Mailman 3 Internationalization

Mailman does not yet support IDNA (internationalized domain names, RFC 5890) or internationalized mailboxes (RFC 6531) in email addresses. But display names and descriptions are fully internationalized in Mailman, using Unicode. Email content is handled by the Python email package, which provides robust handling of internationalized content conforming to the MIME standard (RFCs 2045-2049 and others).

The encoding of URI components addressing a REST endpoint is Unicode UTF-8. Mailman does not currently handle normalization, and we recommend consistently using normal form NFC. (For some languages NFKC is risky, as some users’ personal names may be corrupted by this normalization.) Mailman does not check for confusables or check repertoire.

Introduction to Unicode Concepts

The Unicode Standard is intended to provide an universal set of characters with a single, standard encoding providing an invertible mapping of characters to integers (called code points in this context).


A set of characters is called a repertoire. Unicode itself is intended to provide an universal repertoire sufficient to represent all words in all written languages, but a system may handle a restricted repertoire and still be considered conformant, as long as it does not corrupt characters it does not handle, and does not emit non-character code points.


Unicode is intended to provide a character for each character defined in a national character set standard. This is often controversial: Chinese characters are often unified with Japanese characters that appear somewhat different when displayed, while the Cyrillic and Greek equivalents of the Latin character “A” are treated as separate characters despite being pronounced the same way and being displayed as identical glyphs. These judgments are informed by the notion that a text should round-trip. That is, when a text is converted from Unicode to another encoding, and then back to Unicode, the result should be identical to the source text.


For several reasons, Unicode provides for construction of characters by appending composable characters (such as accents) to base characters (typically letters). But since most languages assign a code point to each accented letter, the “round-tripping” requirement described above implies that Unicode should provide a code point for that accented letter, called a precomposed character. This means that for most accented characters, there are two or more ways to represent them, using various combinations of base characters, precomposed characters, and composable characters.

There are also a number of cases where equivalent characters have different code points (in a few extreme cases, the same character has different code points because the original national standard had duplicates). These cases are called compatibility characters.

The Unicode Standard requires that the compose character sequence be treated identically to the precomposed (single) character by all text-processing algorithms. For convenience in matching, an application may choose to normalize texts. There are two normalizations. The NFC normal form requires that all compositions to precomposed characters that can be done should be done. It has the advantage that the length of a word in characters is the number of code points in the word. The NFD normal form requires that all precomposed characters be decomposed into a sequence of a base character followed by composable characters. It useful in contexts where fuzzy matches (i.e., ignoring accents) are desired.

Finally, in each of these two forms a compatibility character may be replaced by its canonical equivalent, denoted NFKC and NFKD, respectively.

Using Unicode in Mailman

In most cases in Mailman it is highly recommended that input be encoded as UTF-8 in NFC format. Although highly conformant systems are becoming more common, there are still many systems that assume that one code point is translated to one glyph on display. On such systems NFC will provide a smoother user experience than NFD. Since much of the text data that Mailman handles is user names, and users frequently strongly prefer a particular compatibility character to its canonical equivalent, NFKC (or NFKD) should be avoided.

There are two other considerations in using Unicode in Mailman. The first is the problem of confusables. Confusables are characters which are considered different but whose glyphs are indistinguishable, such as Latin capital letter A and Greek capital letter Alpha. Similarly, many code points in Unicode are not yet assigned characters, or even defined as non-characters, and thus are not part of the repertoire of characters represented by Unicode.

Mailman makes no attempt to detect inappropriate use of confusables or non-characters (for example, to redirect users to a domain disseminating malware). The risks at present are vanishingly small because the necessary support in the mail system itself is not yet widespread, but this is likely to change in the near future.


We have it! We just don’t have proper documentation here yet.