Outlook 2003 Email Plain Text Line Wrap 72 Characters Problem

by Alistair Miles

I want to write email in plain text. Sometimes I want to include URLs and I don’t want those URLs to get broken by hard line wraps. I’m using Microsoft Outlook 2003 as my email client and my company uses Microsoft Exchange Server (2003 I think). In Outlook, I set Tools > Options > Mail Format > Internet Format > Automatically wrap text at 132 characters – this is the maximum allowed and should be fine for most URLs. When I sent emails to myself with long URLs it worked fine. However, when I sent emails to other people outside my company, all plain text emails were wrapped at 72 characters – so any URL over 72 characters was broken.

I discovered an article from Microsoft describing how Exchange Server 2003 inserts a line break every 72 characters for all plain text messages encoded as ASCII. If a plain text message is not encoded as ASCII, the extra line breaks won’t be added.

I then went to Tools > Options > Mail Format > International Options and deselected the check box for Auto select encoding for outgoing messages. I left the Preferred encoding for outgoing messages as Western European (ISO). I then tried sending mail and found that the plain text messages were no longer being wrapped at 72 characters. I.e. I think this fixes the problem. I can only assume that Outlook 2003 was auto-selecting ASCII encoding by default, which causes Exchange 2003 to add line breaks every 72 characters.

I also found an article from Microsoft which describes how to disable the line wrapping done by Outlook 2003 for plain text messages, or use a value outside the 30-132 range allowed, by editing the registry. However, if you have the same problem as me, this will be a red herring.