I’m under the impression that many technical folks must be annoyed by the emails they get from Stack Exchange. The messages contain a cute fluffy HTML version and a plaintext cripple auto-generated from the HTML version.

The HTML version is used by most web clients and by any clients configured to use it preferentially. The plaintext version is usually preferred by folks who participate in mailing lists, because it’s the greatest common denominator for all the participants, it’s easier to process automatically, it’s safer, it has a convention for marking quotes, it’s free from visual clutter unless the message is totally broken, … HTML, on the other hand, is used as a strong indicator of spam, e.g. by the LKML. Now, it’s probably clear that I prefer plaintext email.

All sorts of problems arise from generating plaintext from HTML:

The plaintext version was introduced to stop SpamAssassin default rules to block the messages and because there had been some demand.

Discussion topic

Are plaintext emails used enough to warrant the developers’ work needed to produce their content directly from the same sources as the HTML version uses? … in contrast to extracting their contents from the HTML version. After all, they are just two different serializations of the same data.


To me, the plaintext version is much more important than the HTML one and I believe many users would benefit from the implicitly proposed change. Implementation cannot be hard and the numerous problems associated with generating the plaintext from HTML instead of generating it from the same data directly would be gone for good, so that maintaining two distinct serializations is warranted.

  • Why is the plaintext version is much more important than the HTML? – Tim Apr 19 '15 at 17:15
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    Plaintext is much more important to me, @Tim, because I don’t use the HTML version at all. I dig into the HTML version only when the plaintext one is broken more than usually. There are some objective reasons, too, why plaintext should be regarded as at least equal to HTML in this context. I’ve presented some of them in the question. Being supported by all clients is the strongest one, IMO. – Palec Apr 19 '15 at 17:26
  • SE specifically doesn't support every single thing. I would have thought that very few other people would use the plaintext over HTML - and if you're still using a client that can't display the HTML email, it's time to update! – Tim Apr 19 '15 at 17:31
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    As commented earlier under another question, I find not supporting HTML a feature, not a bug. I use Thunderbird which can render HTML using Gecko, but I’ve disabled both HTML composition and rendering because plaintext is better in all cases. The only issue I have so far (5+ years) is with Stack Exchange. – Palec Apr 19 '15 at 17:42
  • If I think about it, having a good plaintext version of emails is a matter of basic accessibility. – Palec Apr 19 '15 at 17:43

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