Normally, when I view an email from a non-Google address, the generic avatar is displayed next to the sender's name:

Screenshot of generic Gmail avatar

However, I recently received an email from an @debian.org email address, and it had a photo next to the sender's name!

Where does Gmail retrieve the sender's avatar, when the sender is not using Gmail?


I suspect this is linked to a google plus profile, perhaps the email is used/verified on a google plus public page or profile, or just the email of someone with an account on Google Plus.

I checked the original text of a message that I've seen this, and there was no X-Face header, or any other headers with images. However, hovering over the From line, in the extra details popup, shows another popup with a name linked to a Google plus profile (the email is not public on this profile), and offers actions to add to circles, hangout, etc.

This would explain why someone without a Google Apps account could have one, it could be a google -sans gmail, account,or google apps,or perhaps even a gmail, with a secondary email?


Well perhaps debian.org is using their domain with google apps. Can't say for sure, but that is how i found out, with my personal email address being on google apps as well.

  • I can usually tell if a company is using Google Apps by looking at their DNS records, and host debian.org doesn't show anything like that. I think this user may have a Google+ account though. – Flimm May 19 '14 at 13:33

If you're seeing a rough black-and-white picture, the email you're reading could include the X-Face header, set by the sender.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Face

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    Interesting. Does any one know if Gmail does actually do this? In my case I saw a photo in colour. – Flimm May 19 '14 at 13:34
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    I believe Gmail did support X-Face at one time, but I'm not sure that's still the case. Anyway, if you're seeing a colour photo, it is not X-Face. – Vidar S. Ramdal May 19 '14 at 13:38

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