Sven Guckes 1995-2003

Latest update: Sat Oct 11 07:30:00 CEST 2003

HOWTO Use Signatures - Signature Etiquette -

Summary: Please follow the rules of signature etiquette! :-)

Why Signatures? An Introduction

In the olden days of Usenet there used to be a lot of different kinds of address methods. Sending a message to someone required the knowledge of the kind of address a user had. Sometimes you even had to send the message via a given "path".

So people used a signature to give information their address. That is why a signature consists of two things - the name and the address of the user.

As the address was required with every reply you sent, people attached their address to each and every mail or post they sent away. This information was put into a file which was attached manually to the end of the mail or post. As this info was usually put at the very end it was called a "signature".

Mail transfer nowadays is a lot easier. An address usually looks like "user@host". Host names can easily be obtained from databases eliminating the need for "back paths".

As mails and posts are sent out with the information of the sender's address in the header there is no need to attach a signature any more.

However, people now use "signatures" as a means of giving information about themselves. So they add more than the information of name and address. It often contains fax and telephone numbers, the physical location, the organization, quotes, and ASCII pictures.

However nice these things are - they can be quite annoying when appended to each and every email or post. Therefore you are asked to follow the three golden rules: Brevity, minimum info, line and character limits.

What's in a sig? - Signature Etiquette Rules

Keep your signature as short as possible! It saves quit a bit on the overall "traffic" on data transfer lines. And it uses less space when the mail is saved to a mail folder.

Minimum Info!
It should contain your name and your email address. After all that's what a signature is for, right? Please do not overdo it! Save bandwidth!
If you want to give more info about yourself then please use the "information by request" methods, such as the "plan file" or even a "www page". See the -> "finger faq" for more info on this! Please make sure that your name itself can identify you. If your name consists of fairly common names (eg "John Miller") then add your additional names, too (eg "John Aristotle Miller"). If you have more than one address - still use only *one* address. The shorter the better. If you are afraid that people won't be able to reach you as the address changes then you should get an address at a site which gives you a pseudo address and which will forward any mail to your real address. Examples: (There are more, but...) And if you are afraid of address harvesters, well - what do you need a signature for, anyway? ;-) Seriously - add the address of a webpage with contact info. No need to make your address a mess to conceal the real thing from programs. That would be like a business card with an illegible address - not good.

Line and character limits
Please keep it down to four lines and 70 columns at maximum!
Most terminals can only display up to 80 characters and text broken across lines will *always* look bad! Unfortunately people quote sigs, too, so a signature can become part of a text. As quoted text should be readable, too, a signature should allow quoting. Some mailers use the name of a user as a "quote indent", so you should allow up to ten characters as a margin - hence 70 characters per line is advised.

What's NOT in a sig? Signature NoNos

Phone an FAX numbers
Don't put any phone or fax numbers into any posts on Usenet! After all, you dont mention your email address in every telephone conversations, either, do you? On mailing lists and newsgroups you are expected to either reply privately be email - or publically *within* the very medium. Do *not* assume that people will contact you via phone but via email instead!

Besides, if you are emailing within a company or posting to a local newsgroup and this info is useful within these limits then please stuff these info into the *header*. Searching for phone/fax numbers is a *lot* faster when you can be sure to find it in the header as there is less data to search. The header line which stores you phone or fax number should start with "X-" Example:

        X-Phone: +49 30 8838884
        X-Fon:   +49 30 88629362
        X-Fax:   none

ASCII pictures
Including "ascii pictures" in your signature is ok - if it fits into the four lines, of course. But some people use excessive pictures to over a screenful. BAD!

"A witty quote proves nothing." ;-) However, some people just have to have their favourite quote within their signature.

Signature Dashes

The "signature dashes line" ("sigdashes" for short) is a line of its own which precedes the signature. It is therefore a part of the signature.

The purpose of the sigdashes are to seperate the signatures from the text. This allows programs to easily recognize the signature.

The format of the sigdashes line is "^-- $", ie it consists of two dashes and a trailing space only.

Let me make this perfectly clear: The line consists of three characters - dash-dash-space. There are no additional characters before, after or in between. This means no whitespace before the dashes, no additional dashes, exactly one space at the end (no more, no less), and followed only by a newline which ends the line. That's it!

Summary: (newline)(dash)(dash)(space)(newline)

Some programs already make good use of sigdashes, eg the mailer mutt and the newsreader slrn which can hide signatures from view or colorize them, and remove them automagically on (public) replies.

One day all programs showing mails and articles will be able suppress signatures if you don't want to see them. So please give others the chance to make use of these feature, too, - use sigdashes whenever appending you sig to email or articles - thanks!

Signature Examples

SIGS line1 Name+Address: Sven Guckes sig-be-mcq          column 80-.
SIGS line2 WWW HomePage:             |
SIGS line3 Quote: "Four lines suffice!"  "Be McQ!"                             |
SIGS line4 A 4x80 box allows 320 characters - what more do you need?           v

Alright - so this a signature explaining the basics of a signature. It is kinda self-referential, and, hopefully, self-evident.

For more examples take a look at my signature collection [2003-10-11: ~176KB]. The signatures in that file are all separated with "sigdashes" - this allows for "easy extracting with agrep". :-)


See also:

extraction utility a la "grep" - but with "approximate matching".

ASCII pictures
Pictures created from ASCII characters. Plain, simple ones within four lines up to huge renderings of real-life objects.

AFW Pages
The FAQ to the newsgroup - and then some.

ELM Pages
Pages on the mailer Elm... now dead.

MUTT Pages

An overview to mailers (Mail User Agents) and related software. by Sven Guckes

Sven Guckes