Best way to obfuscate an e-mail address on a website?

0 votes
asked Apr 14, 2009 by adam-rezich

I've spent the past few days working on updating my personal website. The URL of my personal website is (my first name).(my last name).com, as my last name is rather unusual, and I was lucky enough to pick up the domain name. My e-mail address is (my first name)@(my last name).com. So really, when it comes down to guessing it, it's not very hard.

Anyways, I want to integrate a mailto: link into my website, so people can contact me. And, despite my e-mail address not being very hard to guess, I'd rather not have it harvested by spam bots that just crawl websites for e-mail address patterns and add them to their database.

What is the best way for me to obfuscate my e-mail address, preferably in link form? The methods I know of are:

<a href="mailto:x@y.com">e-mail me</a>

It works, but it also means that as soon as my website hits Google, I'll be wading through spam as spam bots easily pick out my e-mail address.

<img src="images/e-mail.png" />

This is less desirable, because not only will visitors be unable to click on it to send me an e-mail, but smarter spam bots will probably be able to detect the characters that the image contains.

I know that there is probably no perfect solution, but I was just wondering what everyone thought was best. I'm definitely willing to use JavaScript if necessary, as my website already makes use of tons of it.

25 Answers

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by sam-hasler

Don't use any obfuscation techniques here because it's probably the first place the email harvesters will look to find out how people are obfuscating emails. If you have to have your email address visible on the site don't just copy verbatim someone else's method; obfuscate it in some unique way that no other site has used so that your method won't be known to harvesters before they visit your site.

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by codebrain

I use JavaScript obfuscation, take a look at this one for example:

http://www.jottings.com/obfuscator/

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by brad-barker

Honestly, your problem may be moot if you asked the question of whether or not a mailto is really what you want to use. A lot of people who use web mail, for example, or do not have the proper mail client setup in their browser are not going to benefit from a mailto. You are exposing your email address for a function that isn't going to work for a large portion of your users.

What you could do instead is use a form to send the e-mail behind the scenes so that the e-mail address is hidden and you don't have to worry about the poor saps who won't benefit from a mailto.

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by ross

You could do as Google do on Google Code (and Groups). Display a par tof the email, and a clickable portion ("..."). Clicking that indicates you want to know the email, and you are asked to fill in a captcha. Afterwards the email (and others?) are visible to you.

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by brian-carper

Apparently using CSS to change the direction of your text works pretty well. That link has a test of a bunch of other obfuscation methods as well.

Whatever you use is inevitably going to be defeated. Your primary aim should be to avoid annoying the heck out of your users.

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by rich-apodaca

reCAPTCHA offers a simple email obfuscation service. You don't need to set up an account and can start using it immediately. You can use the service as a link or as a popup.

After the captcha is solved, your email address appears as an href/mailto, so that it can be clicked/followed by users who have configured their email clients to work with their browsers.

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by uridium

I don't how well this would work. Could you not leave your email address out and make it load using an AJAX call once the page has finished loading. Not sure if spam bots can pick up the altered HTML or if they are clever enough to listen on other HTTP traffic to try and pick email addresses or if they just scan the page as it is received the first time.

0 votes
answered Jan 14, 2009 by stewart

One website I maintain uses a somewhat simplistic JavaScript means of (hopefully) keeping spambots out.

Email links call a JS function:

function sendEmail(name, domain) {
    location.href = 'mailto:' + name + '@' + domain;
}

To make sure only users who have JS enabled can see the link, write them out with this:

function writeEmailLink(realName, name, domain) {
    document.write('<a href="javascript:sendEmail(\''
      + name + '\', \'' + domain + '\')">');
    document.write(realName);
    document.write('</a>');
}   

The use of one JS function to write out a link that calls another means that there are two layers of protection.

0 votes
answered Jan 15, 2009 by bob-somers

You mentioned this is for your personal website. On my personal site (for example, bobsomers.com) I just have a paragraph that says this:

The best way to get in contact with me before the new site is up is to send me an email. My email address is my first name at this website. If you can't figure it out from that hint, well, you might find email more of a challenge than figuring out my address.

People seem to be able to figure that out just fine, as I get legitimate email all the time. Sometimes the best solutions don't require writing any code. :)

0 votes
answered Jan 23, 2009 by reuven

If you work with PHP, you can grab a free script that does that automatically. It's called "Private Daddy" and we use it for our own online audio streaming service. Just one line of code and it works out of the box... you can grab it here

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