Windows IE 6 ignores text/plain mimetype

A fairly border-case scenario that probably rarely comes up, but appears to be another gotcha. So apparently IE 6 for Windows, on occasion, decides it knows better than the web server what format a file is. Instead of using the mimetype supplied by the web server, as all good browsers tend to do, IE performs some heuristics on the file and overrides the mimetype with its own guess. The type text/plain is one such stupid circumstance.

Annoyingly, IE will insist on downloading plaintext files in some cases, instead of rendering it in browser. This usually occurs if a script is attempting to generate a “text/plain” document on the fly, but can also happen under other circumstances if the IE hard-coded heuristics comes up with a different result than the server-proclaimed mimetype.

A client-side workaround for text/plain is possible. You’d need to edit the Windows Registry (oh joy). In HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings, add the DWORD key IsTextPlainHonored and set value to 0x1. This will make IE behave correctly for text/plain mimetypes. This solution comes per the MS Knowledgebase article, “Text/Plain” Content-Type Header Field Is Ignored. There are also some further explanations on how mimetypes are resolved in the MSDN article, on mimetype detection in IE.

Unfortunately, this is not a solution if this behavior comes up in a web-based tool for external use – as every client machine registry will have to be thus modified. This change may also carry security implications (actually, I’m completely guessing here, because I don’t quite see why the IE team decided to “not honor” mimetypes for text/plain…).

The context:

A PHP script in a project I maintain pulls a text file from a remote location, and then prints it to the browser as Content-type: text/plain. A hack to be sure, but simple enough to get the job done. This works out fine in Firefox, etc, but not in Windows IE. IE insists that this is a PHP script file that must be downloaded. Of course, once downloaded, you can fire up Notepad and see that it’s bloody plaintext. Firefox et al will render it in browser as expected.

In this case, the script was only used for internal testing, so I switched all the test machines to honor plaintext mimetypes. A longer term workaround would probably involve porting the output to XML instead.

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