Blog Post

Mail Signatures Suck

Regular readers will know me well.

I’m not an unreasonable person, as a rule, but I do hate it when seemingly simple things don’t work the way they are advertised.

I’ve moaned about iTunes once or twice recently (:)) but now I’m going to have a little moan about Signatures in

First, a little history. Mail was included in Mac OS X as a built-in mail client alternative to applications like Eudora, or my favourite mail client for many years Entourage.

Yeah, I know. Entourage?

OK, in the early days of the new version of Microsoft Office Entourage really was a good little email client and PIM; I loved the fact I could create a recurring task (not event, notice, but task) – something iCal still can’t do a number of years down the line. Entourage was also one of the few solutions for syncing with Palms, back in the days when I thought a Palm was a good idea for mobile PIM.

When become available I switched over as part of a wholesale migration to the Apple tools so that I could take advantage of iSync. I dropped Entourage (which was becoming very slow for email for me anyway) and instead moved to iCal, Mail and Address Book.

Because of the limitations of iCal I completely gave up using a computer for todo lists – I use paper notebooks. Ever reliable, portable and usable even when my computer decides to stop working for some reason. But, as usual, I digress.

Mail (I’ll drop the .app) was my main concern – I communicate with 99% of my clients entirely by email, so having a reliable email account was vital. Also, because I host many different domains, the ability for me to have multiple email accounts and signatures was also vital. All of my email comes in to a variety of email accounts on a local server (at the time Cyrus on Solaris 8/x86, today it’s a G4 running OS X Server). Handling multiple email accounts (through IMAP) was great with Mail.

Handling multiple signatures was not. Mail didn’t do it. You could have multiple signatures, but you had to manually select them for each email.

Recently (I admit, I can’t remember the revision) Mail gained the ability to have per-account signatures. In fact, it gained the ability to have multiple per-account signatures and you could both select a default signature for an account, or randomly select them, or you can select them when you create a message.

It’s a great idea in principle, but it doesn’t work.

I have accounts that simply DO NOT work with signatures. Even if I delete and recreate the account, Mail refuses to add signatures automatically to my email.

To demonstrate – here’s the configuration of a signature in the Mail prefs:

And here’s the selection to ensure that this is selected by default.

If I save this, get out of prefs and then create a new message on that account, the signature doesn’t appear on my email:

In fact, Mail seems completely unaware there are any signatures configured on this account at all:

If I delete this mail account and create a new mail account for the same account on the server and then repeat the above, it still doesn’t work. This obviously isn’t a bug or corruption of the account configuration, because creating a new one would fix that.

Also, there are accounts among those I have configured which DO work with signatures. For some reason, Mail just has trouble with this, and a few other, accounts.

Until this week I’d actually managed to get my main account (the one shown above) to have signatures – well, one – the one shown. It stopped working thursday. Nothing changed. I hadn’t even restarted Mail or even rebooted the system – just one day Mail decided it wasn’t going to support signatures on this account any more. Go figure.

One day, I completely obliterated any reference to Mail configurations of preferences on this machine. Luckily all my mail is stored on the server, so I can do this without risking the loss of any data.

Signatures still don’t work.

They don’t work on a machine where I did a native installation of Mac OS X 10.4.3 from the latest DVD just delivered from Apple Developer Connection. I completely reformatted on that one.

This is NOT a problem with my configuration, corruption of my configuration or something I’m failing to do.

Mail signatures simply do not do what they are advertised to do.

I’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact the UI for setting signatures sucks. I’ll cope with the UI on the basis that when I’ve configured a signature it actually works. Right now, I have signatures configured, according to my preferences, on *ALL* of my accounts. They work on less than a third of them.

What I can’t understand is why signatures suck so much. They aren’t that complicated an item to get right. I mean, Apple can get my system displaying video – I can even sync my mail configuration between machines. Although it’s probably telling that signatures work on neither system. All I want is a small piece of text displayed at the bottom of each message.

I reported the problem with the first version, now, I think, at least a year old. Probably more. They still haven’t been fixed.

As an individual, it’s a frustration. As a professional, it’s an embarrassment.

It’s the little things like this that affect people every day that make using a computer a frustrating experience. It’s the small annoyances that work together to give people bad feelings and impressions of OS.

Big stuff like Front Row and Aperture may make the headlines, but its the people who have to use the OS all day who come across these minor annoyances. As an long time Apple user (15 years and counting) and a registered developer for 7 years I’m not likely to dump OS X based on the preferences of one application.

But as time goes on, I’m hardly likely to be convinced of the quality of the big products if Apple can’t basic functionality like signatures on emails in Mail correct.

Of course, you have to ask whether there is a credible alternative. Thunderbird looks promising, and the new v1.5 contains a lot of fixes, but in some aresa it would be more of a backwards step than Mail. For a start, although Thunderbird supports multiple email accounts, you can’t change their order of appearance. At least Mail handles that properly…

42 Responses to “Mail Signatures Suck”

  1. HOORAY! #20 Swinden DOES WORK! I’ve been wrestling with this problem of losing signatures for 2 years at least — through 3 different iMac G5 computers (bad hard drive, lightning, etc.).

    Pull up your account preferences, and change the description of each account and be sure to save them when switching to the next account or closing the preference pane.


  2. Had the same problem with multiple accounts and signatures.

    Solution given in comment #20 Swinden fixed the problem. Strange but effective. Rename your account Description in Prefs. I had domain name in each and changed those, result: working signatures.

  3. Message #19 worked for me! I used to have my actual email in the “description” field but changed it to a more simple description and not an email address and it worked. Hopefully, Apple is working on this!

  4. Also… what seems to be happening is the signature changes don’t “stick” in the email accounts once I’ve dragged the signatures to the email account after relaunching mail; Each time I restart mail I have to drag the signatures to the mail account every time.

  5. Well I spoke too soon. It worked until I quit mail and relaunced. Though I have created signatures in the accounts, when I create a new mail it gives me “none” for signatures. 10.4.9 didn’t solve the bug either.

  6. InQuistve

    Yeah, the sig thing sucks, a big one at that. My employer came to me a month and a half ago and asked me to see if I could embedd a remote graphic (feedburner with rotating headlines) in his signature. He saw one in an email sent to him by a friend and immediately wanted one too. Although I have the only PC in a Mac shop we absolutely have to use apple mail because of other software that connects to it. I also have a Mac Mini which for the most part is just an email machine – not enough RAM for anything else.

    What a mess trying to figure out the remote embeded graphic thing! Thunderbird on the PC – five minutes tops to do this. I have spent god/deity(s) knows how many hours on this, and still no solution for the Mac email.

    I am not dead in the water yet, but it is getting close. Don’t blame you at all for being grumpy about your own problems. When it doesn’t work as the rest of the world works, yeah, you’re allowed.

  7. I’m now using Tiger (v10.4.8) but what you are saying has never been a problem for me and I’ve used since Panther came out. :s I’d be interested to know if there are other users who also have been able to use Mail signatures without a hitch. Best of luck!!

  8. Same problem here, tried doing everything suggested but no luck.
    3 different accounts, but only the last selected signature will show up on any new mail.

    any ideas will be appreciated!

  9. Swinden

    Huray! I found somewhere in apple support forums a very strange fix but it works:

    Bradford Bosley wrote:

    “I had the very same problem, having imported my mail from Panther Mail after a clean Tiger install. Try this:

    Go to Mail –> Preferences –> Accounts, select the broken account and change the Description field in the Account Information pane. That helped here, for whatever reason…”

    And it worked! For me and for many other people who replied to that post.

  10. Swinden

    Unfortunately, I’m a Mail signature victum as well. Strangely enough with the same Tiger dvd I did a complete system installation on my two computers and one of them (G3 white Ibook) has the signature problems and the other doesn’t (G4 dual powerpc).
    Is it a coincidence or does it have anything to do with the hardware?

  11. I have the same problem. Tried everything. Nothing works. Good ol’ copy paste from previous sent items does the job. The job my $3500 Quad G5 can’t.

    Rob :-(

    (Note no signature here either)

  12. I found a way to solve the problem!! For those whose OSX Mail fails to show signatures that exist, the solution is to trash the Signatures folder in User/Library/Mail. Do this when Mail is not open and then open Mail. Mail creates a new Signatures folder and the problem gets solved!
    James T. Russell

  13. Lo and behold! I too am bitten for whatever reason I do not know. The beautifully working Mail client in Tiger, suddenly dropped my signature selection within one of the three accounts I use. The other two are fine! I have tried everything that has been written without success. I am adamant about not using any cloogy fixes. I want Mail to work.

  14. I have one word for you:

    I don’t know how many times I’ve been complimented on my .signatures which are random quotations. I know MailSmith has the functionality you want, different signatures for different accounts. MailSmith can do a lot more than that, why waste time on a less email program?

    Of course I’m stuck using for Japanese and Chinese emails but BareBones is in theory working on better Unicode support.

  15. I don’t doubt that you have this problem, but I can’t reproduce it. That’s probably why Apple hasn’t fixed it for you, they have no simple test case. Makes we wonder if there isn’t something in the way you setup the accounts. If you could make a new user on your system, setup an account that has this problem, and put the contents of your ~/Library for that account on here I’m sure someone would figure it out — remember not to save your password in it.

  16. Colin (also placed on your site):
    Did you actually read the article?
    Did you actually look at the screenshot showing the configured signature on the account and how it didn’t work?
    ‘Drag the signature to the appropriate account’ makes absolutely no difference.

  17. Jason Terhorst

    DrunkenBatman had a rant about this quite a while back I think, but I can’t find the page. I don’t use signatures, and Mail works fine for my needs (it even has 3rd party plugins for MSN mail and Yahoo mail, which I use), so I don’t care. Entourage is great; I used it for a while, but I liked some of the features of Mail better, so that’s what I use. To each his own, I guess. The wonderful thing about OS X is that there isn’t a shortage of email apps, similar to the case of IM clients for OS X.

  18. aap: Textpander isn’t a fix, it’s a fudge. I don’t see why I should add software to the system just to enable a feature that is already supposed to be there.

    Chris: You did actually view the screenshots, yes? You can *SEE* it’s the same account.

  19. Hey–
    In Mail, are you sure you are sending the e-mail under the account with the signature? Otherwise, the signature show won’t up on compose.

    One thing that is not obvious is that in Preferences, you can drag a signature over to another account in the account list.