HTML email is bad and should be considered harmful.

Shout out to @sir for all the useful information on

I use plaintext email at work although it's against the rules of my employer due to their corporate design and intend to continue doing so. Sadly our IT people set a bad example by following this rule and always sending HTML emails. :-/


I too have set my (work forced) Outlook client to only send emails as plain text. I don't send many emails for work though.

I send and get quite some emails at work but I view and send them in plain text.

@jrswab @sir yes!

I started using aerc recently, and it’s fantastic.

@jrswab now tell me how to pronounce it!

Air-k? Ears? Ark?

@jrswab @sir I use plaintext email a lot, but I'm feeling conflicted -- why should email be plaintext when websites are HTML?

Plaintext is great except when it's not, and I'm not sure how to resolve the conflict.

@christianbundy @jrswab websites and email are, as a matter of fact, two different things

Why should print books be TeX instead of HTML?

@sir @jrswab

Thanks for the snark, that was really helpful and cool.

Structural semantics make digital documents easier for machines to read, which can improve accessibility and analysis (e.g. text-to-speech,search, skip to content, et).

It's a trade-off, and I think we'd be wise to avoid black-and-white thinking when discussing those trade-offs.

@christianbundy @jrswab in fact, it's often the opposite. Plaintext emails are just the text, and that's pretty easy for a TTS to read. HTML emails are a nightmare for accessibility. And why "skip to content" when there's nothing but content?

@sir @jrswab

> Plaintext emails are just the text, and that's pretty easy for a TTS to read.

Sure, but it can also be a nightmare because now everyone gets to invent their own markup. Note my <blockquote> above. Also:

- What
* Do
+ Lists
> Look
• Like?

Yay, now /everyone/ gets to invent their own *markup standards*. Do you get my point?

> HTML emails are a nightmare for accessibility.

They can be, but they don't have to be. You seem to paint with very broad strokes and I don't get why.

@christianbundy @jrswab they DO have to be. HTML gives you more than enough rope to hang yourself with, and web designers will and are hanging themselves with it - or rather, are hanging us. Plain text might have infrequent and rare issues like that - easily resolved with sufficient context - but these are _rare_. HTML is a nightmare always and already. It's thousands of times more complex.

@sir @jrswab

Is this an accessibility nightmare?

<!DOCTYPE html>
<p>Hi Drew!</p>

(The <title> element is optional because it can be inferred from the email subject line.)

If your contention was "most HTML email clients are garbage", I'd agree with you, but you seem to be advocating a much more extreme position without any of the evidence to support your contention.

Maybe a better way of asking: HTML and plaintext are tools, where do you draw the line on which tool is best?

@christianbundy, my example was short to save blog space.

If you would see the HTML emails I get in plain text you would know what I mean.

I got an email from DHL about a shipment and it was so littered with HTML tags that I would be foolish to waste my time trying to find the information they were trying to give me. @sir

@christianbundy @sir

This is the kind of message I get most of the time. To me this is far from worth my time to try and find the actual message I was meant to receive.

By "most of the time" I was referring to when I get HTML emails.


Sure, but that's because you're rendering an HTML email as plaintext. This is why Mutt has mailcap configs, right?

I'd love to discuss where to draw the line on when we should use plaintext vs HTML, but this feels like "my text editor doesn't render SVG files correctly so SVG files are bad" or something silly.

I understand that you like HTML websites and plaintext emails, but *why*? If you prefer plaintext because bad HTML emails exist, then you should also prefer plaintext websites.


Btw, I've already seen:

> "But if plaintext is so good, why is this page written in HTML?"
> This is a reference document, not an email, you twit.

Unfortunately this doesn't clarify the difference to me. They're both digital documents, and it's unclear why "it's a reference document though" moves us from plaintext to HTML.

If I send an email that's meant to be referenced later, am I supposed to use HTML rather than plaintext? I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm really confused.



Do forgive me for not verbalizing this very well. I don't mean to say that just because I choose to use a mail client that shows me the source of the HTML that I want it banned.

I'm just advocating that we stop trying to make email do more than it was intended. Email is a messaging service. Complicating it with web elements in beyond it's scope.

It's just my opinion that keeping email to plain text simplifies the service for everyone.


I agree that HTML is a bad fit for messages like "let's have lunch at noon", but emails like "here's what you need to know about your health insurance" are much easier to read with accessibility tools when you can do things like:

- Skim <h1>..<h6> elements
- Skip the footer / email signature
- Read the text of all links (!)
- Read tables by their columns and rows

Plaintext makes these difficult or impossible, and its accessibility doesn't really scale. Shouldn't we use a markup lang?


Yes! We should all use Markup!

It's what I use on my blog and it's very easy to add the necessary bits when composing a message or document.

I believe it would translate very well when an email needs emphasis. The quote syntax is already used in emails anyway.



Oops! I really do mean markup:

Not Markdown:

I *do* like Markdown, but I don't think it's a good replacement for HTML emails.

@christianbundy aw gotcha, I must have misread. Sorry about that.

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