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Plain-Text E-Mail Only
Copyright © 2008-2012, 2015, 2018, 2020-2021 by David E. Ross
Please do not send me E-mail messages that are HTML-formatted. Think! The information you wish to convey should be expressed in well-written sentences with correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. You do not really need colored, strange fonts. You do not need bold and Italics. Does the graphic you wish to embed really provide information? Or is it merely decoration?
Why HTML formatted e-mail is best avoided
In general, HTML formatted e-mail is a nuisance. Normally, the effect of using HTML is that your message may appear strange or hardly legible at the recipients screen, because different e-mail clients handle HTML differently (and everybody doesn't use Micro$ofts e-mail software). One of the most annoying aspects of HTML messages is that they sometimes include graphics or sounds linked from the web, causing your dial-up networking connection to be activated and your modem to start dialing. There are other ways of irritating the receivers of your e-mail than sending it HTML coded, but few are more efficient.
Parting with some of the capabilities of HTML, like the ability to insert animated graphics of smiling faces, might actually be quite beneficial for some. Without them, they may just have to rediscover the art of writing in order to convey their thoughts.
by Jörn Rönnow (used with permission)
There are some very good reasons to avoid HTML-formatted messages:
- On average, an HTML message is actually more than 15 times larger than an plain-text message with the same amount of text.
- Such an HTML message takes 15 times longer to download than the same information in an plain-text message.
- Such an HTML message takes 15 times longer to pass through my anti-virus scanner, even with a broadband connection.
- If I keep your HTML message, it can occupy 15 times more disc space as the same content in an plain-text message.
- Many U.S. corporations must now archive all their E-mail — internal, incoming, and outgoing — because of federal laws enacted as a result of the major corporate frauds that occurred in the beginning of the 21st century. They want plain-text messages in order to limit their investment in archiving media.
- Some E-mail services limit the size of a user's inbox. When that limit is reached, either further incoming messages are blocked or else the user must pay for additional inbox space. Because of bloat, HTML-formatted messages will more quickly fill an inbox than will plain-text messages.
- Data downloading caps — including the downloading of E-mail — are becoming quite common for ISPs and cell phone systems in the United States and other nations. In my study of "bloat" cited in the box to the right-above, I collected data from only 20 HTML-formatted E-mail messages, which totaled more than 723 KB (kilo-bytes). The same content in plain-text messages required less than 49 KB.
- Making bloat worse is the capability of some E-mail clients that send a message that combines both HTML formatting and plain-text, supposedly in an attempt to satisfy everyone. Of course, such message are even more bloated than mere HTML-formatted messages.
- Many E-mail applications generate invalid HTML that does not comply with any of the W3C HTML specifications. I know. I have taken HTML-formatted messages and processed them with the W3C HTML validator. If your E-mail application is different from mine, mine might not be able to display your message properly. Even if I can display your message, the result may be garbled if I try to quote your message in a reply to you or in a forwarded message to someone else.
Further, messages formatted in non-compliant HTML generally cannot be "read" by audio E-mail applications used by the blind. It might be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for a business or government agency to send such HTML-formatted messages, resulting in a costly lawsuit.
- Contrary to popular belief, much of the added content in an HTML-formatted message — especially graphics and background images — are attachments and not "inline". Only when the Internet packets arrive at your E-mail application, are images merged back into the HTML. To protect me from viruses, however, I have set my E-mail application to prevent it from opening or using any attachment. (Yes, JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG image files have been known to contain serious malware.) As a result, your HTML-formatted message displays with "broken image" icons instead of your intended images.
- Some spam filters treat HTML-formatted messages as more likely to be spam. Of course, HTML formatting is not the only criterion; but when added to certain words in the message text — words that might be quite innocent — HTML formatting might be enough to make a filter reject your message. Your message might not reach its intended addressee.
- Some Web E-mail applications have options to render all messages in plain text, as if they were plain-text. Many users select that option, in which case any effort to create HTML-formatted messages is wasted.
- Plain-text cannot contain a computer virus. An HTML-formatted message, however, can contain scripts that either are viruses themselves or fetch viruses from the Internet.
- A bug common to many E-mail clients — including applications by Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Mozilla — caused encrypted HTML-formatted E-mail messages to be vulnerable to unauthorized third-party decryption. The encryption methods themselves — OpenPGP and S/MIME — were not part of this bug. The problem entirely within how those E-mail clients handled their interface with the encryption and decryption applications. This bug did not affect encrypted plain-text E-mail messages even when handled by E-mail clients in which the bug was not fixed.
- Reading HTML-formatted E-mail can result in a Web bug being downloaded into your computer.
A web bug is an object that is embedded in a web page or e-mail and is usually invisible to the user but allows checking that a user has viewed the page or e-mail.
A Web bug might thus be considered similar to a computer virus. At the least, a Web bug violates your privacy. If the E-mail was spam, the sender will know not only that you actually opened the message but also how often, thus subjecting you to an increased volume of spam. HTML-formatted E-mail rendered in plain text defeats most (but not necessarily all) Web bugs but — as noted above — also defeats the HTML formatting. Plain-text E-mail might contain Web bugs as attachments, but those Web bugs are not enabled unless you actually attempt to open the attachments.
For newsletters and other communications where images and elegant formatting might be appropriate, it is better to create an HTML-formatted Web page. Then, a simple plain-text message with a link to the Web page can be broadcast.
Most E-mail applications have options to use plain-text. Some even have options to use plain-text automatically for selected addresses. There is no good reason why you cannot comply with my request.
No, Rönnow and I are not alone in our rejection of HTML formatting for E-mail.
Plain text is for email; HTML is for web pages
From someone else's message signature
See also Why HTML Mail is Evil.
25 August 2008
Updated 24 September 2021