If you ask most IT professionals to name their primary method of communications, most would answer e-mail. (If you want to know how important e-mail is to your business, just play system administrator for a while and bring down the mail server at your organization.)

Of course, the same IT professionals who depend on e-mail also hate it, feeling chained to their PCs or PDAs, while they sort through an ever-increasing amount of spam, mixed in with e-mail from customers, vendors, and fellow employees.

While not available today, Sieve is an emerging technology that promises to help manage your e-mail workload. TechRepublic will be talking much about Sieve in the future as the technology matures. In this article, we’re going to outline the concept behind Sieve, and give you some resources if you want more information.

A scripting language for e-mail
Of course, there are already ways for you to manage e-mail, both at the client and the server level. For example, if your organization uses Microsoft Exchange as its mail server software, you can set up filters at the server level. You can also configure rules for individual Outlook clients. You can do the same types of things in the Lotus Notes environment.

Sieve takes a different approach. First of all, it’s not really a product. Instead, it’s an e-mail filtering language. While still in the development stage, it offers several advantages over other approaches:

  • Open standard
  • Common approach for both mail servers and clients
  • Allows mail administrators to quickly update client filters across an organization

Another advantage of Sieve is that it would allow users to employ server-side filtering, so that you could tell the server to filter out particular kinds of spam without having to push it to your e-mail client.

If you want to see what Sieve might look like, we’ve enclosed a code snippet below.
Here is an example of what Sieve might look like:if header [“From”] contains [“coyote”] {��� forward “acm@frobnitzm.edu”;��� } else if header “Subject” contains “$$$” {��� forward “postmaster@frobnitzm.edu”;���} else {��� forward “field@frobnitzm.edu”;��� }This is taken from the Sieve information page maintained by Cyrusoft’s Matt Wall.
Where Sieve stands now
Sieve is now in its last stages of development, under the standards outlined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the main standards body for Internet infrastructure technology. While many smaller companies like Critical Path Sendmail and Cyrusoft are adding Sieve support into their products, major vendors like Microsoft and Lotus are waiting for a final standard before committing to Sieve support.

Sieve resources
If you want to learn more about Sieve, here are some resources:

MTA Filters mailing list
This mailing list features discussions of Sieve documents and enhancements. To subscribe, send a request to ietf-mta-filters-request@imc.org. You can find an archive of past discussions at the Internet Mail Consortium Web site.

Sieve White Paper
You can see a white paper about Sieve in PDF format, outlining the main concepts behind the filtering language.

As we mentioned earlier, the Internet Engineering Task Force is a basic source for information on all proposed standards for Internet infrastructure enhancements.

Network World article on Sieve
Network World’s Carolyn Duffy Marsan has a good piece on Sieve, including some quotes from Sieve’s inventors. You can find it on the NWFusion Web site.
Are there ways you manage your e-mail? Do you use any tools? Send us your e-mail management advice in—what else—an e-mail or post your comments.