Return receipt email

Written and published February 7, 2001

Have you ever sent an email to someone and wondered wether 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 computer. This week's topic is about Return-Receipt or Notification. But before you get your hopes up if you like the idea, don't. It's a possibly great idea but not an exact standard so it's not supported by all email clients.

Have you ever sent an archive, or posted one to the web, and wondered whether anyone opened it? The news is better there. I'll tell you about StuffIt Deluxe and its Return Receipt feature.

Return receipt for email

Return-Receipt is not a standard yet, but it is possible for email applications (AKA clients) 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.

Setting up return receipt in Entourage or Outlook Express

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:

  1. From the Tools menu, open Accounts. Double-click the account to which you want to add the return receipt.
  2. In the top left field of the Additional Headers section, type: Disposition-Notification-To
  3. Next to that field, type in email address to which 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:

Content-Type: multipart/report; boundary="_"

Content-Type: text/plain

Your message of Thu, 01 Feb 2001 02:29:00 -0800 regarding ``another
note to my pal''
has been displayed by derry.

Content-Type: message/disposition-notification

Final-Recipient: rfc822; <>
Original-Message-ID: <>
Disposition: manual-action/MDN-sent-manually; displayed


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/Entouage 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 StuffIt Deluxe to know when a file is opened by a recipient, whether the file is sent via email or posted on the web.

As always, these screen shots were taken with Ambrosia's Snapz Pro. I used Adobe GoLive to write and layout this column. From there, the editor copies the code and places it in place within the page. Eudora and other email testing was done by Derry Thompson, Bill Briggs, and Cathy Scrivnor. (Thanks guys.)

Note: This is the last column that could ever be found at MacCentral. They posted a few more, but never listed those in my column index. Although this may techincally end my first Mac Efficiency 101 series, the Next Column link below continues through to the next columns in the email return receipt series.

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