[thelist] Sending both HTML and plaintext email

Paola Kathuria paola at limitless.co.uk
Wed Mar 21 16:00:02 CST 2001

Jason Tucker asked:
> >Is there a way of sending both HTML and plaintext at the same time?
> >
> >I could imagine a small detector that would not interfere with a non-HTML
> >viewer.  If HTML support was detected, then it would automatically redirect
> >to a full HTML page.

The IETF developed the standard for just this back in March 1997.
The relevant RFCs are 2387, 2392 and 2557.

See http://www.dsv.su.se/~jpalme/ietf/mhtml.html for a description
of the standard, examples and guidelines.

 From http://dsv.su.se/jpalme/ietf/web-email.html

  "The same message can be sent in the same message in both plain
   text and HTML format. The receiving mailer will only show the
   HTML version, if it supports HTML, otherwise it will only show
   the plain text version.

  "Netscape, Outlook Express and Eudora (version 4.0.1) all allow
   you to produce and receive messages in this format. Be sure to
   get Eudora 4.0.1, since Eudora 4.0 does not support this feature.

  "Outlook Express sends in this format by default. Netscape and
   Eudora 4.0.1 allows you to send in this format."

The MIME standard defines (amongst other things) the way mail
clients should create multi-part messages.  You yourself can't
type in content headers when composing a message and except it
to send MIME mail (in the same way you wouldn't write a program
into a mail message and expect the receiving mailer to execute

However, the standard is neither widely nor fully implemented.
Those mail clients that don't support MIME at all will see
garbage: all the content headers, the text version and the HTML
(that is, the HTML source, not the rendered page).  Whether or
not there HTML mail can be made more visually effective than
plain text, the result of viewing MIME mail in a non-MIME mail
client is always ghastly.

Also, just because people's mailer can view HTML, it doesn't
mean that they want the HTML version if given a choice.  I use
Netscape Mail which can display HTML mail but I'd rather see
plain text.

So, the answer to your question of "what is the correct way to go
about this?" is don't.  If really you must, use a mail client that
implements the MHTML standard, such as one of those mentioned above.


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