A media type (also known as MIME type and content type) is a two-part identifier for file formats and format contents transmitted on the Internet. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is the official authority for the standardization and publication of these classifications. Media types were first defined in Request for Comments 2045 in November 1996, at which point they were named MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) types. They became known as media types when it became apparent that their usage had expanded to protocols which did not relate specifically to mail.
A media type is composed of a type, a subtype, and optional parameters.
As an example, an HTML file might be designated
text/html; charset=UTF-8. In this example
text is the type,
html is the subtype, and
charset=UTF-8 is an optional parameter indicating the character encoding.
Media type consists of top-level type name and sub-type name, which is further structured into so-called "trees". Media types can optionally define companion data, known as parameters.
top-level type name / subtype name [ ; parameters ]
top-level type name / [ tree. ] subtype name [ +suffix ] [ ; parameters ]
The currently registered top-level type names are: application, audio, example, image, message, model, multipart, text, video.
Sub-type name typically consists of a media type name, but it may or must also contain other content, such as tree prefix (facet), producer's name, product name or suffix - according to the different rules in registration trees.
All media types should be registered using the IANA registration procedures. For the efficiency and flexibility of the media type registration process, different structures of sub-type names can be registered in registration "trees" that are distinguished by the use of faceted names, e.g. sub-type names that begin with a "tree." prefix (facet). Currently the following trees are created: standard, vendor, personal or vanity, unregistered "x.". These registration trees were first defined in November 1996 (obsoleted RFC 2048 - currently RFC 6838). New registration trees may be created by IETF Standards Action - for external registration and management by well-known permanent organizations (e.g. scientific societies).
Media types in the standards tree do not use any tree facet (prefix).
Registrations in the standards tree must be either associated with IETF specifications approved directly by the IESG, or registered by an IANA recognized standards-related organization.
type / media type name [+suffix]
Examples: "application/xhtml+xml", "image/png"
Vendor tree is used for media types associated with publicly available products. It uses "vnd." facet.
The terms "vendor" and "producer" are considered equivalent in the context. Industry consortia as well as non-commercial entities can register media types in the vendor tree. A registration in the vendor tree may be created by anyone who needs to interchange files associated with some software product or set of products. However, the registration belongs to the vendor or organization producing the software that employs the type being registered, and that vendor or organization can at any time elect to assert ownership of a registration done by a third party.
type / vnd. media type name [+suffix] - used in the case of well-known producer
type / vnd. producer's name followed by media type name [+suffix] - producer's name must be approved by IANA
type / vnd. producer's name followed by product's name [+suffix] - producer's name must be approved by IANA
Personal or Vanity tree
Personal or Vanity tree includes media types created experimentally or as part of products that are not distributed commercially. It uses "prs." facet.
type / prs. media type name [+suffix]
Unregistered x. tree
The "x." tree may be used for media types intended exclusively for use in private, local environments and only with the active agreement of the parties exchanging them. Types in this tree cannot be registered.
According to RFC 6838 (published in January 2013), any use of types in the "x." tree is strongly discouraged. Media types with names beginning with "x-" are no longer considered to be members of this tree since January 2013.
According to the previous version of RFC 6838 - obsoleted RFC 2048 (published in November 1996) it should rarely, if ever, be necessary to use unregistered experimental types, and as such use of both "x-" and "x." forms is discouraged. Previous versions of that RFC - RFC 1590 and RFC 1521 stated that the use of "x-" notation for the sub-type name may be used for unregistered and private sub-types, but this recommendation was obsoleted in November 1996.
All media types should be registered using the simplified IANA registration procedures for vendor and personal trees or using the standards procedure for standards tree.
Media types that have been widely deployed (with an unfaceted sub-type name beginning with the "x-" prefix) without being registered, should be, if possible, re-registered with a proper faceted sub-type name. If this is not possible, the media type can, after an approval by both the media types reviewer and the IESG, be registered in the proper tree with its unfaceted name.
type / x. media type name [+suffix]
Suffix is an augmentation to the media type definition to additionally specify the underlying structure of that media type. Media types that make use of a named structured syntax should use the appropriate IANA registered "+suffix" for that structured syntax when they are registered. Unregistered suffixes should not be used (since January 2013). Structured syntax suffix registration procedures are defined in RFC 6838.
- "Content-Type: text". Exchange Server 2003 documentations. Microsoft. 8 June 2004. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
- Freed, N.; Borenstein, N. (November 1996). "Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format of Internet Message Bodies". Internet Engineering Task Force. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
- Freed, N. "Media Type Specifications and Registration Procedures". RFC6838. Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). ISSN 2070-1721. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
- "Structured Syntax Suffix Registry" (XML). IANA. 2012-07-20. Retrieved 15 July 2015.