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How can I archive email that uses remote content?


I use Thunderbird e-mail. To see everything in the e-mail, I must press
“Show Remote Content”. Sometimes, I want to save this e-mail indefinitely. If I
go back to look at it months later, the embedded images are gone, as well as
the “Show Remote Content” button. How can I save the e-mail with the embedded
images so that I don’t run into this problem?

While we often like to think of everything remaining on the internet forever
(and in fact should assume so for anything we post about ourselves), the
reality is actually somewhat different.

Stuff disappears.

Most commonly web pages, but also the elements that an email might use as

I’ll look at why that is, and how I deal with it.


I’ll use my own newsletter as an example:

Ask Leo! Newsletter Example

You can see in the upper left of the email message my logo, including my photograph.

That graphic is actually not part of the email – in fact, it’s the same graphic that you see on the top of every page at the Ask Leo! website. Rather than actually including the graphic in the email, the message is constructed to fetch the image from the web server and display it in the email, as part of the email.

That’s remote content: content that, when the email is displayed, must be fetched from some remote source like a web server out on the internet.

As we’ve discussed before, if remote content is fetched when you display an email, spammers can tell that you did so and thus know that they’ve emailed someone who actually opens their email. The net result is that most email programs do not display remote content such as images by default. Instead, you’ll see some kind of placeholder, and a link or button to actually go out and fetch the content.

Typically, you can also indicate that email from select email addresses is safe, and your email program can always automatically fetch and display the remote content without your needing to manually say its OK. In fact, I hope that’s what you’ve done with my newsletter. Smile

The problem is that remote content is … well, it’s remote, and out of your control. If I someday delete or rename that image file used in my newsletter, then when you open that newsletter thereafter the image cannot be fetched and will not be displayed.

And there’s not much you can do about it. Much like a web page that was there one day and gone the next, there’s no real way for you to make that remote content come back. There’s no way to tell your email program to fetch and save it permanently. When things do seem to be saved, it’s typically because the email is in HTML; your web browser’s display engine is used by your email program to display HTML email, and thus content is cached by your web browser. That lasts only as long as whatever the rules are that keep things in that cache.

If you know you want to save an email that has remote content (and where that remote content matters to the email’s content – for example the content of my newsletter is just as valuable with or without my logo), then the thing to do is to save it in some other form that includes the remote content.

My suggestion: create a PDF. Use a PDF printer like PDFCreator. This way you have an file that is easily displayed on any machine, easily archived, and includes everything that was available at the time it was created – remote content and all.

This is also an excellent way to save web pages for reference later as well.

Do this

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4 comments on “How can I archive email that uses remote content?”

  1. Your suggestion of using a PDF “printer” as a means of creating a file with the complete contents of an e-mail etc is one I have been using for some years for Flight Bookings, Purchases etc.

    It works very well; and fortunately I have not yet had to make use of such saved files – BUT who knows what might happen!

  2. Won’t “Save As *.MHT” do the trick in most cases…?

    Kind of. I don’t like it because it saves multiple files and requires IE to be readable. PDF is a single file and is easily portable.


  3. A simpleton method but it saves your screen page and most images: Press your “Print Screen” key, then open Word (or built-in free Word Pad), set cursor to start page, right-click and press Paste.


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