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This document provide note and summary of RFC 6376, DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) Signatures.

1. Introduction

RFC 4685 provide a background for the development of DKIM, RFC 5585 provide an overview of the service, and RFC 5863 provide deployment and operations guidance and advice.

The approach taken by DKIM differs from previous approaches to message signing (e.g., Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME), OpenPGP).

1.1. Signing Identity

The signing identity is included as part of the signature header field, and is not required to match an address in any particular header fields.

The message signature is written as a message header field so that neither human recipients nor existing Mail User Agent (MUA) software is confused by signature-related content appearing in the message body.

1.2. Scalability

DKIM is designed to support the extreme scalability requirements that characterize the email identification problem. DKIM compatible with the existing email infrastructure and transparent to the fullest extent possible. There is no dependency on the deployment of any new Internet protocols or services for public-key distribution or revocation. DKIM can be implemented independently of clients in order to reduce deployment time. DKIM can be deployed incrementally and allows delegation of signing to third parties.

1.3. Simple Key Management

DKIM require no certificate authority infrastructure. DKIM currently depends on DNS administration and the security of the DNS system. The Verifier requests the public key from a repository in the domain of the claimed Signer directly rather than from a third party.

1.4. Data Integrity

Verifying the signature asserts that the hashed content has not changed since it was signed and asserts nothing else about "protecting" the end-to-end integrity of the message.

No attempt is made to include encryption as part of the mechanism. Signature verification failure does not force rejection of the message.

2. Terminology and Definitions


A person, role, or organization.


A label that refers to an identity.

Signing Domain Identifier (SDID)

A single domain name that is the mandatory payload output of DKIM and that refers to the identity claiming some responsibility for the message by signing it.

Agent or User Identifier (AUID)

A single identifier that refers to the agent or user on behalf of whom the Signing Domain Identifier (SDID) has taken responsibility. The AUID comprises an optional <local-part> and a domain name. The domain name is the same as that used for the SDID or is a subdomain of it.


Signers is an elements in the mail system that sign messages on behalf of SDID.


Verifiers is an element that verify signatures in the message.

Identity Assessor

An element in the mail system that consumes DKIM’s payload, which is the responsible Signing Domain Identifier (SDID). The Identity Assessor is dedicated to the assessment of the delivered identifier.


There are three forms of whitespace: …​. SP = ; Space HTAB = ; Horizontal tab WSP = SP / HTAB ; whitespace LWSP (linear whitespace) = *(WSP / CRLF WSP) ; linear whitespace FWS (folding whitespace) = [*WSP CRLF] 1*WSP ; folding whitespace …​.

Common ABNF Tokens

atext           =   ALPHA / DIGIT /    ; Printable US-ASCII
                    "!" / "#" /        ;  characters not including
                    "$" / "%" /        ;  specials.  Used for atoms.
                    "&" / "'" /
                    "*" / "+" /
                    "-" / "/" /
                    "=" / "?" /
                    "^" / "_" /
                    "`" / "{" /
                    "|" / "}" /
Atom            =  1*atext

hyphenated-word =  ALPHA [ *(ALPHA / DIGIT / "-") (ALPHA / DIGIT) ]

ALPHADIGITPS    =  (ALPHA / DIGIT / "+" / "/")

                   [ [FWS] "=" [ [FWS] "=" ] ]

hdr-name        =  field-name

qp-hdr-value    =  dkim-quoted-printable    ; with "|" encoded


Local-part       = Dot-string / Quoted-string
                 ; MAY be case-sensitive

Dot-string       = Atom *("."  Atom)

Quoted-string    = DQUOTE *QcontentSMTP DQUOTE

QcontentSMTP     = qtextSMTP / quoted-pairSMTP

qtextSMTP        = %d32-33 / %d35-91 / %d93-126
                 ; i.e., within a quoted string, any
                 ; ASCII graphic or space is permitted
                 ; without blackslash-quoting except
                 ; double-quote and the backslash itself.

quoted-pairSMTP  = %d92 %d32-126
                 ; i.e., backslash followed by any ASCII
                 ; graphic (including itself) or SPace


sub-domain     = Let-dig [Ldh-str]

Let-dig        = ALPHA / DIGIT

Ldh-str        = *( ALPHA / DIGIT / "-" ) Let-dig


Name of header field,

   field-name      =   1*ftext

   ftext           =   %d33-57 /          ; Printable US-ASCII
                       %d59-126           ;  characters not including
                                          ;  ":".


In the local-part of an email address,

dot-atom-text   =   1*atext *("." 1*atext)


A single line of quoted-printable-encoded text,

qp-section  = [*(ptext / SPACE / TAB) ptext]

ptext       = hex-octet / safe-char

hex-octet   = "=" 2(DIGIT / "A" / "B" / "C" / "D" / "E" / "F")
            ; Octet MUST be used for characters > 127, =,
            ; SPACEs or TABs at the ends of lines, and is
            ; recommended for any character not listed in
            ; RFC 2049 as "mail-safe".

safe-char   = ; any octet with decimal value of 33 through
              ; 60 inclusive, and 62 through 126.
              ; Characters not listed as "mail-safe" in
              ; RFC 2049 are also not recommended.


dkim-quoted-printable =  *(FWS / hex-octet / dkim-safe-char)
                      ; hex-octet is from RFC 2045
dkim-safe-char        =  %x21-3A / %x3C / %x3E-7E
                      ; '!' - ':', '<', '>' - '~'

DKIM-Quoted-Printable differs from Quoted-Printable as defined in [RFC2045] in several important ways:

  1. Whitespace in the input text, including CR and LF, MUST be encoded. [RFC2045] does not require such encoding, and does not permit encoding of CR or LF characters that are part of a CRLF line break.

  2. Whitespace in the encoded text is ignored. This is to allow tags encoded using DKIM-Quoted-Printable to be wrapped as needed. In particular, [RFC2045] requires that line breaks in the input be represented as physical line breaks; that is not the case here.

  3. The "soft line break" syntax ("=" as the last non-whitespace character on the line) does not apply.

  4. It does not require that encoded lines be no more than 76 characters long (although there may be other requirements depending on the context in which the encoded text is being used).

3. Protocol Elements

Protocol Elements are conceptual parts of the protocol that are not specific to either Signers or Verifiers.

3.1. Selectors

selector =   sub-domain *( "." sub-domain )

The key namespace is subdivided using "selectors", to support multiple concurrent public keys per signing domain.

Selectors are needed to support some important use cases. For example:

  • Domains that want to delegate signing capability for a specific address for a given duration to a partner, such as an advertising provider or other outsourced function.

  • Domains that want to allow frequent travelers to send messages locally without the need to connect with a particular MSA.

  • "Affinity" domains (e.g., college alumni associations) that provide forwarding of incoming mail, but that do not operate a mail submission agent for outgoing mail.

Reusing a selector with a new key (for example, changing the key associated with a user’s name) makes it impossible to tell the difference between a message that didn’t verify because the key is no longer valid and a message that is actually forged. For this reason, Signers are ill-advised to reuse selectors for new keys. A better strategy is to assign new keys to new selectors.

3.2. Tag=Value Lists

DKIM uses a simple "tag=value" syntax in several contexts, including in messages and domain signature records.

tag-list  =  tag-spec *( ";" tag-spec ) [ ";" ]
tag-spec  =  [FWS] tag-name [FWS] "=" [FWS] tag-value [FWS]
tag-name  =  ALPHA *ALNUMPUNC
tag-value =  [ tval *( 1*(WSP / FWS) tval ) ]
          ; Prohibits WSP and FWS at beginning and end
tval      =  1*VALCHAR
VALCHAR   =  %x21-3A / %x3C-7E
  • Values are a series of strings containing either plain text, "base64" text, "qp-section", or "dkim-quoted-printable".

  • The name of the tag will determine the encoding of each value.

  • Unencoded semicolon (";") characters MUST NOT occur in the tag value, since that separates tag-specs.

  • Tags MUST be interpreted in a case-sensitive manner.

  • Values MUST be processed as case sensitive unless the specific tag description of semantics specifies case insensitivity.

  • Tags MUST NOT duplicate, otherwise entire tags list is invalid.

  • Whitespace within a value MUST be retained unless explicitly excluded by the specific tag description.

  • Tag=value pairs that represent the default value MAY be included to aid legibility.

  • Unrecognized tags MUST be ignored.

  • Tag with an empty value explicitly designates the empty string as the value.

3.3. Signing and Verification Algorithms

Two algorithms are defined by this specification at this time: rsa-sha1 and rsa-sha256.

  • Signers MUST implement and SHOULD sign using rsa-sha256.

  • Verifiers MUST implement both rsa-sha1 and rsa-sha256.

  • Other algorithms MAY be defined in the future.

  • Verifiers MUST ignore any signatures using algorithms that they do not implement.

  • The rsa-sha1 computes a message hash using SHA-1 and then the hash is then signed using the RSA algorithm and the Signer’s private key.

  • The rsa-sha256 computes a message hash using SHA-256 and then the hash is signed using the RSA algorithm and the Signer’s private key.

  • Signers MUST use RSA keys of at least 1024 bits for long-lived keys.

  • Verifiers MUST be able to validate signatures with keys ranging from 512 bits to 2048 bits, and they MAY be able to validate signatures with larger keys.

Factors that should influence the key size choice include the following:

  • The practical constraint that large (e.g., 4096-bit) keys might not fit within a 512-byte DNS UDP response packet

  • The security constraint that keys smaller than 1024 bits are subject to off-line attacks

  • Larger keys impose higher CPU costs to verify and sign email

  • Keys can be replaced on a regular basis; thus, their lifetime can be relatively short

  • The security goals of this specification are modest compared to typical goals of other systems that employ digital signatures

3.4. Canonicalization

Canonicalization is a process for converting data that has more than one possible representation into a "standard", "normal", or canonical form.

Canonicalization is only used to prepare the email for signing or verifying; it does not affect the transmitted email in any way.

Two canonicalization algorithms are defined for each of the header and the body, a "simple" and "relaxed" algorithms.

  • A "simple" algorithm tolerates almost no modification.

  • A "relaxed" algorithm tolerates common modifications such as whitespace replacement and header field line rewrapping.

  • A Signer MAY specify either algorithm for header or body.

  • If no canonicalization algorithm is specified by the Signer, the "simple" algorithm defaults for both header and body.

  • Verifiers MUST implement both canonicalization algorithms.

  • The header and body MAY use different canonicalization algorithms.

  • Verifiers MUST ignore any signatures that use unrecognized canonicalization algorithms.

  • Canonicalization algorithms MUST NOT change the transmitted data in any way.

3.4.1. The "simple" Canonicalization Algorithm

  • Header fields MUST be presented to the signing or verification algorithm exactly as they are in the message being signed or verified.

  • Header field names MUST NOT be case folded and whitespace MUST NOT be changed.

The "simple" body canonicalization algorithm,

  1. Converts multiple CRLF at the end of the body to a single CRLF.

  2. If there is no body or no trailing CRLF on the message body, a CRLF is added.

3.4.2. The "relaxed" Canonicalization Algorithm

The "relaxed" header canonicalization algorithm MUST apply the following steps in order:

  • Convert all header field names (not the header field values) to lowercase.

  • Unfold all header field continuation lines, CRLF and WSP, and remove CRLF.

  • Implementations MUST NOT remove the CRLF at the end of the header field value.

  • Convert all sequences of one or more WSP characters to a single SP character.

  • Delete all WSP characters at the end of each unfolded header field value.

  • Delete any WSP characters before and after the colon.

  • The colon separator MUST be retained.

The "relaxed" body canonicalization algorithm MUST apply the following steps (a) and (b) in order:

a. Reduce whitespace:

  • Ignore all whitespace at the end of lines. Implementations MUST NOT remove the CRLF at the end of the line.

  • Reduce all sequences of WSP within a line to a single SP character.

b. Ignore all empty lines at the end of the message body.

  • If the body is non-empty but does not end with a CRLF, a CRLF is added.

3.4.3. Example

A message reading:

A: <SP> X <CRLF>
B <SP> : <SP> Y <HTAB><CRLF>

Output for "simple" canonicalization,

A: <SP> X <CRLF>
B <SP> : <SP> Y <HTAB><CRLF>

Output for relaxed canonicalization,

a:X <CRLF>
b:Y <SP> Z <CRLF>

4. The DKIM-Signature Header Field

  • The DKIM-Signature header field SHOULD be treated as though it were a trace header field as defined in Section 3.6 of [RFC5322].

  • Its SHOULD NOT be reordered

  • Its SHOULD be prepended to the message

  • The DKIM-Signature header field being created or verified is always included in the signature calculation, after the rest of the header fields being signed; however, when calculating or verifying the signature, the value of the "b=" tag (signature value) of that DKIM-Signature header field MUST be treated as though it were an empty string.

  • Unknown tags in the DKIM-Signature header field MUST be included in the signature calculation

  • Unknown tags MUST be ignored by Verifiers

Tags on the DKIM-Signature header field along with their type and requirement status are shown below.

v= (plain-text; REQUIRED)

sig-v-tag       = %x76 [FWS] "=" [FWS] 1*DIGIT

The version of this specification.

  • It MUST have the value "1" for implementations compliant with this version of DKIM.

a= (plain-text; REQUIRED)

sig-a-tag       = %x61 [FWS] "=" [FWS] sig-a-tag-alg
sig-a-tag-alg   = sig-a-tag-k "-" sig-a-tag-h
sig-a-tag-k     = "rsa" / x-sig-a-tag-k
sig-a-tag-h     = "sha1" / "sha256" / x-sig-a-tag-h
x-sig-a-tag-k   = ALPHA *(ALPHA / DIGIT)
                ; for later extension
x-sig-a-tag-h   = ALPHA *(ALPHA / DIGIT)
                ; for later extension

The algorithm used to generate the signature.

b= (base64; REQUIRED)

sig-b-tag       = %x62 [FWS] "=" [FWS] sig-b-tag-data
sig-b-tag-data  = base64string

The signature data.

  • Whitespace is ignored in this value and MUST be ignored when reassembling the original signature.

  • The signing process can safely insert FWS in this value in arbitrary places to conform to line-length limits.

bh= (base64; REQUIRED)

sig-bh-tag      = %x62 %x68 [FWS] "=" [FWS] sig-bh-tag-data
sig-bh-tag-data = base64string

The hash of the canonicalized body part of the message as limited by the "l=" tag.

  • Whitespace is ignored in this value and MUST be ignored when reassembling the original signature.

  • The signing process can safely insert FWS in this value in arbitrary places to conform to line-length limits.

c= (plain-text; OPTIONAL, default is "simple/simple")

sig-c-tag       = %x63 [FWS] "=" [FWS] sig-c-tag-alg ["/" sig-c-tag-alg]
sig-c-tag-alg   = "simple" / "relaxed" / x-sig-c-tag-alg
x-sig-c-tag-alg = hyphenated-word
                ; for later extension

Type of canonicalization used to prepare the message for signing.

  • It consists of two names separated by a "slash" (%d47) character, corresponding to the header and body canonicalization algorithms, respectively.

  • If only one algorithm is named, that algorithm is used for the header and "simple" is used for the body. For example, "c=relaxed" is treated the same as "c=relaxed/simple".

d= (plain-text; REQUIRED)

sig-d-tag       = %x64 [FWS] "=" [FWS] domain-name
domain-name     = sub-domain 1*("." sub-domain)
                ; from [RFC5321] Domain, excluding address-literal


  • It MUST correspond to a valid DNS name under which the DKIM key record is published.

  • When presented with a signature that does not meet these requirements, Verifiers MUST consider the signature as invalid.

  • Internationalized domain names MUST be encoded as A-labels, as described in Section 2.3 of [RFC5890].

h= (plain-text; REQUIRED)

sig-h-tag       = %x68 [FWS] "=" [FWS] hdr-name
                  *( [FWS] ":" [FWS] hdr-name )

A colon-separated list of header field names that presented to the signing algorithm.

  • The field MUST contain the complete list of header fields in the order presented to the signing algorithm.

  • The field MAY contain names of header fields that do not exist when signed; nonexistent header fields do not contribute to the signature computation. By "signing" header fields that do not actually exist, a Signer can allow a Verifier to detect insertion of those header fields after signing and also prevents adding fields with no values.

  • The field MAY contain multiple instances of a header field name, meaning multiple occurrences of the corresponding header field are included in the header hash.

  • The field MUST NOT include the DKIM-Signature header field that is being created or verified but may include others.

  • Folding whitespace (FWS) MAY be included on either side of the colon separator.

  • Header field names MUST be compared against actual header field names in a case-insensitive manner.

i= (dkim-quoted-printable; OPTIONAL; default is "@" + "d=" value)

sig-i-tag       = %x69 [FWS] "=" [FWS] [ Local-part ] "@" domain-name

The Agent or User Identifier (AUID).

  • The local-part MAY be omitted, because in some cases a Signer may not be able to establish a verified individual identity.

  • The local-part MAY be drawn from a namespace unrelated to any mailbox.

  • The domain-name MUST be the same as, or a subdomain of, the value of the "d=" tag.

  • The domain-name need not be registered in the DNS — so it might not resolve in a query

  • If no "i=" tag, the Verifier MUST behave as though the value of that tag were "@d", where "d" is the value from the "d=" tag.

  • The Signer MAY choose to use the same namespace for its AUIDs as its users’ email addresses or MAY choose other means of representing its users.

l= (plain-text unsigned decimal integer; OPTIONAL, default is entire body)

sig-l-tag    = %x6c [FWS] "=" [FWS] 1*76DIGIT

The number of octets in the body of the email after canonicalization included in the cryptographic hash, starting from 0 immediately following the CRLF preceding the body.

  • This value MUST NOT be larger than the actual number of octets in the canonicalized message body.

  • The value of the "l=" tag is constrained to 76 decimal digits.

  • Implementers MAY need to limit the actual value expressed to a value smaller than 10^76, e.g., to allow a message to fit within the available storage space.

  • If the body length count is not specified, the entire message body is signed.

  • The body length count MUST be calculated following the canonicalization algorithm; for example, any whitespace ignored by a canonicalization algorithm is not included as part of the body length count.

  • A body length count of zero means that the body is completely unsigned.

  • Signers wishing to ensure that no modification of any sort can occur should specify the "simple" canonicalization algorithm for both header and body and omit the body length count.

q= (plain-text; OPTIONAL)

sig-q-tag   = %x71 [FWS] "=" [FWS] qmethod *([FWS] ":" [FWS] qmethod )
qmethod     = "dns/txt" / qtype ["/" qoption]
qtype       = hyphenated-word  ; for future extension
qoption     = qp-hdr-value

A colon-separated list of query methods used to retrieve the public key.

  • Each query method is of the form "type[/options]", where the syntax and semantics of the options depend on the type and specified options.

  • If there are multiple query mechanisms listed, the choice of query mechanism MUST NOT change the interpretation of the signature.

  • Implementations MUST use the recognized query mechanisms in the order presented.

  • Unrecognized query mechanisms MUST be ignored.

  • Default is "dns/txt", which defines the DNS TXT resource record (RR) lookup algorithm,

    • The only option defined for the "dns" query type is "txt", which MUST be included.

  • Verifiers and Signers MUST support "dns/txt".

s= (plain-text; REQUIRED)

sig-s-tag    = %x73 [FWS] "=" [FWS] selector

The selector subdividing the namespace for the "d=" tag.

  • Internationalized selector names MUST be encoded as A-labels, as described in Section 2.3 of [RFC5890].

t= (plain-text unsigned decimal integer; RECOMMENDED)

sig-t-tag    = %x74 [FWS] "=" [FWS] 1*12DIGIT

The time that this signature was created.

  • The format is the number of seconds since 00:00:00 on January 1, 1970 in the UTC time zone.

  • The value is expressed as an unsigned integer in decimal ASCII.

  • This value is not constrained to fit into a 31- or 32-bit integer.

  • Implementations SHOULD be prepared to handle values up to at least 10^12 (until approximately AD 200,000; this fits into 40 bits).

  • To avoid denial-of-service attacks, implementations MAY consider any value longer than 12 digits to be infinite.

  • Leap seconds are not counted.

  • Implementations MAY ignore signatures that have a timestamp in the future.

x= (plain-text unsigned decimal integer; RECOMMENDED)

sig-x-tag    = %x78 [FWS] "=" [FWS] 1*12DIGIT

Signature Expiration.

  • Default is no expiration

  • The format is the same as in the "t=" tag, represented as an absolute date, not as a time delta from the signing timestamp.

  • The value is expressed as an unsigned integer in decimal ASCII, with the same constraints on the value in the "t=" tag.

  • Signatures MAY be considered invalid if the verification time at the Verifier is past the expiration date.

  • The verification time should be the time that the message was first received at the administrative domain of the Verifier if that time is reliably available; otherwise, the current time should be used.

  • The value of the "x=" tag MUST be greater than the value of the "t=" tag if both are present.

  • The "x=" tag is not intended as an anti-replay defense.

  • Due to clock drift, the receiver’s notion of when to consider the signature expired may not exactly match what the sender is expecting. Receivers MAY add a 'fudge factor’ to allow for such possible drift.

z= (dkim-quoted-printable; OPTIONAL)

sig-z-tag      = %x7A [FWS] "=" [FWS] sig-z-tag-copy
                 *( "|" [FWS] sig-z-tag-copy )
sig-z-tag-copy = hdr-name [FWS] ":" qp-hdr-value

Copied header fields.

  • A vertical-bar-separated list of selected header fields present when the message was signed, including both the field name and value.

  • Default is null

  • It is not required to include all header fields present at the time of signing.

  • This field need not contain the same header fields listed in the "h=" tag.

  • The header field text itself MUST encode the vertical bar ("|", %x7C) character (i.e., vertical bars in the "z=" text are meta-characters, and any actual vertical bar characters in a copied header field MUST be encoded).

  • All whitespace MUST be encoded, including whitespace between the colon and the header field value.

  • After encoding, FWS MAY be added at arbitrary locations in order to avoid excessively long lines; such whitespace is NOT part of the value of the header field and MUST be removed before decoding.


DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256;; s=brisbane;
      c=simple; q=dns/txt;;
      t=1117574938; x=1118006938;

4.1. Key Management and Representation

Parameters to the key lookup algorithm are the type of the lookup (the "q=" tag), the domain of the Signer (the "d=" tag of the DKIM-Signature header field), and the selector (the "s=" tag).

public_key = dkim_find_key(q_val, d_val, s_val)

4.1.1. Textual Representation

The current valid tags are described below. Other tags MAY be present and MUST be ignored by any implementation that does not understand them.

v= (plain-text; RECOMMENDED, default is "DKIM1")

key-v-tag    = %x76 [FWS] "=" [FWS] %x44.4B.49.4D.31

Version of the DKIM key record.

  • If specified, this tag MUST be set to "DKIM1" (without the quotes).

  • This tag MUST be the first tag in the record.

  • Records beginning with a "v=" tag with any other value MUST be discarded.

  • Verifiers MUST do a string comparison on this value; for example, "DKIM1" is not the same as "DKIM1.0"

h= (plain-text; OPTIONAL, defaults to allowing all algorithms)

key-h-tag       = %x68 [FWS] "=" [FWS] key-h-tag-alg
                  *( [FWS] ":" [FWS] key-h-tag-alg )
key-h-tag-alg   = "sha1" / "sha256" / x-key-h-tag-alg
x-key-h-tag-alg = hyphenated-word   ; for future extension

A colon-separated list of hash algorithms that might be used.

  • Unrecognized algorithms MUST be ignored.

  • The set of algorithms listed in this tag in each record is an operational choice made by the Signer.

k= (plain-text; OPTIONAL, default is "rsa").

key-k-tag        = %x76 [FWS] "=" [FWS] key-k-tag-type
key-k-tag-type   = "rsa" / x-key-k-tag-type
x-key-k-tag-type = hyphenated-word   ; for future extension

Key type.

  • Signers and Verifiers MUST support the "rsa" key type.

  • The "rsa" key type indicates that an ASN.1 DER-encoded [ITU-X660-1997] RSAPublicKey (see [RFC3447], Sections 3.1 and A.1.1) is being used in the "p=" tag. (Note: the "p=" tag further encodes the value using the base64 algorithm.)

  • Unrecognized key types MUST be ignored.

n= (qp-section; OPTIONAL, default is empty)

key-n-tag    = %x6e [FWS] "=" [FWS] qp-section

Notes that might be of interest to a human.

  • No interpretation is made by any program.

  • This tag should be used sparingly in any key server mechanism that has space limitations (notably DNS).

  • This is intended for use by administrators, not end users.

p= (base64; REQUIRED)

key-p-tag    = %x70 [FWS] "=" [ [FWS] base64string]

Public-key data.

  • An empty value means that this public key has been revoked.

  • The syntax and semantics of this tag value before being encoded in base64 are defined by the "k=" tag.

  • If a private key has been compromised or otherwise disabled, a Signer might want to explicitly state that it knows about the selector, but all messages using that selector should fail verification.

  • Verifiers SHOULD return an error code for any DKIM-Signature header field with a selector referencing a revoked key.

  • A base64string is permitted to include whitespace (FWS) at arbitrary places; however, any CRLFs MUST be followed by at least one WSP character.

  • Implementers and administrators are cautioned to ensure that selector TXT RRs conform to this specification.

s= (plain-text; OPTIONAL; default is "*").

key-s-tag        = %x73 [FWS] "=" [FWS] key-s-tag-type
                   *( [FWS] ":" [FWS] key-s-tag-type )
key-s-tag-type   = "email" / "*" / x-key-s-tag-type
x-key-s-tag-type = hyphenated-word   ; for future extension

A colon-separated list of service types to which this record applies.

  • Verifiers for a given service type MUST ignore this record if the appropriate type is not listed.

  • Unrecognized service types MUST be ignored.

  • Currently defined service types are as follows:

    • "*" matches all service types

    • "email" electronic mail (not necessarily limited to SMTP)

This tag is intended to constrain the use of keys for other purposes, should use of DKIM be defined by other services in the future.

t= (plain-text; OPTIONAL, default is no flags set)

key-t-tag        = %x74 [FWS] "=" [FWS] key-t-tag-flag
                 *( [FWS] ":" [FWS] key-t-tag-flag )
key-t-tag-flag   = "y" / "s" / x-key-t-tag-flag
x-key-t-tag-flag = hyphenated-word   ; for future extension

A colon-separated list of flags.

  • Unrecognized flags MUST be ignored.

  • The defined flags are as follows:

    • y: This domain is testing DKIM. Verifiers MUST NOT treat messages from Signers in testing mode differently from unsigned email, even should the signature fail to verify. Verifiers MAY wish to track testing mode results to assist the Signer.

    • s: Any DKIM-Signature header fields using the "i=" tag MUST have the same domain value on the right-hand side of the "@" in the "i=" tag and the value of the "d=" tag. That is, the "i=" domain MUST NOT be a subdomain of "d=". Use of this flag is RECOMMENDED unless subdomaining is required.

4.1.2. DNS Binding

  • All implementations MUST support this binding.

  • All DKIM keys are stored in a subdomain named "_domainkey". Given a DKIM-Signature field with a "d=" tag of "" and an "s=" tag of "", the DNS query will be for "".

  • The query type "q=" in lookup function specify DNS Resource Record. The only option defined in this base specification is "txt", indicating the use of a TXT RR.

  • Strings in a TXT RR MUST be concatenated together before use with no intervening whitespace.

  • TXT RRs MUST be unique for a particular selector name; that is, if there are multiple records in an RRset, the results are undefined.

4.2. Computing the Message Hashes

  • The Signer/Verifier MUST compute two hashes: one over the body of the message and one over the selected header fields of the message.

  • Signers MUST compute them in the order shown

  • Verifiers MAY compute them in any order convenient to the Verifier

Steps to compute message hash,

  1. The Signer/Verifier MUST hash the message body

    1. The body canonicalized using algorithm specified in the "c=" tag

    2. The body then truncated to the length specified in the "l=" tag

    3. That hash value is then converted to base64 form

    4. For Signer, the hash value then inserted into "bh=" tag

    5. For Verifier, the hash value then compared with value of "bh=" tag

  2. The Signer/Verifier MUST pass the following to the hash algorithm in the indicated order,

    1. The header fields specified by the "h=" tag, in the order specified in that tag.

    2. The header fields then canonicalized using the header canonicalization algorithm specified in the "c=" tag.

    3. Each header field MUST be terminated with a single CRLF.

    4. All tags and their values in the DKIM-Signature header field are included in the cryptographic hash with the sole exception of the value portion of the "b=" (signature) tag, which MUST be treated as the null string.

    5. The DKIM-Signature header field MUST NOT be included in its own "h=" tag, although other DKIM-Signature header fields MAY be signed

    6. All tags MUST be included even if they might not be understood by the Verifier.

Another considerations when computing hash,

  • When calculating the hash on messages that will be transmitted using base64 or quoted-printable encoding, Signers MUST compute the hash after the encoding, and Verifier MUST incorporate the values into hash before decoding.

  • The hash MUST be computed before transport-level encodings such as SMTP "dot-stuffing" (the modification of lines beginning with a "." to avoid confusion with the SMTP end-of-message marker.

  • DKIM messages MAY be either in plain-text or in MIME format; no special treatment is afforded to MIME content.

  • Message attachments in MIME format MUST be included in the content that is signed.

More formally, pseudo-code for the signature algorithm is:

body-hash    =  hash-alg (canon-body, l-param)
data-hash    =  hash-alg (h-headers, D-SIG, body-hash)
signature    =  sig-alg (d-domain, selector, data-hash)


body-hash: is the output from hashing the body, using hash-alg.


is the hashing algorithm specified in the "a" parameter.


is a canonicalized representation of the body, produced using the body algorithm specified in the "c" parameter.


is the length-of-body value of the "l" parameter.


is the output from using the hash-alg algorithm, to hash the header including the DKIM-Signature header, and the body hash.


is the list of headers to be signed, as specified in the "h=" parameter.


is the canonicalized DKIM-Signature field itself without the signature value portion of the parameter, that is, an empty parameter value.


is the signature value produced by the signing algorithm.


is the signature algorithm specified by the "a" parameter.


is the domain name specified in the "d" parameter.


is the selector value specified in the "s" parameter.

4.3. Input Requirements

Signers and Verifiers SHOULD take reasonable steps to ensure that the messages they are processing are valid according to [RFC5322], [RFC2045], and any other relevant message format standards.

4.4. Output Requirements

For each signature verifying result, output of the DKIM algorithm MUST include the set of:

  • The SDID tag value

  • The result of each signature, which ends in one of three states,

    • SUCCESS: a successful verification

    • PERMFAIL: a permanent, non-recoverable error such as a signature verification failure

    • TEMPFAIL: a temporary, recoverable error such as a DNS query timeout

The output MAY include other signature properties or result meta-data, including PERMFAILed or otherwise ignored signatures, for use by modules that consume those results.

4.5. Signing by Parent Domains

By default, private keys corresponding to a domain can be used to sign messages for any subdomain. For example, a key record for the domain "" can be used to verify messages where the AUID ("i=" tag of the signature) is "", or even "".

In order to limit the capability of such keys when this is not intended, the "s" flag MAY be set in the "t=" tag of the key record, to constrain the validity of the domain of the AUID.

  • If the referenced key record contains the "s" flag as part of the "t=" tag, the domain of the AUID ("i=" flag) MUST be the same as that of the SDID (d=) domain.

  • If this flag is absent, the domain of the AUID MUST be the same as, or a subdomain of, the SDID.

4.6. Relationship between SDID and AUID

  • DKIM MAY optionally provide a single responsible Agent or User Identifier (AUID) through "i=" tag.

  • Upon successfully verifying the signature, a receive-side DKIM Verifier MUST communicate the Signing Domain Identifier (d=) to a consuming Identity Assessor module and MAY communicate the Agent or User Identifier (i=) if present.

4.7. Semantics of Multiple Signatures

4.7.1. Example Scenarios

A Signer might sign a message including all header fields and no "l=" tag (to satisfy strict Verifiers) and a second time with a limited set of header fields and an "l=" tag. Verifiers could then choose which signature they prefer.

A message might also have multiple signatures because it passed through multiple Signers. A common case is expected to be that of a signed message that passes through a mailing list that also signs all messages. Assuming both of those signatures verify, a recipient might choose to accept the message if either of those signatures were known to come from trusted sources.

Another related example of multiple Signers might be forwarding services, such as those commonly associated with academic alumni sites. For example, a recipient might have an address at, a site that has anti-abuse protection that is somewhat less effective than the recipient would prefer. Such a recipient might have specific authors whose messages would be trusted absolutely, but messages from unknown authors that had passed the forwarder’s scrutiny would have only medium trust.

4.7.2. Interpretation

If a header field with multiple instances is signed, those header fields are always signed from the bottom up. Thus, it is not possible to sign only specific DKIM-Signature header fields. For example, if the message being signed already contains three DKIM-Signature header fields A, B, and C, it is possible to sign all of them, B and C only, or C only, but not A only, B only, A and B only, or A and C only.

  • A Signer MAY add more than one DKIM-Signature header field using different parameters.

  • Signers SHOULD NOT remove any DKIM-Signature header fields from messages they are signing, even if they know that the signatures cannot be verified.

  • Verifier SHOULD evaluate signatures independently and on their own merits. For example, a Verifier that by policy chooses not to accept signatures with deprecated cryptographic algorithms would consider such signatures invalid.

  • Verifiers MAY process signatures in any order of their choice; for example, some Verifiers might choose to process signatures corresponding to the From field in the message header before other signatures.

  • Verifiers SHOULD continue to check signatures until a signature successfully verifies to the satisfaction of the Verifier.

  • To limit potential denial-of-service attacks, Verifiers MAY limit the total number of signatures they will attempt to verify.

  • If a Verifier module reports signatures whose evaluations produced PERMFAIL results, Identity Assessors SHOULD ignore those signatures, acting as though they were not present in the message.

5. Signer Actions

The following steps are performed in order by Signers.

5.1. Determine Whether the Email Should Be Signed and by Whom

  • SUBMISSION servers might only sign messages from users that are properly authenticated and authorized.

  • SUBMISSION servers should not sign Received header fields if the outgoing gateway MTA obfuscates Received header fields, for example, to hide the details of internal topology.

  • If an email cannot be signed for some reason, it is a local policy decision as to what to do with that email.

5.2. Select a Private Key and Corresponding Selector Information

Currently, all selectors are equal as far as this specification is concerned, so the decision should largely be a matter of administrative convenience.

A Signer should not sign with a private key when the selector containing the corresponding public key is expected to be revoked or removed before the Verifier has an opportunity to validate the signature.

When rotating to a new key pair, signing should immediately commence with the new private key, and the old public key should be retained for a reasonable validation interval before being removed from the key server.

5.3. Normalize the Message to Prevent Transport Conversions

  • In order to minimize the chances of such breakage, Signers SHOULD convert the message to a suitable MIME content-transfer encoding such as quoted-printable or base64 before signing.

  • If the message is submitted to the Signer with any local encoding that will be modified before transmission, that modification to canonical [RFC5322] form MUST be done before signing. In particular, bare CR or LF characters MUST be converted to the SMTP-standard CRLF sequence before the message is signed.

  • The Signer MUST sign the message as it is expected to be received by the Verifier rather than in some local or internal form.

5.4. Determine the Header Fields to Sign

  • The From header field MUST be signed.

  • Signers SHOULD NOT sign an existing header field likely to be legitimately modified or removed in transit.

  • Signers MAY include any other header fields present at the time of signing at the discretion of the Signer

  • Strategies to choose header fields,

    • Sign all existing, non-repeatable header fields.

    • Sign only header fields that are likely to be displayed to or otherwise be likely to affect the processing of the message at the receiver.

    • Sign only "well-known" headers.

  • Verifiers may treat unsigned header fields with extreme skepticism, including refusing to display them to the end user or even ignoring the signature if it does not cover certain header fields. For this reason, signing fields present in the message such as Date, Subject, Reply-To, Sender, and all MIME header fields are highly advised.

  • The DKIM-Signature header field is always implicitly signed and MUST NOT be included in the "h=" tag except to indicate that other preexisting signatures are also signed.

  • Signers MAY claim to have signed header fields that do not exist. When computing the signature, the nonexisting header field MUST be treated as the null string. This allows Signers to explicitly assert the absence of a header field; if that header field is added later, the signature will fail.

  • A header field name need only be listed once more than the actual number of that header field in a message at the time of signing in order to prevent any further additions. For example, if there is a single Comments header field at the time of signing, listing Comments twice in the "h=" tag is sufficient to prevent any number of Comments header fields from being appended; it is not necessary (but is legal) to list Comments three or more times in the "h=" tag.

Signers need to be careful of signing header fields that might have additional instances added later in the delivery process, since such header fields might be inserted after the signed instance or otherwise reordered. Trace header fields (such as Received) and Resent-* blocks are the only fields prohibited by [RFC5322] from being reordered. In particular, since DKIM-Signature header fields may be reordered by some intermediate MTAs, signing existing DKIM-Signature header fields is error-prone.

All end-user visible header fields should be signed to avoid possible "indirect spamming". For example, if the Subject header field is not signed, a spammer can resend a previously signed mail, replacing the legitimate subject with a one-line spam.

Common examples of fields with addresses and fields with textual content related to the body are:

  • From (REQUIRED; see Section 5.4)

  • Reply-To

  • Subject

  • Date

  • To, Cc

  • Resent-Date, Resent-From, Resent-To, Resent-Cc

  • In-Reply-To, References

  • List-Id, List-Help, List-Unsubscribe, List-Subscribe, List-Post, List-Owner, List-Archive

  • If the "l=" signature tag is in use, the Content-Type field is also a candidate for being included as it could be replaced in a way that causes completely different content to be rendered to the receiving user.

  • Another class of fields that may be of interest are those that convey security-related information about the message, such as Authentication-Results.

The basic rule for choosing fields to exclude is to select those fields for which there are multiple fields with the same name and fields that are modified in transit. Examples of these are:

  • Return-Path

  • Received

  • Comments, Keywords

Signers SHOULD choose canonicalization algorithms based on the types of messages they process and their aversion to risk.

5.4.2. Signatures Involving Multiple Instances of a Field

  • Signers choosing to sign an existing header field that occurs more than once in the message (such as Received) MUST sign the physically last instance of that header field in the header block.

  • Signers wishing to sign multiple instances of such a header field MUST include the header field name multiple times in the "h=" tag of the DKIM-Signature header field and MUST sign such header fields in order from the bottom of the header field block to the top.

  • The Signer MAY include more instances of a header field name in "h=" than there are actual corresponding header fields so that the signature will not verify if additional header fields of that name are added.


If the Signer wishes to sign two existing Received header fields, and the existing header contains:

Received: <A>
Received: <B>
Received: <C>

then the resulting DKIM-Signature header field should read:

DKIM-Signature: ... h=Received : Received :...

and Received header fields <C> and <B> will be signed in that order.

5.5. Compute the Message Hash and Signature

The Signer MUST compute the message hash as and then sign it using the selected public-key algorithm.

Entities such as mailing list managers that implement DKIM and that modify the message or a header field (for example, inserting unsubscribe information) before retransmitting the message SHOULD check any existing signature on input and MUST make such modifications before re-signing the message.

5.6. Insert the DKIM-Signature Header Field

  • The Signer MUST insert the DKIM-Signature header field created in the previous step prior to transmitting the email.

  • The DKIM-Signature header field MUST be inserted before any other DKIM-Signature fields in the header block.

  • It may be placed before any existing "Received" header fields.

6. Verifier Actions

  • Deferring verification until the message is accessed by the end user is discouraged.

  • MTA who has performed verification MAY communicate the result of that verification by adding a verification header field to incoming messages.

6.1. Extract Signatures from the Message

  • Verifiers MAY try signatures in any order they like.

  • Verifiers MUST NOT attribute ultimate meaning to the order of multiple DKIM-Signature header fields. In particular, there is reason to believe that some relays will reorder the header fields in potentially arbitrary ways.

  • Verifier SHOULD NOT treat a message that has one or more bad signatures and no good signatures differently from a message with no signature at all.

  • A Verifier MAY limit the number of signatures it tries, in order to avoid denial-of-service attacks.

  • If the status is "PERMFAIL", the signature failed and should not be reconsidered.

  • If the status is "TEMPFAIL", the signature could not be verified at this time but may be tried again later.

  • A Verifier MAY either arrange to defer the message for later processing or try another signature; if no good signature is found and any of the signatures resulted in a TEMPFAIL status, the Verifier MAY arrange to defer the message for later processing.

6.1.1. Validate the Signature Header Field

  • Implementers MUST meticulously validate the format and values in the DKIM-Signature header field; any inconsistency or unexpected values MUST cause the header field to be completely ignored and the Verifier to return PERMFAIL (signature syntax error).

  • Verifiers MUST return PERMFAIL (incompatible version) when presented a DKIM-Signature header field with a "v=" tag that is inconsistent with this specification.

  • If any tag listed as "required" in Section 3.5 is omitted from the DKIM-Signature header field, the Verifier MUST ignore the DKIM-Signature header field and return PERMFAIL (signature missing required tag).

  • If "d=" tag is not same or parent domain of "i=" tag, the DKIM-Signature header field MUST be ignored, and the Verifier should return PERMFAIL (domain mismatch).

  • If the "h=" tag does not include the From header field, the Verifier MUST ignore the DKIM-Signature header field and return PERMFAIL (From field not signed).

  • Verifiers MAY ignore the DKIM-Signature header field and return PERMFAIL (signature expired) if it contains an "x=" tag and the signature has expired.

6.1.2. Get the Public Key

  • The Verifier MUST validate the key record and MUST ignore any public-key records that are malformed.

A Verifier MUST perform the following steps in a manner that is semantically the same as performing them in the order indicated,

  1. The Verifier retrieves the public key using the algorithm in the "q=" tag, the domain from the "d=" tag, and the selector from the "s=" tag.

  2. If the query for the public key fails to respond, the Verifier MAY seek a later verification attempt by returning TEMPFAIL (key unavailable).

  3. If the query for the public key fails because the corresponding key record does not exist, the Verifier MUST immediately return PERMFAIL (no key for signature).

  4. If the query for the public key returns multiple key records, the Verifier can choose one of the key records or may cycle through the key records

  5. If the result returned from the query does not adhere to the format defined in this specification, the Verifier MUST ignore the key record and return PERMFAIL (key syntax error).

  6. If the "h=" tag exists in the public-key record and the hash algorithm implied by the "a=" tag in the DKIM-Signature header field is not included in the contents of the "h=" tag, the Verifier MUST ignore the key record and return PERMFAIL (inappropriate hash algorithm).

  7. If the public-key data (the "p=" tag) is empty, then this key has been revoked and the Verifier MUST treat this as a failed signature check and return PERMFAIL (key revoked).

  8. If the public-key data is not suitable for use with the algorithm and key types defined by the "a=" and "k=" tags in the DKIM-Signature header field, the Verifier MUST immediately return PERMFAIL (inappropriate key algorithm).

6.1.3. Compute the Verification

  1. Based on the algorithm defined in the "c=" tag, the body length specified in the "l=" tag, and the header field names in the "h=" tag, prepare a canonicalized version of the message. Note that this canonicalized version does not actually replace the original content.

  2. Based on the algorithm indicated in the "a=" tag, compute the message hashes from the canonical copy.

  3. Verify that the hash of the canonicalized message body computed in the previous step matches the hash value conveyed in the "bh=" tag.

    1. If the hash does not match, the Verifier SHOULD ignore the signature and return PERMFAIL (body hash did not verify).

  4. Verifiers might treat a message that contains bytes beyond the indicated body length with suspicion and can choose to treat the signature as if it were invalid (e.g., by returning PERMFAIL (unsigned content)).

  5. Using the signature conveyed in the "b=" tag, verify the signature against the header hash using the mechanism appropriate for the public-key algorithm described in the "a=" tag.

    1. If the signature does not validate, the Verifier SHOULD ignore the signature and return PERMFAIL (signature did not verify).

  6. Signature has correctly verified

6.2. Communicate Verification Results

  • Implementations might choose to add an email header "Authentication-Results" (RFC5451) field to the message before passing it on.

  • Any such header field SHOULD be inserted before any existing DKIM-Signature or preexisting authentication status header fields in the header field block.

6.3. Interpret Result/Apply Local Policy

It is beyond the scope of this specification to describe what actions an Identity Assessor can make, but mail carrying a validated SDID presents an opportunity to an Identity Assessor that unauthenticated email does not.

7. Security Considerations

7.1. ASCII Art Attacks

The "relaxed" body canonicalization algorithm may enable certain types of extremely crude "ASCII Art" attacks where a message may be conveyed by adjusting the spacing between words. If this is a concern, the "simple" body canonicalization algorithm should be used instead.

7.2. Misuse of Body Length Limits ("l=" Tag)

Use of the "l=" tag might allow display of fraudulent content without appropriate warning to end users.

An example of such an attack includes altering the MIME structure, exploiting lax HTML parsing in the MUA, and defeating duplicate message detection algorithms.

To avoid this attack, Signers should be extremely wary of using this tag, and Assessors might wish to ignore signatures that use the tag.

7.3. Misappropriated Private Key

Private keys issued to users, rather than one used by an ADministrative Management Domain (ADMD) itself, create the usual problem of securing data stored on personal resources that can affect the ADMD.

A more secure architecture involves sending messages through an outgoing MTA that can authenticate the submitter using existing techniques (e.g. SMTP Authentication).

7.4. Key Server Denial-of-Service Attacks

Given the low overhead of verification compared with handling of the email message itself, such an attack would be difficult to mount.

7.5. Attacks against the DNS

A DKIM Verifier, while verifying a DKIM-Signature header field, could be prompted to retrieve a key record of an attacker’s choosing. This threat can be minimized by ensuring that name servers, including recursive name servers, used by the Verifier enforce strict checking of "glue" and other additional information in DNS responses and are therefore not vulnerable to this attack.

7.6. Replay/Spam Attacks

A spammer sends a piece of spam through an MTA that signs it, banking on the reputation of the signing domain (e.g., a large popular mailbox provider) rather than its own, and then re-sends that message to a large number of intended recipients.

Partial solutions to this problem involve the use of reputation services to convey the fact that the specific email address is being used for spam and that messages from that Signer are likely to be spam.

However, such measures might be prone to abuse, if, for example, an attacker re-sent a large number of messages received from a victim in order to make the victim appear to be a spammer.

7.7. Limits on Revoking Keys

7.8. Intentionally Malformed Key Records

Verifiers MUST thoroughly verify all key records retrieved from the DNS and be robust against intentionally as well as unintentionally malformed key records.

7.9. Intentionally Malformed DKIM-Signature Header Fields

Verifiers MUST be prepared to receive messages with malformed DKIM-Signature header fields and thoroughly verify the header field before depending on any of its contents.

7.10. Information Leakage

An attacker could determine when a particular signature was verified by using a per-message selector and then monitoring their DNS traffic for the key lookup. This would act as the equivalent of a "web bug" for verification time rather than the time the message was read.

7.11. Remote Timing Attacks

In some cases, it may be possible to extract private keys using a remote timing attack [BONEH03]. Implementations should consider obfuscating the timing to prevent such attacks.

7.12. Reordered Header Fields

Signers that sign any existing DKIM-Signature fields run the risk of having messages incorrectly fail to verify.

7.13. RSA Attacks

Verifiers might avoid this attack by refusing to verify signatures that reference selectors with public keys having unreasonable exponents.