December 10th 2008

Use Email To Fax to Send Faxes from Your Web Site or Application

Send and receive faxes from anywhere, RingCentral

I’m guessing you might be familiar with Fax-to-Email services. How many of you have used the Email-to-Fax feature that often comes with these services though? Did you notice the difference? This feature often comes along with the whole package, but I have a feeling you might of ignored it as often times these services come with a fancy GUI application that handles everything for you. In this post I am going to talk about using this feature as an easy way to generate some faxes direct from your web site.

As a former road warrior in a legacy industry, I used Email-to-Fax to send numerous faxes while on the road whether from a hotel room, airport terminal or just about anywhere in between. If you are not familiar with email to fax, it is a simple way to send a fax by attaching a document such as a Word or PDF file (or just about any other type) to an email that is then sent to your service provider to process. You generally receive an email confirmation when the fax transmission is complete or there is a fault.

I see the following benefits of using email to fax:

  • Original document is retained in your sent items which makes finding, re-sending and forwarding much easier (the fax history isn’t in yet another application for your to track down and figure out how to use)
  • No wasted paper, at least on the senders end
  • Email confirmation of transmission (I recommend setting up a rule if your using Outlook to file transmitted faxes. Let failed faxes hit your inbox)
  • Does not require a fax machine or scanner if you already have an electronic copy of the document you want to send
  • You can generally fax to just about anywhere in the world fairly cheap

So all of this is great for local use by you or your employees, but what if you need an easy way to send some faxes from your web site or that of a client? Well as long as you can create an email in your server side language of choice, you can do the same thing. The email just needs a FROM address that has been registered with your service provider.

I have personally done this with several ASP.NET web sites and have sent thousands of faxes using this technique. Last week I posted a demo with a SimpleModal popup that populated the fax number and attention field with existing data and then let the user markup the message text with a NicEdit WYSIWYG editor.

NicEditor Image

This information could then be used on the server side to generate an email to send to your service provider for faxing.

  • The To address (fax number) generally needs to be parsed into something like 15095556221@yourprovidersemail.com
  • Depending upon the service provider, the text from the email subject or email body can be used to generate a cover page on their end.
  • Personally, I have always generated my own cover page on the fly and then added this as the first page in the PDF document that is attached to the email.
  • You then need to leave either the subject or body of the email blank depending upon the service provider to keep them from generating a cover page for you.
  • I often generate the entire document to be faxed on the fly if it contains dynamic content. I recommend ExpertPDF for this if you’re using dot net. If you don’t want to create a PDF, most of the services I have used accept html attachments which is easy to do from your server, however you never know how things will be rendered.

Considerations

If you send the fax from your server, where do the emailed fax confirmations go? If your application’s users are authenticated which I am guessing they most likely are for this scenario, you can set each of them up with the service and use their email as the FROM address. In this case, they will receive their own confirmations. This has the added benefit that they can also send faxes direct from their email since they have been authorized, which is handy especially for remote workers. Another option is to have a single admin monitor for failed messages. If you were really creative you could use a pop3 component like MailBee to retrieve the messages and display them on your web site.

Is this a solution for everyone? Not at all. Maybe you have your own in house servers and might be able to rig up the Microsoft Fax Service or equivalent in other environments. If your web site is hosted though and your main business isn’t sending faxes, I think email-to-fax is a simple option to get up and running that is easy and relatively inexpensive.

Service Providers

RingCentral Online

RingCentral Online

Over the past three years I have used several providers, however I have used RingCentral for the last two years for my personal use and have been very satisfied. I have found their fax service very reliable. They also offer other features I use such as a personal incoming fax number that goes to email as well as an 800 number and virtual PBX.

One more tip: While on the road, email-to-fax is a great way to print the documents attached to an email message on your BlackBerry, Windows Mobile Device or iPhone. Just forward the email to the nearest fax machine.