For many years I have been building emails that get sent out by my webapps that are Multi-part with a text part & an email part to allow users of plain text only email clients to default to the text version.

However I have recently been developing a rather complex email that doesn't translate so well to text, so in 2011 is there really any need to provide a textual alternative. How many people out there are actually still only able to see plain text emails?

  • the plain text version will be created by your mailer automatically (in most case) from your html version without you know it. So you can safely send html version only if you are lazy and do not want to send a nice plain text version to your clients
    – Eric Yin
    Apr 4, 2012 at 19:25

5 Answers 5


It depends upon the people you are trying to reach with your emails. Do you absolutely need to have a text side to your emails? No. However you should consider:

  • There are still a number of email clients, usually web and mobile based, that allow for a text only view (Horde, some older Blackberry devices, etc).
  • You also have no guarantee that a non-text email will display correctly on the recipients machine, if at all.
  • There are some people may also turn off image content within their email to try to mitigate phishing schemes centered around them emails 'looking' legit.
  • People on mobile/satellite connections that are counting their kilobytes might elect not to load your rich content to save on bandwidth (and the attached costs associated).

In all these cases, not having a plain text version of the email will leave the recipient staring at a blank message or worse a garbled screen of visual trash. If you believe that the number of text-only users you will be reaching are very small (or not in your market), go ahead and ditch it. However, if it is important that you reach everyone then you should consider plain text to be an important part of your email communication.


Yes, plain-text email is a must even in 2001

  • 1
    Care to offer us a reason why?
    – John Conde
    Oct 27, 2011 at 15:43
  • 1
    E-mail is information. Information is text. If you can not not say / write the information - it is not information in the original sense (with a small size of exceptions, which just confirm rule). "Rich HTML" mostly contain bells and whistles at the expense of readability, portability, ease of post-processing Oct 27, 2011 at 16:06
  • Better yet, as we found out to our detriment, HTML only raises your spam quotient which means you end up in the spam trap, usually when you least need it to happen. Oct 27, 2011 at 20:10
  • 1
    @FiascoLabs But surely a lot of things raise your spam score, the trick is to not raise it above a certain level.
    – 3urdoch
    Oct 28, 2011 at 7:57
  • 4
    Definitely in 2001!
    – LaundroMat
    Nov 2, 2011 at 8:21

Personally in 2011 I would not use rich text or even plain text. The only valid reason for sending emails from a automated system is for order confirmations and the like. The rest is spam end of.

Hype it up all you like by saying its keeping your customers informed etc but the days of gaining traffic from junk email are in the past (I hope)

Yeap I have been spammed to death which is why I now hate email as a contact medium and refuse to deal with any company that sends out marketing material in this way. By spammed to death I do mean to death, over 5,000 a day of complete junk.

So unless you really need to send them the email I would strongly suggest a different route.

If your reason for sending these emails is valid then why not give the users a option ? allow them to decide if they wish to have plain text emails or rich text emails. Its a simple tick box which gives your users the choice.

  • I'm with you on the spam issue, however these emails alerts about new content and are are only sent to people who specifically request them.
    – 3urdoch
    Oct 28, 2011 at 7:54

Though I don't see many people using plain text only email clients these days, I still think you should have text version. It's hard to know exactly how many of your customers will be able to see the full version. A text version will make you safe.


Guess what? All email is ASCII text-based!

When you "attach" an image or other non-text content to email, it is hex-encoded so it can go through the SMTP system, which is ultimately defined in RFC 822 and descendants as consisting only of 7-bit ASCII characters.

This might only be an idle bit of trivia, except that, believe it or not, there are still people on slow connections. If you send them a 100k image, it comes over their modem as 200k worth of data, because the one-byte binary value "256", for example, must be encoded as two bytes: "FF".

I have aDSL here, but it is horribly slow, sometimes rivalling dial-up speeds. (Dial-up slows? What's the opposite of "speeds?") I do not appreciate big, non-text emails, and I generally unsub from sites that thoughtlessly insist on sending me "updates" that can take minutes to arrive.

Worst of all is the clown who was sending me HTML "updates" that included a megabyte image that was then scaled down to 180x240 via parameters in the HTML "img" tag. Needless to say, they no longer "update" me!

And if you're thinking Flash, fuggedaboutit -- I have Flash permanently disabled for email, and even have a "click to load Flash content" extension in my web browser of choice. Someone sends me Flash content once, they get unsubbed. Send it twice, they get reported to spam blackhole lists and blocked in my firewall.

I agree with others here: email should be shortish and primarily ASCII-text based. For other content, send them a link to your site -- perhaps with a smallish image, if you must.

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