How to encode the filename parameter of Content-Disposition header in HTTP


Web applications that want to force a resource to be downloaded rather than directly rendered in a Web browser issue a Content-Disposition header in the HTTP response of the form:

Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=FILENAME

The filename parameter can be used to suggest a name for the file into which the resource is downloaded by the browser. RFC 2183 (Content-Disposition), however, states in section 2.3 (The Filename Parameter) that the file name can only use US-ASCII characters:

Current [RFC 2045] grammar restricts
parameter values (and hence
Content-Disposition filenames) to
US-ASCII. We recognize the great
desirability of allowing arbitrary
character sets in filenames, but it is
beyond the scope of this document to
define the necessary mechanisms.

There is empirical evidence, nevertheless, that most popular Web browsers today seem to permit non-US-ASCII characters yet (for the lack of a standard) disagree on the encoding scheme and character set specification of the file name. Question is then, what are the various schemes and encodings employed by the popular browsers if the file name “naïvefile” (without quotes and where the third letter is U+00EF) needed to be encoded into the Content-Disposition header?

For the purpose of this question, popular browsers being:

  • Google Chrome
  • Safari
  • Internet Explorer or Edge
  • Firefox
  • Opera

Best Solution

I know this is an old post but it is still very relevant. I have found that modern browsers support rfc5987, which allows utf-8 encoding, percentage encoded (url-encoded). Then Naïve file.txt becomes:

Content-Disposition: attachment; filename*=UTF-8''Na%C3%AFve%20file.txt

Safari (5) does not support this. Instead you should use the Safari standard of writing the file name directly in your utf-8 encoded header:

Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=Naïve file.txt

IE8 and older don't support it either and you need to use the IE standard of utf-8 encoding, percentage encoded:

Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=Na%C3%AFve%20file.txt

In ASP.Net I use the following code:

string contentDisposition;
if (Request.Browser.Browser == "IE" && (Request.Browser.Version == "7.0" || Request.Browser.Version == "8.0"))
    contentDisposition = "attachment; filename=" + Uri.EscapeDataString(fileName);
else if (Request.Browser.Browser == "Safari")
    contentDisposition = "attachment; filename=" + fileName;
    contentDisposition = "attachment; filename*=UTF-8''" + Uri.EscapeDataString(fileName);
Response.AddHeader("Content-Disposition", contentDisposition);

I tested the above using IE7, IE8, IE9, Chrome 13, Opera 11, FF5, Safari 5.

Update November 2013:

Here is the code I currently use. I still have to support IE8, so I cannot get rid of the first part. It turns out that browsers on Android use the built in Android download manager and it cannot reliably parse file names in the standard way.

string contentDisposition;
if (Request.Browser.Browser == "IE" && (Request.Browser.Version == "7.0" || Request.Browser.Version == "8.0"))
    contentDisposition = "attachment; filename=" + Uri.EscapeDataString(fileName);
else if (Request.UserAgent != null && Request.UserAgent.ToLowerInvariant().Contains("android")) // android built-in download manager (all browsers on android)
    contentDisposition = "attachment; filename=\"" + MakeAndroidSafeFileName(fileName) + "\"";
    contentDisposition = "attachment; filename=\"" + fileName + "\"; filename*=UTF-8''" + Uri.EscapeDataString(fileName);
Response.AddHeader("Content-Disposition", contentDisposition);

The above now tested in IE7-11, Chrome 32, Opera 12, FF25, Safari 6, using this filename for download: 你好abcABCæøåÆØÅäöüïëêîâéíáóúýñ½§!#¤%&()=`@£$€{[]}+´¨^~'-_,;.txt

On IE7 it works for some characters but not all. But who cares about IE7 nowadays?

This is the function I use to generate safe file names for Android. Note that I don't know which characters are supported on Android but that I have tested that these work for sure:

private static readonly Dictionary<char, char> AndroidAllowedChars = "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ._-+,@£$€!½§~'=()[]{}0123456789".ToDictionary(c => c);
private string MakeAndroidSafeFileName(string fileName)
    char[] newFileName = fileName.ToCharArray();
    for (int i = 0; i < newFileName.Length; i++)
        if (!AndroidAllowedChars.ContainsKey(newFileName[i]))
            newFileName[i] = '_';
    return new string(newFileName);

@TomZ: I tested in IE7 and IE8 and it turned out that I did not need to escape apostrophe ('). Do you have an example where it fails?

@Dave Van den Eynde: Combining the two file names on one line as according to RFC6266 works except for Android and IE7+8 and I have updated the code to reflect this. Thank you for the suggestion.

@Thilo: No idea about GoodReader or any other non-browser. You might have some luck using the Android approach.

@Alex Zhukovskiy: I don't know why but as discussed on Connect it doesn't seem to work terribly well.