NateMail

A good e-mail form processing tool.

While I’m praising software developers, I really ought to take a moment to mention Nate Baldwin, author of NateMail. NateMail is an excellent PHP script for handling e-mail forms.

Here’s the problem. E-mail harvesting robots are programs used by spammers to gather e-mail addresses posted on the Web. They go through Web sites and pull in anything that looks like an e-mail address — for example name@domain.com. (That’ll cause some spam bouncing.) That address gets added to their spam lists and the addressee gets spam.

It doesn’t matter if the address is visible to a Web site visitor as text on a Web page or encoded as a mailto link in the source code of the page. The robot will find it and grab it.

This poses a challenge for Web site developers who want to include a contact method on their sites. If you enter your e-mail address or provide a link to it, it’ll be gathered and spammed.

Enter NateMail (and other programs like it). They work with e-mail forms like the one you’ll find on my Contact Me page and the Contact Us page on wickenburg-az.com. My e-mail address does not appear anywhere on the form, either visible to the site visitor or in the page’s source code. Instead, the form calls NateMail, which has the e-mail address embedded in it. Because NateMail is located where the robots can’t find it (outside the Web directory), my e-mail address remains invisible to the robots. This prevents my e-mail address from being harvested for spam, thus greatly reducing the amount of spam I get.

NateMail is easy to configure and use. Of course, it does require PHP to work, so if you don’t have a PHP compatible server, it’s of no use to you.

One of the neat features of NateMail is that it supports multiple e-mail addresses. So a form can include a menu of addresses and NateMail will send the form to the addressee that’s selected by the sender. You can see this on wickenburg-az.com, where I used it to allow mail to be sent directly to the site’s regular contributors.

NateMail is free, although donations are always accepted. I liked NateMail so much that I bought Nate’s other program, ProcessForm, for $15. It does what NateMail does and more, including accepting file attachments. When I have time, I’ll set it up on wickenburg-az.com so visitors can e-mail photos for publication on the site.

What do you think?