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Sending out an email containing HTML from within a PHP page

The mail function in PHP allows you to send a plain text email in a single function call from within your script but please read the cautions at the end of this post before you do so!. How do you send out something in HTML format, though?

The mail function takes an additional (fourth) parameter of extra headers ... and one of the headers that you can use is a content-type: which lets you define the data type that's in the email - for example: text/html. There's an example showing how a message may be sent as both plain text and as HTML [here].

Email protocols are intrinsically line based, and 7 bit ... which means that what you send out needs to have a new line character at least once every 80 characters, and it cannot reliably contain high end (special) characters. In theory, that should not be a problem with HTML, but it could be a nuisance to have to split things down, and it could be more than a nuisance if you were sending out things like .jpg images. The solution here is to use a content-transfer-encoding header, with a base64 encoding - and of course to encode the data stream to suit. Full example [here].

Some Common Email Headers

The lines given here are examples of each of the most common types:

Supplied as parameters to the mail function:

To: Graham Ellis <graham@wellho.net>
Subject: A Demonstration of Email Headers

Supplied (if required) as part of the fourth (extra) parameter

From: Well House Consultants <info@wellho.net>
Reply-To: Lisa Ellis <lisa@wellho.net>
Cc: Gypsy <thedog@wellho.net>, Charlie <thecat@wellho.net>
Bcc: copybox@wellho.net, Audit <audittrail@wellho.net>
Date: Thu, 4 Nov 2010 14:30:27 +0000
Precedence: Bulk
Message-ID: 12345
In-Reply-To: wellho-5454
References: 12332, 11001, wellho-5420
MIME-Version: 1.0

A line like this sets up the document to be multipart if you wish:

Content-Type: multipart-alternative;boundary=00112233445566778899aabbccddeeff

The following can be supplied as part of the header or at the head of each section in a multipart email

Content-Type: text/html
Content-transfer-encoding: base64
Content-disposition: inline; filename="mypage.html"

The cautions at the end of this post

Before you start emailing from your server, consider the following:

a) Does the person your sending to REALLY want the email? (If it's confirming an order, the answer will be a resounding "YES", but if you're writing to tell him of your latest gizmo for sale, he might not be so keen!)

b) You're sending out an automated email from your server ... so it may look rather like other automated emails that people send out in bulk from servers (a.k.a. "spam") to many automated filters. How are you going to make your message special enough to be delivered?

c) Check that you are not providing an open emailing platform - that a user of your site is NOT able to enter a recipient's email address and message and use your server to send out unsolicited advertising material without your knowledge / approval. You really don't want to get yourself blacklisted!
(written 2010-11-07)

 
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Horse's mouth home
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Looking back and forward personally - 6 years each way
Some other Articles
Doing several things at the same time - Java threads
Fresh Paint - Java Arrays
Setting up individual variables, and arrays, in Java - some commented examples
Looking back and forward personally - 6 years each way
Sending out an email containing HTML from within a PHP page
How to display information from a database within a web page
Birth Notice - Aeryn Cassandra Ellis
Rail services back to Radstock?
Coincidence, or Conspiracy - a wrong email address
Get all your ducks in a row ... and they may turn into swans
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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