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A lot of forwarded email is forwarded as an attachment. When forwarded multiple times, each as an attachment, opening the original can be difficult.

I use Outlook 2003. When I get emails from people that have been forwarded numerous times, I try to open them and I have to keep clicking open the email attachments until I get to the originator's email to be able to read what's in the body. How can i fix that so that I can just get to the original email without having to open all the others? Isn't there a setting that can fix that? It's really annoying.

It is annoying. I get these types of emails all the time (many of which make their way to my humor site Forwarded Funnies).

I can explain why it happens. I can even point out something that some of your senders might be able to do.

But so far, I've not been able to figure out a way to avoid it if you're the recipient of these messages.

When email is forwarded, the mail program doing the forwarding has a couple of options:

  • The mail program can place the forwarded message in the body of the new message. Typically it does so by extracting a couple of the "interesting" email headers like "From:", "To:", the date and subject, and placing those first, and then following up with the actual body of the original mail.

    There are two problems with this approach: the original email headers are lost (things like the routing headers that you don't normally see anyway), and the message may be reformatted from plain text to HTML or vice versa. In other words, the forwarded message isn't exactly like the original. It may have been changed in some presumably inconsequential ways.

  • The mail program can take the original message in its entirety and unchanged, and wrap it up in an attachment. When the recipient opens that attachment they see the original message exactly as it was when forwarded. (In practice I don't expect that this is always exactly true because of the ways different mail programs behave, but for our purposes it's true enough.)

    The problem, as you've seen, is that it's an attachment which takes more work to open. And a series of forwards in this mode compounds that problem.

Now, sometimes the sender can control this. In Thunderbird, for example, there's an obscure setting that allows you to specify whether forwarded messages should be in-line or as attachments. (In the Config Editor, set mail.forward_message_mode to 0 to send as an attachment - apparently the default - or set to 2 to forward as an inline message.)

Other mailers don't have this setting, and either simply do one or the other, or perhaps decide based on some characteristics of the mail being forwarded. Perhaps message of the same format (rich text versus plain text) are forwarded in line, while a plain text message forwarded as HTML, or vice versa, is forwarded as an attachment. Or perhaps messages with attachments are, themselves, forwarded as attachments.

I know of no way to shortcut unwrapping all the attachments..."

Two important take-aways from all that:

  1. it's confusing and inconsistent

  2. it's the sender that decides what happens

Which, ultimately, means that when you and I receive a message that's a forwarded attachment in a forwarded attachment in a forwarded attachment - we're out of luck. I know of no way to shortcut unwrapping all the attachments to get to the one you really want, short of doing it manually. I've certainly not encountered a mail program that recognizes or helps this situation.

Perhaps readers will have some other ideas.

Article C2925 - February 7, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
Dan Ullman
February 8, 2007 1:19 PM

"In Thunderbird, for example, there's an obscure setting that allows you to specify whether forwarded messages should be in-line or as attachments. (In the Config Editor, set mail.forward_message_mode to 0 to send as an attachment - apparently the default - or set to 2 to forward as an inline message.)"

Why not just click on View and toggle "Display Attachments Inline" on or off?

Leo Notenboom
February 9, 2007 4:16 PM

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Hash: SHA1

The View menu item is for recipients looking at a message.

The obscure setting is for senders forwarding a message.
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Dan Ullman
February 10, 2007 4:51 PM

Shows you how often I use the feature. BTW, I would have believed it was you (grin).

HUNTER
February 10, 2007 7:38 PM

AT THE FINAL FORWARD -I CLICK FORWARD TO SEND TO OTHER E-MAILS THEN I DELETE ALL OTHER FORWARDS ADDRESSES-- THEN SEND --ALL THE E-MAILS I SEND HAVE NO ADDRESSES AND OPEN TO ONLY E-MAIL SENT

Betty Farrell
February 13, 2007 10:07 PM

I do the same as you,think the article cinfirmed my same answer Thanks

Kevin Bayley
February 17, 2007 8:43 AM

I do not understand why people will copy themselves and then *BCC* others. I have found (at least in Outlook Express) there is no need to place anyone or any address in the *To* line. Just put all the addresses in the *BCC* line leaving the *To* line empty.

Leo Notenboom
February 17, 2007 12:30 PM

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a) Some mailers don't let you have a blank "To:"

b) Whether or not they do, email without a valid "To:" is often
considered spam, and may not be delivered at all.

Leo
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Jane Swango
July 29, 2007 7:18 PM

Any photo e-mail I send or forward is received in multiple encrypted formats, why? It didn't use to.

Pete
February 25, 2008 7:59 AM

The only email program that will open multiple
fowards is Netscape mail v7.2 Unfortunately it gets installed with Netscape browser which is useless as it crashes constantly. You would say
just don't use the browser, but the problem is every time you click a link sent in an email it opens Netscape even if it's not the default browser. I get around that by copy/paste the link into IE.

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