Multipart Form Data

An overview of multipart/form-data generation in Unifi.


Multipart form data (usually written multipart/form-data) is an encoding format devised as a means of encoding an HTTP form for posting up to a server. It is often used to encode files for upload to web servers. The format is formally defined in RFC-7578 : Returning Values from Forms: multipart/form-data.

HTTP Header

A HTTP POST message can include a HTTP content-type header of type multipart/form-data to indicate that the body is encoded in this way and the header must contain a directive to define the 'boundary' string used to separate the 'parts' of the body.

content-type: multipart/form-data; boundary="9871z7t355g08e925"

The boundary is any string of ASCII characters which is unlikely to appear in the data carried in the body. The quotes around the boundary string are only required if it contains special characters, such as colon (:).


Part Boundaries

Each part of the body is introduced by the boundary separator.

The sequence is: CRLF, -- (two hyphens), boundary string e.g.


Each part has one or more headers which indicate the encoding of that part and which follow immediately after the boundary separator. The content-disposition header is mandatory and must have a value of form-data ; it may also include a directive to specify the name of the field on the form e.g.

content-disposition: form-data; name="user_name"

When the form field is for a file to upload, it's also common practice to include a filename directive, which suggests the name to use to store the file data on the receiving system.

content-disposition: form-data; name="profile_picture"; filename="my_passport_photo.jpg"

Part Types

Another common (though optional) part header is content-type which is used to indicate the media-type of that part.

e.g. for text content

content-disposition: form-data; name="first_name"
content-type: text/plain

e.g. for binary content

content-disposition: form-data; name="details"; filename="config01.txt"
content-type: application/octet-stream

Binary data carried within multipart/form-data formatted messages is not encoded in any way, it is the raw sequence of binary bytes; it is only the presence of the boundary separator which terminates the sequence.

Part Terminators

The end of a part is indicated by the occurrence of the next boundary separator.

The final part of the body is terminated with a boundary separator which is immediately followed by two hyphens.

The sequence is: CRLF, -- (two hyphens), boundary string, -- e.g.


Implementing Multipart in Unifi

To implement Multipart Form Data support in Unifi we perform the following steps:

  • Set up a scripted REST API which takes text and attachments and generates a response that looks like the multipart body that we wish to ultimately send

  • We call that API (as a loopback REST call to the same instance) with parameters which define the text and attachments (and boundary string) that we want to work with

  • The API writes the combination of text and attachment data as a stream into its response

  • We save the response from this loopback API into a temporary attachment (which will contain the exact multipart body that we wanted)

  • We take the temporary attachment and stream that to the ultimate destination (we will need to know the boundary string that was embedded in the multipart body and include that in the content-type header of the request that we are sending)


The logic to support this implementation is in UnifiMultipartHelper which contains helper methods for both the client code which wants to generate multipart data and for the REST API server side which generates the body as a response.

If you need the UnifiMultipartHelper script, please request it via our contact page.

Example usage

var mp = new UnifiMultipartHelper();

// We need a record to link the temporary attachment to.
// (Default is the the sys_user record of the calling user)
// For Unifi this is likely to be the HTTPRequest record
// Let's hang it off a record we created earlier and stored in 'grHost'
// Alternatively, we could call setHostDetails( table_name, sys_id )

// When adding an attachment we need to specify two or three things
// - the name of the form field that the target is expecting
// - the sys_id of the attachment to add
// - (optional) the file name; if not supplied it will be taken from the attachment

// We could add more text or attchment parts here

// Generate the temporary attachment

// We can now use the generated attachment along with the boundary string
// to send the multipart body to the other system

var req = new sn_ws.RESTMessageV2();

// getContentType returns the content-type string including the boundary
// e.g. multipart/form-data; boundary="xxxxxxxxxxxx"

// getBodyId returns the sys_id of the multipart attachment

req.setEndpoint( /* the url */ );
req.setAuthenticationProfile('basic',/* the auth profile */);

var resp = req.execute();

// Once we have sent the body we can delete the temporary attachment