“Email system are quite capable of sending and receiving large attachments,” writes long-term Slashdot reader Stonefish “However, size limits are generally tiny.”
And then he tells a story…
In the late 1990s I worked for a research organisation maintaining their mail system, and had recently introduced mail size constraints. Within the first day it had blocked a number of emails — including a 700MB attachment.
Being a master of all thing Internet I called up the sender to tell him how firstly how such a large email would cause problems for the receiver, and secondly how there were far more efficient ways of sending things. Given that he was on the same campus he invited me down to his lab to discuss this further. (After showing me round his lab, which was pretty impressive apart from the large “Biohazard” and “Radioactive” materials labels on the doors.) He told me that the facility he was sending the attachments to was a supercomputing hub with similar “Fat” pipes to the Internet so the large emails weren’t a problem. I then spoke about the “efficiency” of the mail protocol and he said that he’d show me what efficient was and did a quick, “drag, drop and send” of another 700MB file of his latest research results.
He was right, I was wrong, it was efficient from his perspective and all his previous emails were easily available demonstrating when and where they were sent. As a result of this we changed our architecture and bought bulk cheap storage for email as it was a cheap, searchable and business focused approach to communications.
However 20 years plus later, even though networks are tens of thousands of times faster and storage is tens of thousands of times cheaper — email size limits remain about the same. Email remains cheap, efficient and ubiquitous — but we expect people to upload a file to a site and generate a link and embed in a manner that means we lose control of our data or it disappears in 12 months.
What’s missing from this analysis? (Wikipedia’s page on email attachments notes the intermediate “mail transfer agents” that store and forward email “and may therefore also impose size limits.”) But even that page admits some attachment limits are arbitrary.
I always assumed it was an anti-piracy measure. Anyone know the real answer? Share your own thoughts in the comments.
Why haven’t they increased size limits for email attachments?
Read more of this story at Slashdot.