from RFC 2046 dictates that we remove any trailing spaces:

   If a boundary appears to end with white space, the white space
   must be presumed to have been added by a gateway, and must be deleted.

Returns undef (not the empty string) if either the message is not multipart or if there is no specified boundary.

Instance method. Return the recommended external filename. This is used when extracting the data from the MIME stream. The filename is always returned as a string in Perl's internal format (the UTF8 flag may be on!)

Returns undef if no filename could be suggested.


Why have separate objects for the entity, head, and body?

See the documentation for the MIME-tools distribution for the rationale behind this decision.

Why assume that MIME headers are email headers?

I quote from Achim Bohnet, who gave feedback on v.1.9 (I think he's using the word "header" where I would use "field"; e.g., to refer to "Subject:", "Content-type:", etc.):

    There is also IMHO no requirement [for] MIME::Heads to look
    like [email] headers; so to speak, the MIME::Head [simply stores]
    the attributes of a complex object, e.g.:

        new MIME::Head type => "text/plain",
                       charset => ...,
                       disposition => ..., ... ;

I agree in principle, but (alas and dammit) RFC 2045 says otherwise. RFC 2045 [MIME] headers are a syntactic subset of RFC-822 [email] headers.

In my mind's eye, I see an abstract class, call it MIME::Attrs, which does what Achim suggests... so you could say:

     my $attrs = new MIME::Attrs type => "text/plain",
                                 charset => ...,
                                 disposition => ..., ... ;

We could even make it a superclass of MIME::Head: that way, MIME::Head would have to implement its interface, and allow itself to be initialized from a MIME::Attrs object.

However, when you read RFC 2045, you begin to see how much MIME information is organized by its presence in particular fields. I imagine that we'd begin to mirror the structure of RFC 2045 fields and subfields to such a degree that this might not give us a tremendous gain over just having MIME::Head.

Why all this "occurrence" and "index" jazz? Isn't every field unique?

Looking at a typical mail message header, it is sooooooo tempting to just store the fields as a hash of strings, one string per hash entry. Unfortunately, there's the little matter of the Received: field, which (unlike From:, To:, etc.) will often have multiple occurrences; e.g.:

    Received: from by  with smtp
        (Linux Smail3.1.28.1 #5) id m0tStZ7-0007X4C;
         Thu, 21 Dec 95 16:34 CST
    Received: from by
         (5.65/Ultrix3.0-C) id AA13596;
         Thu, 21 Dec 95 17:20:38 -0500
    Received: (from eryq@localhost) by
         (8.6.12/8.6.12) id RAA28069;
         Thu, 21 Dec 1995 17:27:54 -0500
    Date: Thu, 21 Dec 1995 17:27:54 -0500
    From: Eryq <>
    Message-Id: <>
    Subject: Stuff and things

The Received: field is used for tracing message routes, and although it's not generally used for anything other than human debugging, I didn't want to inconvenience anyone who actually wanted to get at that information.

I also didn't want to make this a special case; after all, who knows what other fields could have multiple occurrences in the future? So, clearly, multiple entries had to somehow be stored multiple times... and the different occurrences had to be retrievable.


Mail::Header, Mail::Field, MIME::Words, MIME::Tools


Eryq (, ZeeGee Software Inc ( Dianne Skoll (

All rights reserved. This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.

The more-comprehensive filename extraction is courtesy of Lee E. Brotzman, Advanced Data Solutions.