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Thunderbird changing existing color, and occasionally font, from original messages in replies

  • 18 replies
  • 14 have this problem
  • Last reply by markstetz

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          Thunderbird keeps consistently changing text color (always) and font (sometimes, intermittently) when I reply to a message.  I hope the attached images will make clear what I mean.
          I have many e-mail exchanges where individuals involved use both font and color to make it instantly possible to distinguish who said what, and often in what order, based upon the font being specific to the individual and the color specific to the response given.
          You will see in the attached screen shots that the original message contained two different fonts in dark blue colors.  When I hit "Reply" the compose window switches all the text from the old messages to black.   In this case it wouldn't matter much, but it can be very disorienting when you have an e-mail exchange going on that's got more participants all of whom use signature fonts and change either the font and/or color as the conversation progresses.   Having everything "go black" removes essential context.
           I also find it odd that when you place your cursor in the middle of existing text and open up a new line to insert your own material that the new material always mimics the last font that was in the material you've just "split open" to add your own reply.  In virtually every other e-mail editor I've used when you place yourself in existing text and split it apart by hitting a return the opened area typically would use the font and font color you currently have specified in the compose window.
           If there are settings I need to tweak to:

1. Force Thunderbird to maintain all existing fonts and font colors when replying to an existing e-mail message,

2. Get Thunderbird to use the font and font color I have chosen in the compose window any time I split existing quoted material to add new material,

I'd love to know what those settings are.

Attached screenshots

All Replies (18)

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P.S.: Even though it's not Thunderbird itself, I did not use two different fonts when composing the original question above. I have no idea how that happened.

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I think you underestimate how difficult this is.

Thunderbird uses HTML to mark up your text. So "under the hood", it might look like this:

<b>This text is bold.</b> <i>This text is italic.</i>

and on the page it would look like this:

This text is bold. This text is italic.

Now, if you wanted to add "This text is also bold." after "This text is bold.", it would be natural to place the cursor in the blank space after "bold." and start typing. But your insertion point would be outside the pair of tags that set the bold formatting. So the inserted text would be plain. Or you might equally easily stray into the italic zone.

You need to either look at the HTML markup, using an appropriate editor (I use the one bundled in with the Stationery add-on) or accept that the only way to insert reliably is to start inside existing text that has the required formatting, and take the pain of re-editing it. So you'd put the cursor between b and ., and type

. This text is also bold (using the existing period . to finish the new sentence.)

I have exactly these problems in Word, and Microsoft don't offer a way to directly view the mark-up. You have to tack new stuff on the end of existing stuff to ensure the previous formatting continues.

Your text above was shown in a sans serif font because this forum's software treats text with a leading space as "code" to be quoted verbatim. This is valuable with text where the spacing needs to be preserved, such as in coding. Here is some Python, in which spacing/indentation indicates code blocks where other languages might use curly braces.

def fix_ampersand(line):
  if "&amp;" in line:
    line = line
  elif "&" in line:
    line = (line.split("&", 1))[0] + "&amp;" + (line.split("&", 1))[1]
  return line

Modified by Zenos

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If this is so difficult why does Gmail's webmail, MS-Outlook, and other e-mail clients do it automatically?

I believe you may have misunderstood what I was asking about/for, so I'm posting second examples, using precisely the same e-mail as the original example, but doing a reply from Gmail's webmail interface.

When I elect to reply, I am placed at the top of the message and as soon as I type the font I've chosen as my default (Trebuchet) and the color I've used as my default (deep red) is what the text appears in. If I put my cursor immediately following the word "week" from Michael, hit enter to split open the layers of quoted text to respond, I do not have to do anything to have the text I type come out in Trebuchet font and dark red. The examples that follow that show the behavior to be consistent regardless of what level of quoted text I might be replying to in that reply.

This has been standard operating procedure in virtually every e-mail client I've ever used. I have never "inherited" the font and font color from the text I'm replying to when I insert a new line somewhere and start typing.

I've also never had any other e-mail client take multiple levels of reply that already exist in multiple fonts and colors and switch them all over to my chosen default text color when composing the reply. They retain the HTML formatting of the original message in every respect.

These behaviors are idiosyncratic to Thunderbird and I imagine they're at the root of a lot of the other questions regarding font and color changes that people simply do not expect to occur if they've ever used virtually any other e-mail client. (And I've used a lot, having been in computing since the era where punch cards were at the tail end of still being in use.)


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Yes, it's buggy and has been for years and there's been little hope of any improvement.

However the Compose window was re-written recently and we had high hopes all this font inconsistency would be fixed.

However nothing much seems to be changed.

I use Stationery and was hoping it would make up for some of the shortcomings. It does allow you to set up css code for the various styles. Big bold Heading styles seem to work well; less ostentatious body and paragraph text styles are not so convincing. Indeed, I'm having trouble spotting these styles being applied.

It can be made to work, I have found, through the rather silly sequence: <return> thrice <left cursor> once (don't use backspace/delete!)

Thunderbird actually creates a tag pair around your inserted text; the above pantomime happens to step the cursor to just before the tag pair, so inserted reply text is presented in the default composition style. What Thunderbird is doing does appear to be irrational and it's hard to believe it's a concious design choice.

I don't pay much attention to these things myself; I tend to use plain text, partly because the opportunities for html tag pairs to get messed lead me to expect it not to work predictably. I also have Thunderbird set to override the fonts in messages by my own choices, so I would never see that melange of fonts that you seem to like. My eyesight wouldn't tolerate all those fancy fonts either. I consider that simple legibility (for me) outranks anyone else's cosmetic preferences.

And be aware that any font can only be displayed if it's installed (or available via some sort of instant download) on the recipient's computer. A Mac or Linux user is unlikely to have the exact fonts found on Windows computers, and any font that isn't installed by default and that you have downloaded specifically because you like it is highly unlikely to be in place on anyone else's computer.

It's curious that in the one environment where I do use a google app for email, on an Android tablet, the UI doesn't encourage text decorations. My message shown in the screenshot shows there all in the default sans-serif font used by the gmail app. And if you choose "respond inline" which is what you have been describing, it reverts to plain text. So even the colours go too. ;-)

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Do all your problem emails come from Windows phone? Unlike Google with it's truck loads of money, the developers of Thunderbird are not interested in correcting defective HTML constructs generated in other mail clients.

You have a default font in Thunderbird and, I assume, the HTML email program in windows phone would also have a default. So your contribution will be in your default Thunderbird font Or perhaps I just don't understand the question. I do not see fonts changing in the middle of sentences or words, just the reply being in a different font.

Have a look in Tools menu > options > Display > formatting and Tools menu > options > composition > general and see if you can pick fonts you are happy with.

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Clearly, based on the replies (and I'm not being critical of those kind enough to reply):

1. Thunderbird does not behave like the vast majority of e-mail clients in terms of how it handles composition in e-mail messages that contain multiple fonts.

2. There is virtually zero chance that this will change.

I find this both sad and odd, since I've been using Mozilla products "almost forever" and decided to give Thunderbird a try even though I have MS-Outlook available.

At this juncture, it's really unacceptable for any e-mail editor to not behave in a way that users of multiple e-mail platforms "intuitively" expect. It's particularly galling to have all text from all preceding messages converted to a single color when you hit reply. There are many who use color as a very quick and easy way to recognize "who said what" in multi-person back and forth e-mail. If they're not using distinctive fonts (and very often they're not) then all of the implicit information carried is instantly eliminated, and for people like me that's absolutely unacceptable. It's not trivial, either.

I guess it's time to revisit my decision to use Thunderbird and to look at going back to MS-Outlook or to using Gmail's webmail interface. I did the latter for years, but as I started to need to monitor several different e-mail addresses at once, and you can't be logged in to more than one Google account at the same time within the same web browser, that led to the need to have several different web browsers always up at the same time, which was also just not manageable.

Firefox remains my first choice for web browsing. I was hoping that Thunderbird would become my first choice as an e-mail client, but it appears that will not come to pass.

Thanks to all for at least clarifying the situation for me. I really do appreciate that.


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P.S. to Zenos: The screen shot you show actually exhibits the behavior that I'd expect.

I'm not saying that when you "split" the text of an existing e-mail to do an inline response that the new material you type would or should retain the formatting of the text immediately prior to it or following it. What it should do is insert that text in the font and color that you have set up as your chosen default in the composer.

When I go to reply: 1. All prior text is converted to whatever color I've chosen in the general settings as my preferred color.

2. Anything typed ahead of the quoted material is in the font and color I set in preferences.

3. Anything typed where I'm replying inline inherits the font of the text I've split (I haven't tried at a "font switch junction").

It's just plain wacko!!


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Are you sure your not set up to send text and not HTML. Changing fonts is one thing, but colour is another.

Tools menu > accounts settings > Composition and addressing.

Thunderbird is almost infinitely customizable, it is also RFC compliant. Microsoft can not say that about Outlook, nor can Google say it about their mail interface. Thunderbird has lots of bugs, some have been around since the Netscape days, but it is not alone there.

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         See the attached screenshot of my Account Settings.  I've always used HTML.
         I can assure you that if, for instance, I go into Tools->Options->Composition and set my Text Color to red, save that, and eventually reply with quoted text *all* the quoted text turns red.  I've attached a screen shot of a message in the reading window and then what I get if I reply and land in the composition window.


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I assume we are not talking about national secrets here. So could you forward as an attachment one of the messages that does the colour change on forward that so I can have a poke around in the HTML. Email unicorn dot consulting at gmail dot com

Please either use the forward as attachment from the menu or save as a file and forward that.

Can you confirm the exact same action when you hold the shift key while starting Thunderbird.

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         Your wish is my command.   The e-mail message I was using as the example has been forwarded to you.  Certainly there are no state secrets, I just redact actual e-mail addresses from any screen shots I post in public.  I don't ever want to put the address of someone else "out there" without their permission.  I don't have that compunction about sharing content that is not of a sensitive nature.
          I did as you asked and started Thunderbird in safe mode (holding down shift when starting the program) and the behavior as far as reply changing the color of all message content remains precisely the same.
          Thanks for looking into this.


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Would you mind posting if you are able to replicate what I'm experiencing?

I'm just wondering if it's at all possible that I've tweaked a setting somewhere. I don't think so, but . . .

Brian, who knows this isn't your full time job and who is not trying to apply pressure, I'm just curious

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I sent you an email 2 days ago, didn't you get it?

(Edit) It would have helped if I sent it to the right party.

Modified by Matt

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Gecko 15.0 also removes support for font-weight and point-size attributes on the

So the font size setting used by most Microsoft programs are obsolete and ignored. What is totally absent from the HTML is a color deceleration You clearly write in Blue, or at least that is how your message appears to me. Clicking forward or reply to the message attaches a text color tag... as there is no other all text gets that color.

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I remain confused, because something has to be controling the various text colors I'm seeing in multi-level quotations that I receive before I reply to them. It is only after I hit the reply button, and the text is transferred into the compose window, that all quoted text converts to a single color.

Something's got to be getting stripped somewhere.

If there's anything I can generate for you as far as multi-level quotations, even if it's in a single font, but that employs different colors I'd be happy to do so.

This particular behavior is idiosyncratic and limited to Thunderbird. It doesn't replicate using Gmail's web interface nor Outlook 2010. I haven't tried any other webmail (I have a Yahoo account I very seldom use) nor any other e-mail clients in exploring this particular issue further. However, I've used many over the years and this is the first and only time I've encountered this behavior.

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I decided to do some experimentation with creating multiple messages and replies strictly within Gmail's web interface and then to reply to same from Thunderbird. After that, I attempted to start the same sort of chain strictly using Thunderbird to create the messages. The difference is pretty stark.

The first attachment is how the multiple fonts and colors that originated from Gmail show in Thunderbird's reading window. They are all correct here.

The second shows how the multiple fonts and colors that originated from Gmail show up when I reply from within Thunderbird. Again, all of those fonts and colors are maintained as sent and the font and color I designated in my Thunderbird options are what get used when composing the reply.

The last shows what happens when I sent a message created in Thunderbird with one font and color and then go to reply to it from within Thunderbird after having switched my default font and color choice for composition intentionally prior to replying. The font from the original message is retained in the reply, but the color is converted to what has been selected for composition. This suggests to me that Thunderbird is not retaining color information at each "level" within a reply. It has to have sent color information in the original message because it shows up in that color on receipt when reading (I didn't bother with a screen shot, but if you want one I can get one). When replying it is stripping or overwriting the color information from the original message and using the current compose color and applying it to everything in the window.

As far as I'm concerned, that's a bug.


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In the end I've just thrown up my hands and switched to Zimbra. Though I have MS-Outlook 2010 I didn't want to go that route because I don't think I'll be buying MS-Office when I next upgrade my laptop.

It's really sad to me that the developers of Thunderbird are unable to accomplish what each and every other e-mail client I've experimented with in response to this problem does: All fonts and colors are maintained in any reply and when one "splits the reply text open" to insert additional inline response the default font and color that the user has set is what automatically gets used for that inline response. It is exceedingly tedious to have Thunderbird's compose inherit the font and color of whatever text immediately precedes where you've split the message open in order to add an inline response and then have to change those back to what you want. It's either that or copy a small chunk of text in your chosen font and color and then paste that as the start of any inline reply, which is also a PITA.

The default behavior of Thunderbird's compose feature is simply unacceptable in the age of HTML-formatted e-mail being the general default. It strips replies of a major "on sight" organizing feature: colors specifically chosen by individuals who've originally composed the various messages included within a reply.

I'll continue recommending Firefox as the web browser of choice to my clients, but Thunderbird is officially scratched off as e-mail client of choice until or unless the behavior of the compose window is made to behave like every other e-mail client routinely does.


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See if you can locate the extension 'Change Quote & Reply Format'. If you can't, download it directly from the developer's web page. It seems to help stabilize the compose and reply fonts & styles.

However, it may add an idiosyncrasy of its own. When TB conducts an auto-save, it move the cursor back to the top of the document. Annoying, but not as much as jumbled fonts and styles.