Using forms in email

Is it okay to use a form in my email? It’s not the best idea. But what do you say when your boss asks you to put one in an email?

You can either say “no” for reasons which may not make sense, or you can back up your defiance with some hard evidence.

The short of it is that email clients consider email forms to be a security risk. While some email clients simply warn you of potential danger, others outright disable the forms. So if you want to send out a form, just know that most of your recipients will never be able to use it. And for those who can, they’ll think twice about submitting data when they see a warning from their email client.

Results Summary

Common email clients share a propensity to distrust forms in email messages. But they differed greatly in how they handled the intruding forms. Following are some notable oddities.

External data submission

Upon submitting a form in many webmail clients, a JavaScript alert announces that the form is submitting data to an external page and asks if you want to continue:

Warning Google

Yahoo Warning

Scam alerts

Thunderbird recognizes that the form may be malicious but doesn’t strip its functionality. Instead, it warns you of potential danger:

Thunderbird Warning

Odd behavior

Windows Live Hotmail shows the form. However, the form functions in an odd way; and certainly not correctly. If the form is submitted by keying the “return” key, the page is refreshed but no data is sent and the process is not completed. If the form is submitted by clicking the submit button, nothing happens. Outlook 2007 also exhibits some unique behavior in that it custom renders the form. Inputs are replaced with brackets and the submit button is replaced with the button’s value enveloped in brackets. So it’s a plain-text version of what the form would look like, even though the HTML is being displayed.

Complete Results

How Forms Perform in HTML Emails
Client
Form is displayed
Form is functional
.Mac Yes No
Yahoo! Mail Yes Yes
Yahoo! Mail Classic Yes No
AOL Webmail Yes No
Gmail Yes Yes
Windows Live Hotmail Yes No
Apple Mail Yes Yes
Thunderbird Yes Yes
Penelope (Eudora 8) Yes Yes
Outlook 2007 No No
Outlook 2003 Yes No
Outlook Express Yes Yes
Windows Live Mail Yes Yes
Lotus Notes 8 Yes Yes
Entourage Yes Yes

The Recommendation

Given the sporadic support for forms in emails, we recommend linking to a form on a website rather than embedding it in the email. This is the safest, most reliable solution to pairing an email message with a form. More people will see it and be able to use it, and as a result participation will increase.


Try it


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