Why NOT to use HTML in E-mail
Why not use HTML to format e-mail messages? The short answer is: it's a
dumb way to do it.
You may think you want to format a message so it is nicely displayed. But
HTML can't do that. The hypertext rendering engine used by your mail
recipient will almost surely format the message differently than
the way you want. It will probably use different fonts, and arrange
things on the screen differently from the way the formatted message
appears on your screen.
That's because HTML is designed to be flexible, so it's full of
work-arounds. If you don't have the same fonts installed as the addressee
has, some other fonts will be used instead. If the reader's screen width
is different from yours, the text and pictures will be rearranged on the
virtual page to fit. Consequently, you have almost no control
over the actual appearance of the result.
Besides, different rendering engines will format the document differently;
there are complicated hacks used on commercial Web pages to make things look
sort of the same with all browsers. (That's why those dot-com
Web pages take so long to load: they're full of extra HTML markup and
ECMA-script coding to fudge things to look roughly the same on
If you really want to have your readers see the page formatted
exactly the way you want, you should be sending them a PDF file,
But maybe your reason for using HTML was not formatting, but special
characters. Sometimes you need (or, at least want) to use things like the
“degree” sign [°]. Or you need to include mathematical symbols, like
≠ or ≤ or ∞, or even the schoolboy's division sign, ÷ ;
or Greek letters like α, β, and γ;
or accented letters, like á, è, ü, and ø ;
or symbols used in typesetting, like the section sign, § , and paragraph
mark, ¶ ;
or symbols used in commerce, like ® or ™.
Well, you know there are “named entities” for these things in HTML; so you
think that's the way to go.
But in fact, these things can be represented in good old Plain Text,
provided that you use Unicode (i.e., UTF-8 encoding). In fact, that's
what I've done here in this page: it's all encoded in UTF-8, and the
special symbols used above are all properly displayed (at least, on my
screen) without using the HTML entities for them.
[Furthermore, I can type them directly from my keyboard by using the
So HTML isn't needed in order to use these symbols.
Filespace and bandwidth considerations
My main objection to the use of HTML in email is the bloat it introduces.
Most mail user-agents introduce the HTML version as a multipart attachment
in addition to the plain-text version of the message. But the HTML
markup typically uses as many bytes as the original text itself; so adding
this makes the whole mail file about three times as long as the plain text
alone. This uses up bandwidth on the Net, and it chews up filespace on my
Please, don't use HTML in email.
Copyright © 2013 Andrew T. Young
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