Sending Email in ASP.NET 2.0: Reply-To, Priority, and Read ReceiptsBy Scott Mitchell
Email serves as a ubiquitous, asynchronous notification and information distribution system. Not surprisingly, there are many web development scenarios where server-side code needs to generate an email and scuttle it off to the intended recipient. Previous articles here on 4Guys have examined programmatically sending email messages in ASP.NET 1.x and ASP.NET 2.0. See Sending Email from an ASP.NET Web Page for ASP.NET 1.x examples; Sending Email in ASP.NET 2.0 looks at code and scenarios for sending email from an ASP.NET 2.0 application.
The Sending Email in ASP.NET 2.0 article just covers the basics of sending email, illustrating how to define mail
Web.config and how to create a page to send a simple, plain-text email. I followed up that initial
article with another one that delved into more advanced topics. Sending Emails in ASP.NET 2.0:
HTML-Formatted Emails, Attachments, and Gracefully Handling SMTP Exceptions showed readers how to send rich emails using
HTML, how to include attachments, and how to recover from errors that occur during the email sending process.
I was recently working with a client that needed to build a rather feature-rich email web page, one that included many of the features found in stand-alone email clients like Microsoft Outlook. Some of these features included the ability to request read receipts, to specify a Reply-To address, and to indicate the email's priority. These topics are covered in this article. Read on to learn more!
This article assumes that you are already familiar with sending simple emails from an ASP.NET 2.0 web page; if not, please first read Sending Email in ASP.NET 2.0 before tackling this article...
A Word About SMTP Headers...
The three topics covered in this article - specifying a Reply-To address, setting the email's priority, and requesting a read receipt - are all tasks that are accomplished using SMTP headers SMTP headers are additional bits of information that are sent along with an email message and provide instructions to the SMTP server or the email client. Except for the body of the email, all other information is transmitted through SMTP headers, including to To address, the From address, the Subject, and so forth. You can examine an email's headers in Outlook by right-clicking on an email message and choosing the Options item from the context menu. The Internet Headers textbox lists the various SMTP headers.
The headers precede the body and take the following form:
For example, the Subject of the email is specified via the
Subject SMTP header. Say that the email message's
subject is, "Check Out My Website!!11!". In the SMTP headers there would be the following entry:
The email client - Outlook, GMail, ThunderBird, whatever - determines the received email's subject by looking for that particular header.
MailMessage class includes a
property from which the mail message's heaers can be inspected or modified prior to sending the message. For example, to
add a particular header, simply use the following code:
Of course, you will rarely need to work directly with the
Headers property because most of the headers that you'll
need to set are accessible through properties in the
MailMessage class. For example, to specify the subject
simply set the
Subject property. There's no need to manually add a
Subject header via the
The first two topics we'll look at in this article - specifying a Reply-To address and setting the email's priority -
can utilize existing properties in the
MailMessage class. However, the final task - requesting a read receipt -
requires us to manually inject an SMTP header via the
Specifying a Reply-To Address
Replying to an email message usually sends the response to the person who sent the email. However, there are scenarios where you may want to have the reply go to an alternate email address. For example, if you are sending out an email on behalf of someone else, you may want to have any replies go directly to the person you are sending out the email for. Specifying a Reply-To email address is quite easy in ASP.NET: simply set the
ReplyToproperty to the appropriate email address.
Notice that you have to set the
ReplyTo property to a
object instance - you cannot just set it to a string. However, the
MailAddress constructor can take in
the email address as a string, so you can simply assign the
ReplyTo property to the email address using:
New MailAddress(address). The
MailAddress constructor also includes
an overload that allows the display name to be specified (
New MailAddress(address, displayName). Most email
clients display the display name, if present, instead of the email address.
ReplyTo property adds a
Reply-To: replyToEmailAddress SMTP header to the
outgoing message. This header (and all of the other "core" email SMTP headers) is discussed in
The download at the end of this article includes a working demo that shows the
ReplyTo property in action.
If you use that demo and write an email from, say, email@example.com, and have the Reply-To set to, say,
firstname.lastname@example.org, the recipient of the email will see that it's from email@example.com. However, when they
reply to the email their reply will be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, as the following screenshot shows:
Specifying the Email's Priority
Email messages can optionally include an
ImportanceSMTP header that indicates the importance of a message. (Or, more precisely, how important the sender believes the message to be!) The
ImportanceSMTP header can have one of three values: high, normal, or low. Many email clients will display a special icon next to those emails flagged with high or low importance. Some email clients ignore this SMTP header altogether.
To specify a value for the
Importance header, use the
This property must be assigned to one of the valid
values of which - you guessed it - there are three:
The following code illustrates setting the priority to high.
The following screenshot shows an email message that was sent with High priority. When viewing the message in Outlook, a status message appears at the top of the email indicating that the message was sent with High importance.
Requesting a Read Receipt
Many email clients include a feature that allows you to request a receipt when your email is read by the recipient(s). This mechanism works in the following way:
- When you compose an email and request a read receipt, your email client sends along an additional SMTP header -
- Upon receiving and reading the email, the recipient's email client may or may not process the
Disposition-Notification-Toheader. (Some email clients just ignore this header.) Assuming that the email client processed the
Disposition-Notification-Toheader and that the recipient has not configured their email client to reject sending read receipts, upon reading the email a short message will be automatically sent from the recipient to the address specified in the
Disposition-Notification-Toheader, indicating that the email has been read.
There is no
RequestReadReceipt property in the
MailMessage class, so in order to
request one we need to manually add the
Disposition-Notification-To header. As discussed in the
"A Word About SMTP Headers..." section earlier in this article, this is accomplished by using the
If the email is received by a recipient whose email client understands read receipt requests and is configured to return them, a read receipt email will be sent to sendReadReceiptToAddress.
The following screenshot shows the default response in Outlook when an email with a read request is received.
In this article we looked at performing some more advanced email-related features in ASP.NET 2.0. Except for the email body, all other information is transmitted through SMTP headers. When sending an email using the
MailMessageclass, you rarely have to worry about SMTP headers. Their complexity is abstracted away through the
MailMessageclass's high-level properties. However, it is important to understand that these headers exist and how they work, because there are situations - such as requesting a read receipt - in which there are no corresponding
MailMessageproperties. In such cases, we need to work directly with the SMTP headers themselves, which is possible through the