X.400 – EDI into Europe

Todd Gould, CEO ECGrid, EDI, Global, Hubbub, Interconnects, VANs

Back in the early 80s, some folks had an idea for global e-mail…no these were not the same folks who were working on the Internet. What these folks delivered in 1984 was the first version of X.400. Never heard of it? Probably not, unless you are using EDI in Europe.

X.400 is basically e-mail on steroids. The addressing is extremely structured, perhaps too structured, for most of us to use. For example, if you wanted to send me e-mail at my X.400 address you would send to:

c=US; a=ECGRID; p=Loren Data; s=Gould; g=Todd; i=L


Try putting that on a business card!

ECGrid and Hubbub seamlessly and transparently incorporate X.400 into your mailbox, providing you with the greatest benefits of the protocol without the complexities. So what does that all really mean?

X.400 topology is very different than SMTP which connects on the fly. With X.400 there are no DNS or MX records and each MTA must be manually configured to connect to other MTAs.

Backing up a bit here for those not in the know, MTAs are mail servers,  and there are two basic types: ADMDs and PRMDs. ADMDs are network providers – Administrative Management Domains (the “A” part of the address). PRMDs are company servers – Private Management Domains (the “P” part of the address).

The vast majority of PRMDs subscribe to a single ADMD to which they connect. Then the ADMDs do the routing directly with other PRMDs on its network and with other ADMDs through interconnects.

For the techie curious, check out more than you need to know about X.400 on Wikipedia:

Similar to the interconnect connection with your router, this is also how EDI routes through VANs. The major difference is that X.400 is e-mail and that makes two major differences between EDI over X.400 ADMDs and EDI through VANs:

  1. X.400 natively routes all types of data, not only EDI; however, it is up to the trading partners to properly address the X.400 envelope so it goes to the right destination. With VANs, data is routed by the sender/receiver in the EDI envelope itself.
  2. ADMDs typically do not look, read, processes or otherwise participate in the EDI message – they simply pass the data through as e-mail. VANs on the other hand provide all sorts of “Value Added” services, hence the name Value Added Network.

The big X.400 ADMD players in Europe are Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom/Orange and KPN (formerly owned by British Telecom). In the US, ECGrid is an ANSI registered ADMD and maintains interconnects with the above European ADMDs and several other smaller ones.

This allows ECGrid and Hubbub subscribers to seamlessly transact EDI business with their European trading partners – we take care of all the e-mail addressing, packaging etc., so X.400 is transparently part of your mailbox.