January 14th, 2009

Flatten Multi-Part Messages into Plain Text

LuxSci has just released a new custom email filtering feature which allows users to convert email messages that match any arbitrary criteria into "plain text" versions of the original messages.  This is similar to our existing feature that allows you to "remove attachments" from inbound email messages; however, it goes a step further by condensing the resulting message into a single simple textual body.

What is a "plain text" message?

A plain text message is one that:

  • Does not contain any attachments

  • Does not contain any "HTML" content

  • Does not even have multiple "parts"  – i.e. it does not use MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) for encoding the message content

  • All of the content is in plain text (encoded in UTF-8 in this case)

Why would one want to convert a message to "plain text"?

Plain text messages are generally much smaller than the original messages.  They are readable in any email program, no matter what the capabilities or lack thereof.  This includes:

  • All mobile devices
  • Legacy email message processing applications
  • Email message viewers that run in non-graphical environments (like terminals)

Additionally, because the "plain text" versions are simpler and smaller in size, these versions are good for storing if you want to limit disk space usage. Plain text messagesand for forwarding if the destination has little space or is slow (i.e. forwarding to blackberries).

How is the message converted to "plain text"?

An inventory of all of the parts of the email message is made.

  • Parts that are already plain text are kept.
  • HTML parts are converted to plain text.
  • Message "attachment" and "disposition" parts (common in bounce messages and forwards) are kept.
  • All other attachments are removed (though a note is left documenting what was removed).

The text content from all these parts is then concatenated to form the new email message’s body. 

How do I use this feature?

You can use this feature one of two ways:

  • Create a new custom email filter in LuxSci that will match certain messages and then convert them to "plain text" by choosing this new option in the "Custom Email Filtering" tool in the LuxSci WebMail portal.
  • Create a new custom email filtering rule for forwarding email messages to another email address or cellular phone number and select the option to have the forwarded messages "converted to plain text" as well.  This simplifies the common action of both converting to plain text and then forwarding the result elsewhere.


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