7 reasons why HTML e-mail is EVIL!!!

This page summarises a longer article, now called HTML email is STILL evil!!!


I originally wrote this article in 2000 for friends, the tongue-in-cheek title inspired by objections to HTML mail expressed in the evolt.org web designer's list. By 2002 some big sites had linked to it, traffic (and abusive responses) to the page had increased and the internet had changed significantly, so I decided to update it.

The internet is now cheaper, faster and bigger than ever - and it's also more hazardous than ever. While HTML mail is being employed more and more, particularly for mass-marketting, it is and always will be true that: HTML email can be dangerous, is not always readable, wastes bandwidth and is simply not necessary.

This article does not aim to present a balanced argument about the merits or otherwise of HTML mail. Nor am I suggesting that sending HTML mail will hurt you - it may even boost your company sales. However receiving HTML email can cause problems, so if you care at all about the people you send mail to, read on...


The 7 sins

1. HTML e-mail is dangerous

Nearly all viruses are transmitted by email. Both plain text and HTML mail may carry malware attachments but with HTML there is a significantly greater risk since some malware can exploit vulnerabilities in the HTML parser to automatically execute code as soon as the message is viewed in the preview pane (i.e. without the attachment having to be 'opened'.)

2. HTML e-mail wastes bandwidth

Look at the source code of any HTML message and after the headers you'll see the message body is duplicated, once in plain text and once in HTML. So most HTML messages are at least twice as big as plain text only, and they can be many time larger.

3. HTML e-mail doesn't always work

Some popular e-mail readers (e.g. Pegasus) simply don't read HTML mail, others (Pocomail and even AOL) have difficulties displaying it properly.

4. HTML e-mail can connect to the internet by itself

If you're off-line, opening an HTML email cantaining images may (by default) open a connection to the internet.

5. HTML e-mail renders slowly

Some mail apps (e.g. Outlook) can slow down considerably when rendering HTML. The need for an HTML parser has also led to code-bloat in email apps generally.

6. HTML e-mail is not always reader-friendly

HTML allows the sender to use unreadably small or non-standard fonts, clashing colours, badly formatted images and sometimes there is no quick or easy way for the reader to adjust the appearance to THEIR choice.

7. Digested lists hate HTML mail

Subscriber lists, particularly those with a digest, discourage and sometimes block HTML (since it appears in the digest as a mess of code).


What to do...

Sending HTML-formatted email is just not necessary. If the appearance of your message is important either put it on a website and mail the URL, or save it as an .rtf (or even a .pdf) document, zip that up and send it as an attachment to a plain text mail

So.. check in your email client's options for how to set 'Mail Sending Format' to 'Plain Text'...

...and how to turn OFF 'Reply to messages in the format in which they were sent'.

With these settings you will still be able to send images and other attachments. And images attached to plain text mail will be displayed by most popular email clients.



Here are some related pages. The links may have gone bad since I wrote this article.

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