In the latest edition of “It’s not you, it’s Apple!” (for others, see “Dealing with Inexplicable Apple Error Messages,” 10 December 2015), I now have direct confirmation that Apple is aware that the versions of Mail in both OS X 10.11 El Capitan and iOS 9 do not properly honor navigating to standard HTML named anchor tags. A number of readers have complained about this to us, since the HTML edition of TidBITS includes a table of contents whose entries link to articles further down in the issue. If an anchor tag has a NAME attribute, it can be used as the destination of an incoming link; such a named anchor tag is at the top of every article in the HTML edition of TidBITS issues.
In El Capitan and iOS 9, clicking or tapping those table of contents links does nothing, unlike all previous versions of OS X and iOS. A few weeks ago, I put some time into verifying that my HTML code was correct, and even tweaked things so that our anchors contained characters other than digits and included the HTML5-required ID attribute as well as the NAME attribute. Nothing made a difference, so I filed a pair of bug reports with Apple, one for each operating system. Apple’s engineers first asked for more information about the report I filed against Mail in El Capitan and have now closed both reports as being duplicates.
This is all good, since it means that the company is at least acknowledging the report, and the fact that others have reported it as well adds to the likelihood of it being fixed. In my experience, getting any sort of response to a bug report is unusual, whether or not the bug is ever fixed — the oldest open report in my account documents a bug in iPhoto 7.1 from 2007 — so we can hold out a little more hope that Mail will be fixed in the next minor updates to El Capitan and iOS 9.
Frankly, I find this bug extremely distressing, not because it’s all that significant — you can always just scroll down in the TidBITS issue — but because named anchors were described in the 1992 CERN document (presumably by Tim Berners-Lee) that was the very first public documentation of HTML. It boggles the mind that Apple’s engineers could bungle such a simple behavior that sits at the very core of HTML and had worked properly for many years, and then fail to fix it in the two minor updates to El Capitan and iOS 9 released so far. (While they’re fixing basic functionality broken by recent updates, Mail’s developers could revert to their previously functional code for handling email via POP in iOS — lots of iOS 9 users who rely on POP instead of IMAP have been unhappy with Mail’s behavior since upgrading.)
As an aside, if you’ve been reading the plain text edition of TidBITS in email and would prefer the HTML version (which includes screenshots and styled text), or if you’d like to switch between getting the full issue and just an announcement with links to articles on our Web site, you can tweak all these settings on your Subscriptions page. You will need to log in first.