Have you ever sent an email to someone and wondered whether the person you sent it to received it? Email is terrific, but how do you know your message successfully made the trip across that web full of computers and found its way safely to its intended target. This week’s topic is about Return-Receipt or Notification. But before you get your hopes up — if you like the idea — it’s not an exact standard so it’s not supported by all email clients.
Return receipt for email
Return-Receipt is not a standard yet, but it is possible for email applications to request a return receipt message. You just send your message as normal, per the directions that follow. When the recipient opens the message, if his mail app supports the protocol, the option of a return message is generated. Notification doesn’t work in all clients though.
Here’s a run-down, (as far as I know so far):
Eudora makes it easy to send a notification request and also sends a response at the recipient’s discretion (as it should be).
Entourage and Outlook Express can be set up to send a request, but it does not generate a response so when you send to an Entourage user you reach a dead end. If there is a setting to enable it to respond, and you know the method, please let me know. (I’ve posted the request to the Entourage Talk-list.) I’ll pass on the method to you if there is one.
Outlook (the windows version, not OE) supports it, I think. That means if you send to an Outlook (PC user, you may receive a response.)
AOL has return receipt, but it only functions fully between AOL users as far as I know. I am not sure whether AOL mail out to the Web generates (or has the option to generate) a response request.
Setting up return receipt from Eudora
At the top of the message composition area you’ll find a tiny row of buttons including one marked “RR.” Just click that button to have that particular outgoing message send back a receipt. Here’s what Eudora’s outgoing message looks like:
In Eudora you have the option, under Preferences, to send a return receipt with every outgoing message you send. That’s overkill though, so it is wiser to use it only when it can really help.
When you receive a return receipt request in Eudora
When your recipient opens the message in its own window, he is asked whether they’d like Eudora to confirm receipt of the message. (If it is read only in preview it appears that the receipt request is not generated.) If a recipient chooses to create the notification, it is sent to you and tells you when the recipient displayed your message.
As the recipient, you have the following options when you are sent a message containing notification request.
Now places the notification message in your outbox so it goes out next time you send messages.
Later closes the per-created message without sending notification but the notification request appears each time you reopen that message.
Never turns off the notification request permanently so no notification is ever sent (and you leave the sender wondering).
Cancel dismisses the request as you read the message but when you close the message, it’s displayed again.
Entourage is less flexible than Eudora, as it doesn’t enable you to choose a receipt on a message-by-message basis. Instead, I have set up a duplicate account and send my messages from the return-set-up account when I want the receipt. (Entourage is also missing a duplicate account feature so you need to fully set up your duplicate account by yourself.)
To set up return receipt in Entourage:
From the Tools menu, open Accounts. Double-click the account to which you want to add the return receipt.
In the top left field of the Additional Headers section, type: Disposition-Notification-To
Next to that field, type in the email address that you want the receipt sent, being sure to use enclosing <> as in this screen shot.
What a Return Receipt Looks Like
Here’s what you see in the receipt:
Things to Consider about Return Receipt
At first thought, you might wish that all email applications support this feature and automatically send out the receipt. It would be great if all clients did support receipt. In fact, I’m wondering why lack of an exact standard is stopping the OE/Entourage team. It seems to me that they usually go for the features. (What can I do to encourage you, Entourage/OE team?)
Automatic response, however, would be a spammers dream — and a user’s nightmare. By leaving the response to the user, as Eudora does, we remain in control, sending the response to friends, co-workers, etc, but preventing the address validation a spammer seeks. (See
Mac Efficiency 101: Spammers and Miners, November 24, 1999.) If you use Eudora be careful who you respond to!
Back when we discussed email, I talked about hitting reply as a courtesy to let your sender know the message was seen. As a good net citizen, that’s still the best way to go. But as an email-sender, return receipt may help you out a bit here and there so you might as well use it.
Several readers have asked me to hold a discussion about the various email clients and their features. To that end, I welcome additional information about the topic discussed here. Later this week I’ll run a request for information in terms of a Q&A, then publish the responses.
Next week I’ll discuss how you can use
to know when a file is opened by a recipient, whether the file is sent via email or posted on the web.
Eudora and other email testing for this column was done by Derry Thompson, Bill Briggs, and Cathy Scrivnor. (Thanks guys.)
Return receipt email Reader Amendments
The Return receipt email column was barely up before wise readers nicely pointed out that I’d left out Netscape. They didn’t say it this way, but I will: I blew it. So, thanks to Dierk Seeburg (and a few others who wrote) here’s the info for Netscape 4.X.
Netscape and return receipt for email
Netscape supports notification well. It makes it easy to send a notification request and also sends a response at the recipient’s discretion (as it should be).
To send a request for notification, just check the box, aptly labeled “Return Receipt,” as shown here in the screen shot Dierk kindly sent me to demonstrate. I’m told there’s nothing else to set up. (Pretty cool.)
When the recipient gets your notification request, he sees two buttons and has two choices: OK and Cancel. It’s as straightforward as it can get. (OK sends the notification, of course.)
Note about Netscape 6: I have version 6 installed on one Mac for my web site creation, but do not have email installed. (One can only have so many redundant apps). I have not yet received info about whether NS 6 works the same way. If anyone knows, please post it for us and give it a clear subject. Let us know how to request the notification, and what options the recipient has. Thanks.
Disposition-Notification-To & Return-Receipt: A Clarification
My old email expert pal, Julian Y. Koh wrote to fill me in on the details between the Return Receipt header and the Notification header. With his permission, his explanation is printed below.
First of all, it's good to see you back from your time writing a book. I've missed your columns!
a standard is the older Return-Receipt-To: header. RRT sends you back a notification when your message is received by the recipient's mail server. Obviously, the receiving mail server must support this kind of notification. Its use is "controversial" as per RFC2076. <
Note that RRT is mostly designed to test network/server connectivity, while DNT is used to specifically notify you when your message has been displayed (nice work, BTW, making the distinction between displaying and reading -- I love your attention to detail!).
You can make Eudora generate the old RRT headers as well as the proper DNT header. Check the box for "include outdated Return-Receipt-To" in the "Miscellaneous" section of the settings.
I hope this helps clarify some of what I left out. And once again, I thank the great people who wrote to help me share all this information. Thanks also for the helpful posts on the forum in response to the topic.
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