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[IPS] 4.0 - Email templates


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In 3.x, we support HTML emails being sent by the software. However, due to constraints we had at the time, HTML emails use pretty much the same content as plain text emails, but wrapped in a simple HTML wrapper. Additionally, users had to explicitly decide whether they wanted to receive HTML or plain text emails via a preference setting - quite an anachronism. All in all, not a very satisfactory user experience.

Email handling in 4.0

In 4.0, users no longer choose which type of email to receive. Our email handler sends both types in a single email, and the email client chooses the most appropriate to show based on its capabilities. If it can display a fancy HTML version, that's what they'll see by default, but plain text is used if not.

Email template system

In 3.x, email content is defined by the language system, and each email has one language string which forms the content for both the plain text and HTML versions. Clearly, if we were going to improve the HTML templates we ship with, this would have to change.

In 4.x, each type of email has two templates - one for HTML, one for plain text. This means a better display of content can be created for HTML emails, while keeping the plain text ones simple and to the point. Email templates make use of the skinning system foundation (which we'll reveal later), meaning they have full use of logic, template tags and more - so we can also customize the emails depending on the user they are being sent to (note though that email templates are not per-skin; they are global to the site). And, of course, email templates can be added and edited via an interface in the AdminCP. This isn't groundbreaking stuff, but a vast improvement on email handling in 3.x.

Email template design

We also wanted to improve our email templates, so that each type of email sent was designed specifically for the purpose. The data shown in a registration email will be different to a topic digest, for example, and the email should reflect that.

Coding email templates is not a trivial thing, unfortunately. The latest version of Microsoft Outlook uses the Microsoft Word rendering engine(!!), while GMail strips out all CSS included in style tags - and that's just the start of the gotchas. This makes designing email templates a tricky business, and one that requires lots of testing to ensure compatibility. For our first 10 templates alone, I reviewed 900 screenshots to spot problems.

As a result, we've taken the approach of creating email templates which are simple in appearance and would work well for most sites, with the goal of hopefully avoiding the need of most sites to edit them at all (though you can, if you wish). The colors we've used are fairly neutral, for this reason.

For those mail agents that are a little more... advanced, our email templates in 4.0 will be responsive. They will look great on mobile devices as well as desktop clients.

I have included some examples of email templates, along with their mobile counterparts. I should note at this point that this does not reveal the main skin design. As discussed above, emails are intentionally separate in design.

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