vCard 4.0

The latest major revision to vCard is vCard 4.0, a milestone improvement over vCard 3.0.

Described in RFC 6350, vCard Format Specification, it is designed as a generalization of the vCard 2.1 and 3.0 formats that it is a general contact information format instead of just representing a business card or a directory profile. RFC 6350 was developed through the CalConnect VCARD technical committee and published in August 2011 through IETF.

A brief history of vCard 4.0

In the early days of CalConnect (i.e. 2006/2007), our members had a fair amount of discussion whether we should tackle a revision of vCard (which was then at 3.0, but 2.1 was still in general use) due to the various shortcomings of the standard.

Eventually, CalConnect hosted an open vCard workshop during the CalConnect meeting at MIT in September 2007 with the goal of meeting fellow users and vendors of vCard to discuss existing issues. A fair number of interested parties, including CalConnect members and external individuals, came and decided that it is time to update the existing standard.

The conclusion of the CalConnect vCard workshop led the IETF to undertake a revision of vCard and assigned an editor. The resulting standard is vCard 4.0, which resolves some immediate concerns raised during the workshop while keeping it compatible with 3.0.

Benefits of vCard 4.0

vCard 4.0 provides a number of important updates over its predecessor:

  • additional standardized properties to support modern businesses and use cases
  • independent MIME type designated for vCard usage as a standalone file
  • a standardized method of extending the vCard standard without modifying its core
  • introduces standardized measures aimed to resolve incompatible vendor-specific properties used by client implementations
  • greatly simplifies the vCard data format and resolves previous inconsistencies

vCard 4.0 also allows for better representation of information about individuals, groups of people, companies, and locations, and implementing it in your software gives you greater flexibility to store and exchange this information.

Changes in vCard 4.0 from vCard 3.0

vCard 4.0 represents an incremental but large improvement over the previous vCard 3.0 and 2.1 formats.

The following sections contain discussion of the differences between vCard 4.0 and previous versions of vCard, as well as information on how to migrate existing software from the vCard 3.0 format to the newer vCard 4.0 format.

Unfortunately, Appendix A of RFC 6350 contains an incomplete list of the changes from vCard 3.0 to vCard 4.0. In this document we will provide more detailed information on why you should utilize vCard 4.0, and supplement that information with a brief discussion of the implications and benefits of each change.

Extendable structure

Instead of having two complementary specifications in vCard 3.0 in form of RFC 2425 and RFC 2426, they are merged into just one document, RFC

  1. This change makes it much easier for implementers to understand the vCard format definition, and much implementation simpler.

New vCard elements can be registered with IANA, allowing for central control and extension of the vCard format without modification of the core standard. This registry would simplify development of extensions and resolve previous incompatiblities with widely used, non-standard, vendor-specific properties (X-properties) that plagued versions 2.1 and 3.0 by large vendors.


vCard 4.0 requires the encoding to be in the UTF-8 character set, eliminating any incompatibilities between programs encoding or reading the format in different character sets, which is extremely important for the global usage of the vCard format.

In international settings, it is increasingly common for business cards to be in multiple languages. vCard 4.0 introduces a new parameter type LANGUAGE to allow multiple translations of a property, effectively allowing a business card to be encoded in multiple languages at once.

UTF-8 is now the only supported character set, eliminating any incompatibilities which can arise from different pieces of software implementing vCard with different character sets and languages.

The new property type LANG is also introduced to allow specifying the preferred language of the vCard’s subject.

Unique MIME type

Version 4.0 formally introduces the text/vcard MIME type, allowing vCard to be a standalone file format. This is one of the most important changes in vCard 4.0.

Users can now directly store, edit and open them using their preferred applications instead of requiring vCards to be attachments. With vCards being standalone files they are more distributable, and it is more easy than ever to allow reading and exchange of contact data.

Previously, vCard existed only as a MIME type attached to email or as information extracted from a directory profile through the text/directory MIME type, which was unsuitable and confusing at best. The new type remains a valid MIME type for message attachments.

Representing groups and locations

vCard 4.0 introduces the group and location property values for the KIND property, allowing a vCard to represent a group or geographical location.

For KIND:group, an additional MEMBER property is introduced allowing group members to be represented inside the group’s vCard, which makes it possible for the vCard to be self-contained about information pertaining to the group.

Simultaneous editing

With the advent of the cloud era, simultaneous collaborative editing of information has become commonplace. vCard 4.0 has been designed exactly with that in mind. The PID property (and the CLIENTPIDMAP property) allows the user to edit properties on one device and complete the edit on another, tracking and merging actions performed on each, allowing a seamless experience with contact information updates.

New Properties and Parameter Values

The following properties have been added for vCard 4.0: KIND, GENDER, LANG (described above), ANNIVERSARY, XML, and CLIENTPIDMAP. These properties give vCard a much greater flexibility in representing information about people and groups.

  • KIND specifies the kind of object a particular vCard represents: an individual, group of people, organization, or geographic.
  • GENDER specifies the sex and gender identity of the person or object a particular vCard represents. This property is optional but can be useful in helping people identify themselves.
  • ANNIVERSARY specifies the date of marriage (or equivalent) of the person that a particular vCard represents.
  • CLIENTPIDMAP gives a global meaning to a local PID source identifier.

RFC 2739 (Calendar attributes for vCard and LDAP) (which defines FBURL, CALADURI, CAPURI, and CALURI) and RFC 4770 (vCard Extensions for Instant Messaging (IM)) (which defines IMPP) have been incorporated into the vCard 4.0 specification and further standardized. This merge simplifies the specification of vCard and makes implementation easier.

The work and home TYPE parameter values have been made available to more properties. These tags help specify whether a property is related to an individual’s workplace or home. When neither of these tags are present and the KIND property is set to individual, the implication is that a property relates to both the individual’s home and workplace. If KIND is set to any other value and these tags are present, there is no implication to the property.

The pref value of the TYPE parameter indicating preference when multiple values are specified now includes a positive integer value indicating the level of preference. This can be useful for ranking multiple values, for example when providing several phone number contacts, they can be ranked in order of most preferred to least preferred.

The ALTID and PID parameters have been added to further improve the ability to identify properties.

The MEDIATYPE parameter has been added to specify the type of media to expect when a value is a URI. This parameter replaces the TYPE parameter when used for indicating the specific media type of a property’s content.

Removed Features

The CONTEXT and CHARSET parameters have been removed. TheCHARSET parameter is no longer required as the vCard format now only supports one character set.

TheNAME,MAILER, LABEL and CLASS properties have been removed as they are no longer useful with the modern usage of vCard.

The TYPE parameter values intl, dom, postal, and parcel for the ADR property have been removed to simplify the address definition.

Inline vCards, such as the value of the AGENT property from vCard 3.0 are no longer supported. This improves the readability of the vCard format.

Migrating from vCard 3.0 to vCard 4.0

When making changes to your software that implements vCard, you should carefully review the new vCard specification, and make sure that you support all new properties, as well as the expanded parameters for old properties.

Additionally, implementing vCard 4.0 is simplified by the standalone file format (be sure to continue to support MIME encoded vCards) and by the reduction in supported character sets.

Ideally, your software should continue supporting vCard 3.0 alongside the implementation of vCard 4.0, until the newest format is widely used. For most use cases, vCard 4.0 represents a vast improvement over the previous version, and should be adopted immediately.

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