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AOL Feedback Loop Switching to ARF Format – Time to Learn ARF


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AOL has announced today that their feedback loop will be switching over to the ARF format – only.

This means that if you are an email sender of any volume, it’s time for you to start being able to deal with ARF format spam reports if you aren’t already.

Here’s what AOL said today on their AOL Postmaster’s Blog:

AOL first began offering complaint feedback loops in 2003. Since that time, many other ISPs have begun offering FBLs, and from that, a standard(ish) format was born. This format is called ARF, or Abuse Reporting Format, and is designed to prevent FBL recipients from having to maintain separate parsers for FBLs from different providers. Due to the widespread adoption of ARF, AOL is adopting ARF as its only format for sending FBLs.

Beginning on September 2, 2008, AOL will remove the option to create non-ARF FBLs. We will also convert all existing non-ARF loops to ARF loops.

Please note that ARF messages are not readable in most major email clients. Parsing and decoding the complaints will require scripting. If you have existing FBLs in the traditional non-ARF format, please update your tools and scripts to parse ARF complaints by this time.

And even the AOL announcement aside, you should be able to process ARF format spam reports.

ARF stands for “Abuse Reporting Format”, and is an effort among email receivers (ISPs and the likes) to provide to email senders a standardized format for the abuse reports (i.e. spam complaints) which they send back to the senders. As a result of this effort, more and more email senders are providing their Feedback Loops (FBLs) and other spam complaints in ARF format.

How the move to ARF will impact you depends on how you are currently reading and processing spam complaints from FBLs. Some mail programs will render the ARF-compliant complaint in a format that will allow you to discern the critical information (like, who it was who complained, so that you can remove the email address from your mailing lists). But many will not.

If you find that you are unable to usefully read ARF-formatted mail, you have a couple of options:

  • 1. You can try using a different mail reading program, and then another, until you find one that can usefully render the ARF-formatted FBL mail.
  • 2. You or your admin can try installing the handy “deals with ARF” filter which has been kindly created and provided by our friends over at Word to the Wise.
  • Of course, if you find a mail program that works particularly well, or have another way of reading ARF compliant complaints, please let us know!

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      I would like to know WHY? AOL when getting an e-mail from a friend or family member, I can not send it to any one cause it states an embedded file and AOL does not approve, got an e-mail about an Amber Alert about a little girl with her picture on it and could not send it cause AOL said it was an embedded file. Thank you please do something ?

    • It would be nice if AOL left the complaint’s email address in the ARF FBL report. It makes it harder to unsubscribe the user when the email address has been replaced with “”.

      Especially when AOL users tend to use their spam button like an unsubscribe button.

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    This article originally written on May 11, 2016, and is as relevant now as when it was first written.