Sunday, May 02, 2010

Mobile, nonstandard Gmail custom "From" addresses

If you use Gmail, you may be familiar with its custom "From" feature. This feature lets you use your Gmail account to originate mail with an alternate From address, say a business address.

This is great when composing mail on your desktop, but I found this feature is not directly available in "basic HTML", "mobile web", or from the Android client. Here is a workaround I discovered.

Gmail makes it straightforward to set up alternate From addresses and their help has more detailed instructions. Because of the available help, this post assumes you have one or more alternate From addresses already configured. It will also assume you have selected a default From address (either your one or one of the alternates). This post will detail how to use these alternate From addresses from any view other than "standard" or "full HTML".

Actually, I do want to elaborate on Gmail's help. If you use Gmail's outbound SMTP, Gmail will include a Sender header which contains your Gmail address. Some mail clients (I know MS Outlook and Hotmail do this) will interpret the Sender header into the From field so your mail looks like:

From: on behalf of

This can be confusing to some and inadvertently exposes your Gmail address to your recipients. I find this undesirable behavior, but recall reading somewhere in Gmail's help forum this is per SMTP standard. Yahoo Mail's custom From does not do this, which is what I prefer. However, I use Gmail because it has more features I like over Ymail's feature set. More on Ymail's custom From in another blog post.

Gmail's help does mention optionally using your own outbound SMTP server, but does not say this gets around their Sender header. Most ISPs offer their own outbound SMTP server, which works nicely with Gmail's custom From feature. If you have a registered domain, the registrar may include outbound SMTP or offer it as an add-on. Investigate your ISP or domain registrar if you want to avoid Gmail exposing your address.

When composing mail in any view, Gmail will select the address you designated as default. In "standard view", the compose window has a dropdown box in the From field that lets you select your origination address. In the other views, this dropdown is absent. When might you use the other views? Suppose you're using an older browser and you're stuck with "basic HTML", or if you're browsing from a mobile and are in either "basic" or "mobile" view. Suppose you're using the Android Gmail client. I have not tested this with other views (ie Blackberry, iphone, PalmOS, webOS, other desktop or mobile mail clients). If you have other platforms and can test this, please comment with your experience.

Here's the workaround: First you must set "When receiving a message" to "Reply from the same address the message was sent to". This is under Settings > Accounts and Import > Send mail as.

If you now reply or forward a mail sent to a non-default alternate, the reply's From will be properly set. What if you want to originate a new message from a non-default address? The trick is to create dummy messages sent to your alternate addresses, then "forward" these dummies to your actual recipients.

Create a label that will sort near the top, for quick access, something like "0forward". The leading zero ensures this label will sort near the top, if not AT the top. Now, send a blank message to each of your alternate addresses. If you have more than one alternate, you may want to put the alternate address in the Subject field, to make it easy to identify which dummy message contains which alternate address.

Gmail has a quirk where if you send yourself mail, even to alternate addresses, these mails may not appear in your Inbox. If you encounter this, you will find your mail in the Sent label. Go there and label each of your dummy messages 0forward.

Now, any time you want to originate a message from your non-default alternate address, go to the 0forward label, choose the dummy message containing your alternate address, choose Forward. Edit the Subject, fill the To field, overwrite the message body. Because you previously selected "Reply from the same address the message was sent to", this also applies to forwarded mail. Your new mail will now have the desired From address.

Not sure why Gmail doesn't offer a dropdown or other method to select the From address in nonstandard views. I've submitted this feature request but have received no reply. Hopefully you'll find this workaround useful. Comments welcome!

1 comment:

  1. I am unable to test this on platforms other than my Android phone as I don't have access to other phones. If you try this on a Blackberry, iphone, Maemo, PalmOS, Symbian (is this still around?), webOS, other mail clients, please comment on your experience. Did it work, did you need to change the procedure some, share please and help all our readers. Thanks!