RFC 2822 is the base standard that describes the format of email messages. It derives from the older RFC 822 standard which came into widespread use at a time when most email was composed of ASCII characters only. RFC 2822 is a specification written assuming email contains only 7-bit ASCII characters.
Of course, as email has been deployed worldwide, it has become internationalized, such that language specific character sets can now be used in email messages. The base standard still requires email messages to be transferred using only 7-bit ASCII characters, so a slew of RFCs have been written describing how to encode email containing non-ASCII characters into RFC 2822-compliant format. These RFCs include RFC 2045, RFC 2046, RFC 2047, and RFC 2231. The email package supports these standards in its email.header and email.charset modules.
If you want to include non-ASCII characters in your email headers, say in the Subject or To fields, you should use the Header class and assign the field in the Message object to an instance of Header instead of using a string for the header value. Import the Header class from the email.header module. For example:
>>> from email.message import Message
>>> from email.header import Header
>>> msg = Message()
>>> h = Header('p\xf6stal', 'iso-8859-1')
>>> msg['Subject'] = h
Notice here how we wanted the Subject field to contain a non-ASCII character? We did this by creating a Header instance and passing in the character set that the byte string was encoded in. When the subsequent Message instance was flattened, the Subject field was properly RFC 2047 encoded. MIME-aware mail readers would show this header using the embedded ISO-8859-1 character.
Here is the Header class description:
Create a MIME-compliant header that can contain strings in different character sets.
Optional s is the initial header value. If None (the default), the initial header value is not set. You can later append to the header with append() method calls. s may be an instance of bytes or str, but see the append() documentation for semantics.
Optional charset serves two purposes: it has the same meaning as the charset argument to the append() method. It also sets the default character set for all subsequent append() calls that omit the charset argument. If charset is not provided in the constructor (the default), the us-ascii character set is used both as s‘s initial charset and as the default for subsequent append() calls.
The maximum line length can be specified explicit via maxlinelen. For splitting the first line to a shorter value (to account for the field header which isn’t included in s, e.g. Subject) pass in the name of the field in header_name. The default maxlinelen is 76, and the default value for header_name is None, meaning it is not taken into account for the first line of a long, split header.
Optional continuation_ws must be RFC 2822-compliant folding whitespace, and is usually either a space or a hard tab character. This character will be prepended to continuation lines.
Optional errors is passed straight through to the append() method.
Append the string s to the MIME header.
Optional charset, if given, should be a Charset instance (see email.charset) or the name of a character set, which will be converted to a Charset instance. A value of None (the default) means that the charset given in the constructor is used.
s may be an instance of bytes or str. If it is an instance of bytes, then charset is the encoding of that byte string, and a UnicodeError will be raised if the string cannot be decoded with that character set.
If s is an instance of str, then charset is a hint specifying the character set of the characters in the string. In this case, when producing an RFC 2822-compliant header using RFC 2047 rules, the Unicode string will be encoded using the following charsets in order: us-ascii, the charset hint, utf-8. The first character set to not provoke a UnicodeError is used.
Optional errors is passed through to any encode() or ustr.encode() call, and defaults to “strict”.
The Header class also provides a number of methods to support standard operators and built-in functions.
The email.header module also provides the following convenient functions.
Decode a message header value without converting the character set. The header value is in header.
This function returns a list of (decoded_string, charset) pairs containing each of the decoded parts of the header. charset is None for non-encoded parts of the header, otherwise a lower case string containing the name of the character set specified in the encoded string.
Here’s an example:
>>> from email.header import decode_header
decode_header() takes a header value string and returns a sequence of pairs of the format (decoded_string, charset) where charset is the name of the character set.