Using Forms in Email

Is it okay to use forms in emails? It’s not the best idea. But what do you say when your client asks you to put one in an email? You can either tell them “no” for reasons which may not make sense to them, 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 your client wants to send out a form, they should know that most of their 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.

The Verdict

No!

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

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:

[Gmail screenshot: You are submitting information to an external page. Are you sure?] [Yahoo! Mail screenshot: Warning! You are about to send information to someone other than Yahoo! If you do not want anyone outside of Yahoo! to have this information, click Cancel now. Remember Yahoo! will NEVER ask you for your password in an unsolicited phone call or an unsolicited email. Please change your preferences if you do not want to see this message again.]

Scam alerts

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

[Thunderbird screenshot: Thunderbird thinks this message might be an email scam.]

Odd behavior

Outlook.com 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.

Email 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
Outlook.com 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

Our 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.

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