Big changes afoot

March 14, 2008 | Posted by Apokalyptik

Howdy everyone! It’s been an exciting few months for us since we’ve taken on the role of helping Gravatar grow. We’ve been doing a lot of work to get those gears turning, and set things up for some serious forward motion.

The first thing we did, after stabilizing the service, was set out to rewrite Gravatar in PHP. Now before we launch into any holy wars I’d like to point out that our decision on this matter had nothing to do with Ruby, or Rails — in fact we have a great respect for both! The reason, the only reason, we switched is that PHP is our core competency at Automattic. As a PHP application we will be able to apply the sum total of our collective abilities to bear on any problems that Gravatar might face. The guys I work with are genuinely some of the most technically gifted people I know!

Of the things that you might notice there are a couple which will be most prominent. First off the speed of the user interface has increased dramatically especially when it comes to applying your uploaded imaged to your email addresses, a process which used to take minutes. We’ve fixed the biggest issue with the cropper (it would throw an error if you tried to use an image that was already 80×80 pixels or smaller.)

Now for some things that you probably have not noticed.

We have increased the size limit for avatars to 512 pixels (thats a big avatar!) With existing gravatars the image will be pixelated at 512, but new gravatars created from from higher resolution images will be very clear. For backwards compatibility the default size for serving images with no specific requested size will be the 80 pixel version.

You can now abbreviate the avatar.php options as follows: size=80 can be s=80, rating=PG can be r=PG, default=foo can now be d=foo. The rating is also case insensitive (r=PG is the same as r=pg). Oh and gravatar_id=foo can be g=foo, not that you’ll need it because we’ve implemented a new cleaner URL API. Our new API is actually really simple, and not a huge departure from the original URL structure.

All of the aforementioned get parameters still work, such as ?s=80&r=g& Also, for convenience and compatibility with certain software (for example some forum software won’t allow you to use a url as an avatar if it doesn’t have an image extension), you can append .jpg to the end of the MD5 of the email

We’ve also added support for gravatar images over SSL (please use the hostname for this)!

We have lots more stuff planned to make a great service for everyone, so stay tuned!

114 Responses

  1. photolord says:

    Cool. Sounds like it is getting better for everyone using gravatar.

  2. Super Coco says:


    We’ve fixed the biggest issue with the cropper (it would throw an error if you tried to use an image that was already 80×80 pixels or smaller.)

    Until that, the only way to use PNG images with transparencies as Gravatar was to upload them already in the final size, 80×80. That way, you could use PNG images with perfect borders. Now, they are being converted to JPG and they look awful and the transparent background of the image has been replaced with a black color.

    Please allow us to use transparent PNG files as Gravatar without going through the JPG compression.

    That you for the great job you are doing in Gravatar! :-)

  3. [...] The rewrite of Gravatar from Ruby to PHP is done. The backend should be identical, the serving of Gravatars should be even faster, and as a bonus we now support SSL Gravatars. [...]

  4. Matt says:

    Super Coco: Gravatars are meant to be images, the fact that animations and PNGs were allowed was a bit of an accident. (Neither scales well.) Sorry about that.

  5. m0n5t3r says:

    erm, citing from

    Portable Network Graphics (PNG) is a bitmapped image format that employs lossless data compression. PNG was created to improve upon and replace the GIF format, as an image-file format not requiring a patent license.

    they _are_ images, folks! and an open format in the mean time! and scaling them using GD works just fine and it is possible to do it without killing the alpha channel (the most important reason why one might want a PNG avatar is transparency), see here:

  6. Jenny says:

    Nice. But those are kinda big. I mean unless people are using vector graphics, I don’t see a need for images that large. They won’t be clear at all when they’re sized down.

  7. Matt says:

    Okay, we’ll try that.

  8. sandboxdev says:

    Nice work!

  9. Dr J says:

    sounds great. looking forward to the speed improvements

  10. Nice. I’m wondering if the larger size will cause some more interesting designs for comments to come about.

  11. rpgmakervxrmvx says:

    Automattic is just amazing!

  12. Charles says:

    I know this has to be an incrediblly “dumb” question to all you geeks and ner-to-be geeks, but what is a gravatar? What is it good for? How is one used? Why would one be used? What is the benefit to my site or its visitors?

  13. Cool, but still waiting for a portuguese translation…

  14. Thanos says:

    Very nice, and thanks. Now I will have to spiff up the image, but it’s late. Fun for tomorrow.

  15. [...] Big changes afoot « Gravatar Blog より、Gravater がいろいろ改良されているようです: [...]

  16. It would be nice if the image cropping tool expanded to 512×512 to encourage these larger image sizes. Your current cropping had me adjust a 1000px photo within an 80px square.

  17. Neri says:

    Is not a size too big?
    greets :D

  18. The API documentation could do with an update as well :-) it still details the old API.

  19. [...] has been completely rewritten in php bringing more speed and bigger avatars. Questo articolo è stato scritto da Alessandro e [...]

  20. I doubt that people will be using the 512×512 images with comments as that is clearly too large an image. However, this would be a useful option with something like a profile page. With all the social media sites out there, if some were to integrate Gravatar, then people wouldn’t need to upload the same profile images over and over again. Instead, we’d see a standard size on our posts, and a different size on our profile.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to be the most logical use of such a large image :)

  21. Shawn says:

    This is probably a dumb question but I don’t really see anywhere on this blog where it talks about integrating Gravatars with installations. Is there a plugin I’m missing somewhere? I’d really like to implement Gravatars on my WordPress blog but I’m just not seeing how. Thanks.

  22. If you look at the growth of bandwidth and do some simple projections, a 512×512 image is not too heavy. It could be used as a mouseover a thumbnail to show the full size image.

    I like the fact that you are developing for extensibility.

  23. stephenju says:

    I was very excited for the new larger size, thinking I can make my alpha-mask PNG avatar look even better. Only to be very disappointed in find out the removal of transparent PNG files. It worked until this upgrade. All the avatars of the authors in my blog are alpha-masked PNG images. Now they are all blackened, ugly JPEGs.

    Alpha-mask PNG brings some quality to blogs that JPEG cant match. It looks good on any background color. It provides neat effect like shadow and 3D-look. Please bring it back.

    It’s just a graphic file, why restrict creativity by limiting it to just plain pictures?

  24. Nice
    I have just added my first avatar

  25. Kevinjohn says:

    I can understand about the transparent PNGs, but if the trade off was to lose alpha masked PNGs in oder to lose multiframed files I’d definately take it.

    Also, the suggestion that all alpha masked images look good because they match the background colour is certainly a leap. Not to mention the notion that alpha masked pngs add more quality to a blog, surely the content of the blog itself bring quality rather than the gravatars?

  26. Adam says:

    Ok fair enough about animations but for the love of something bring back the png, if there’s a filesize limit then I don’t see how it doesnt scale?

  27. Matt says:

    Alpha-masked PNGs also don’t work in IE6 without special scripts, they look terrible.

  28. [...] Matt anunciaba cambios en Gravatar referentes a la nueva forma de llamar a las imagenes desde sitios externos. La ruta que hasta ahora no usaba URL Rewrite ahora tendrá un aspecto [...]

  29. [...] Gravatar har forøvrig gjort endringer i koden og oppsettet sitt den siste tiden, og du kan blant annet ha gravatarer i størrelsen 512×512px. [...]

  30. stephenju says:

    There are certainly limits on PNG file. IE6 is a big problem but it’s phasing out. And it’s only in IE6 the alpha masked PNG gravatars look bad. Now they look bad everywhere. Also, PNG doesn’t do multiframe images. If multiframe is a problem, it’s GIF that should get the axe. And I guess it did already. :)

    Yes, it’s still the content and design of a blog that count as quality. But why limit the option people can use to achieve it? A lot of people have no decent idea of using colors. Do we remove color support from CSS?

    I can understand if there’s technical issue on supporting it. But it’s not. We had it before. It was working. So is this Automattic’s imposing of idea of proper image use on bloggers? Is “avatars should never have transparent background” Automattic’s stance on blog design? I don’t think it’s the case but it sounds like so.

  31. [...] surfing around the internets today I came across a blog post from Gravatar and it really hit home with me. Basically Gravatar rewrote its entire site from Ruby [...]

  32. [...] Big changes afoot « Gravatar Blog gravatar ujra hasznalhato lesz, s sokat fejlodott az utobbi idoben. (tags: gravatar ruby php) [...]

  33. Please, insert a link to in the blog. =]

    I love PHP, I love Gravatar.

  34. Retodon8 says:

    Overall definitely a nice update, but I have to agree that dropping the superior PNG and downgrading to JPEG was a step back. Well, see what m0n5t3r said. :) I never saw any Gravatars with animations… curious what was exploited there exactly.

  35. Otto says:

    Nice improvements, but PNG support needs to be added back (if it has not happened already). Forget the scaling if the image is the correct size, and don’t convert to JPG. PNG is small and fast and lightweight and supported by every major browser. GIF is dead, and JPG can be blocky. Sometimes, you need PNG. Let it work correctly.

  36. Jonathan says:

    @Shawn: There is currently a plug-in for WP 2.3 that will display gravatars for you, but if you wait a few more days and upgrade to WP 2.5, they should be built in automattically (;)) as long as your theme supports them. The 2.3 plugin is here: . Documentation on how to make sure your theme will display Gravatars in 2.5:

    @Charles: See . Basically when you sign up for Gravatar, you upload a picture (avatar) that will be associated with an email address. When you create an account on a new blog or leave a comment using that email address, if the blog has Gravatars enabled, it will contact the Gravatar web server and display your picture (see all the pictures next to these comments?). The cool thing about Gravatar is that 1 picture will follow you all over the web. Gravatars can even be built into other applications, such as Thunderbird:

    I hope that wasn’t too many links. I don’t want to get marked as spam :)

  37. jaredhoylman says:

    awesome! i think gravatar should be used by every blog!

  38. Manny says:

    I also agree that dropping PNG in favour of JPEG was a mistake. The jpeg artifacts are particularly notable on my usual gravatar, and the substituting black for alpha transparency is unflattering.

    I concede that PNG may not be supported in IE6, but IE6 market share is dropping substantially, and with IE8 on the way—I don’t agree that this sound reasoning for dropping this previously available feature. Since gravatar is used across multiple websites, and with no way to predict the background, PNG seems like a natural choice over JPEG for gravatar.

  39. What about security/authentication?

    Do you have any plans for preventing people from arbitrarily using my or any other user’s Gravatar by just typing the respective user’s email in blog comment forms?

  40. I don’t use alpha-channel PNGs as Gravatars myself at the moment, but it does sound like something useful, so I’d like to see it added back. No animated GIFs though, please! If IE6 compatibility is such a concern, why not just go with Matt’s favorite route and serve a “Browse Happy” icon and link instead of the Gravatar to IE6 users? ;-) (Do it for IE7 users too, until IE8 is out and much more standards-compliant…)

    (Sorry Matt, can’t help but razz you a bit after reading recent wp-hackers posts and such…my true opinion is much more neutral.)

  41. Clif says:

    Overall, this is good news.

  42. djnomore says:

    it is indeed.. good stuff

  43. [...] блог. Спирам да ги използвам, докато не се вразумят и не позволят употребата на png файлове отново. Грубата им постъпка да конвертират всички png [...]

  44. Nice, I like the update to the URL structure, much cleaner.

    Whats the chance that in the future we might see something like, or similar to this:{insert md5 string thingy here}/{size}/{rating}

    Might clean things up even further.

  45. I also think that transparency is a mandatory feature. Using jpg-s is a step backwards. Please put png-s and gif-s back.

    Also, why do people have so much against multiframe images? If people want that as their avatars why not? Why limit people’s choices on their own avatars? Maybe Automattic can add a new option on Gravatar to not show animations if specified (but leave default on)?

  46. Michel says:

    Gravatars are meant to be images, the fact that animations and PNGs were allowed was a bit of an accident.

    Hmmm, accident? What do you mean? You want to say that GIFs and PNGs are *not* images? :-D

    What’s the problem with PNG, GIF, JPG? These are three standard for the Web of today image formats, and everyone can choose to his taste… One has alpha-transparency and losless compression, the other has animation option and index transparecny, the third is great for photos and bitmaps in general…

    Also, as someone above duly noticed, PNG is much newer format and has some options which JPG lacks… why going back? Ask the users of the Gravatar service — if they need or want the PNG format, then give it back to them (or so I would do;-)!

    As for me, I won’t need 512 pixels-wide gravatar, but I’d like to have the option to use the PNG:)

  47. GrokCode says:

    It used to be possible to specify an alternate image if there was no Gravatar associated with an email, but now Gravatar will return the default blue gravatar image no matter what. Is this a bug or have you dropped support for alternate images?

    I ask because the change breaks my Ravatars plugin.

  48. fifthelement80 says:

    we need to use transparent avatars , it is really important. I will stop using gravatar until this bug is fixed.

  49. apokalyptik says:

    @GrokCode We did not intentionally break any API parameters. I have replied to you, privately, via email. If the API’s broken I want to fix it!

  50. Hugo says:

    PNG to the people! Thank you.

    (And by the way, using IE6 as an argument for not supporting PNG was lame.)

  51. Sören says:

    Obviously most of the users want their PNGs back. Me too, at most for alpha transparency.

    If features of the service are removed, the common user usually understands this if there are technical or security issues with the previous way the service worked. But you have to tell us! Just removing features and hoping nobody will complain about it, isn’t the kindest way.

    One issue with animated Gravatars might be the rating. I could create an animated Gravatar showing an initial image that will be rated G. After a few seconds (or minutes) it fades into something completly different, now showing a shocker X rated pic. The manual rating process may miss the X rated pic fading.

  52. Retodon8 says:

    What about security/authentication?

    Do you have any plans for preventing people from arbitrarily using my or any other user’s Gravatar by just typing the respective user’s email in blog comment forms?

    Uhm, no. :) If you don’t want others to know (and type) your address, don’t give it to anyone, simple as that. How do you expect anyone to disallow people from typing certain things? If that were possible, there’d be no such thing as spam e-mail. It’s technically possible to build a website, blog, etc., that only allows visitors to enter e-mail addresses once they have authenticated, but that’s a whole different “layer”. Gravatar only supplies images. (The image URL itself doesn’t contain the e-mail address; it is hidden using MD5, so Gravatar already did everything they could.)

  53. Crop screen didn’t work for me when I originally opened my account. Still doesn’t work. And the fact that the developers (was that a developer?) don’t know what a PNG is doesn’t really fill me with hope either.


  54. sparesimian says:

    To avoid someone forging your gravatar address, use a plussed address with a secret plussed part for your gravatar identity. This does require that the MTA responsible for that address support plussed addressing. Sendmail does, so ask your email provider if they run sendmail. Or send yourself an email at (adding +plussedtest to your regular address) and see if it goes through or gets bounced.

  55. Kagou says:

    Please give back PNG and Alpha.

  56. koubis says:

    png is the best compression (without loss) for pixelated icons with few colors :(

  57. [...] whichever language is better then the other, but a matter of experience and culture, as stated in Gravatar’s blog: The first thing we did, after stabilizing the service, was set out to rewrite Gravatar in PHP. Now [...]

  58. [...] Za přechodem z Ruby na PHP ale nestojí ani tak výhody či nevýhody jednotlivých technologií, jako prostý fakt, že kolem WordPressu (a tedy Automattic) je opravdu silná PHP komunita. Dříve než se pustíme do jakýchkoli svatých válek, rád bych poukázal na to, že naše rozhodnutí v této záležitosti nemá nic společného s Ruby nebo Rails – ve skutečnosti máme pro obojí velký respekt! Důvod, jediný důvod proč jsme přešli je, že PHP je klíčová kompetence Automattic. —apokalyptik [...]

  59. noon says:

    I agree with Hugo. You really pulled the IE6 card? I have an idea, maybe the W3C should get rid of every CSS property that doesn’t work in IE6 without “special scripts”?

    This is so lame.

  60. ahtb says:

    Yes, please bring back png and transparency support.

  61. bao says:

    oh yeah

  62. Diomas says:

    How about OpenID support? I mean why gravatar is recognised only by email?
    Many blogs use OpenID instead of (or additionaly to) email authentification for comments.
    When the user choose OpenID to sign his comment, blog can’t recoginize its gravatar cause there is no any connection beetween them.

    It would be great if gravatar will support OpenID recognition. (

  63. [...] Big changes afoot « Gravatar Blog – Gravatar er nu lavet i PHP – ikke Ruby/Rails [...]

  64. retodon8 says:

    To avoid someone forging your gravatar address, use a plussed address with a secret plussed part for your gravatar identity.

    I suppose that’s useful if you want multiple Gravatars simultaneously without supplying multiple addresses. However, the image URL will just contain a different, equally unreadable MD5, so that doesn’t make it any more secure. If someone manages to crack the MD5 I’m sure (s)he can figure out how to remove the plussed part from the address too… although if his/her goal was to use the Gravatar, that’s actually an unwanted step. If it’s just the image file (s)he’s interested in, it’s easy enough to just (use the code to get the largest version of the image and) save the file somewhere. I still don’t really see why someone would consider this whole thing a shortcoming of the system to begin with…

  65. Don says:

    My Gravatars look awful now as they are transparent png files. PLEASE reconsider allowing the use of transparent pngs. I fully agree with prior comments which state that reverting to a non-transparent jpg with black background is a horrible step backwards. I have photoshop. I can save in any format. If I had wanted an image with a black background, I would have created my Gravatar that way in the first place. Transparency produces the best results regardless of what background color a site may be using.

  66. I see more use in handcrafted, alpha channeled PNG avatars than in 512px avatars (which are neato, nonetheless)

  67. yonosoytu says:

    Thank you, guys. My gravatar looks awesome now with that black background! (meaning, bring back alpha-channel PNGs support, it wasn’t an accident, it was a nice feature to have).

  68. You’ve mentioned that instead of ‘default=’ that we can use ‘d=’, but I can only get ‘default=’ to work, ‘d=’ returns the blue ‘Gravatar’ default.

  69. oblomov78 says:

    One more vote in favour of PNG support. If you had problems with people uploading multi-megabyte animated GIFs (I know there are people like that because a guy on a forum was complaining that he couldn’t do that), then act against _that_, not by removing support for the only perfectly legit standard patent-free image format supporting transparency!

  70. oblomov78 says:

    (Hit submit too soon, sorry).

    I mean, if the problem is animated GIFs, then just reject animated GIFs, with a message explaining why.

    If the problem is the inability to resize GIFs and PNGs, just reject them if they are not in the proper size, asking the users to resize them before submission, and skip the cropper if the images are already properly sized.

  71. m0n5t3r says:

    you also appear to have broken the sign-up thing; I already have a user name (m0n5t3r), don’t need another, thank you! now can I please manage my avatars? (I got no response from the mail I sent to the support@ address a while ago, btw.)

  72. [...] I know recent changes to Gravtar functionality (actually, a complete re-write from Ruby to PHP) has broken my Wavatars [...]

  73. ponderosadesign says:


  74. varpness says:

    So if I upload my avatar and crop it down in order to fix the sample box, it will still use the larger resolution when called for?

  75. ptiseb says:

    I’m sorry but this new version is not good :
    - no alpha canal for png image
    - resize system does’nt work perfectly

  76. NF says:

    I love Gravatar. :)

  77. zappixm5 says:

    It’d be really awesome if there was a way users could manage their gravatars off-site, as-in, inside another web-page/application. It would by-far increase the use of Gravatars throughout the net.

  78. domraban says:

    I’d love it if I could get it to work!

  79. bolknote says:

    Please add URL gravatar. e.g.

    where “u” (“url”) = md5(OpenID URL)

    it is very useful.

  80. earlemartin says:

    In relation to a couple of the earlier comments… being able to tie an OpenID identity to an account would be a *big* plus. You’re helping fix the distributed identity problem, like OpenID, so it would be a natural next step. Then maybe (the provider I use) could support you back. That would be 100% win.

    Thanks for the good work.

  81. Steve Mills says:

    It would be great for this to work with OpenID

  82. pyroman says:

    I agree with the OpenID support. I was surprised that it wasn’t using it already when I found out about this.

  83. kpapst says:

    I like Gravatars and the latest development. Thanks for this service.
    To give back a small piece, I released a Smarty TAG, which converts an email into a Gravatar URL. Supports the new URL structure. Here is the article: (sorry, german… but you’ll find the download at the bottom, included docu is in english).

  84. golbez says:

    Too bad Gravatar is only in English…

  85. bigben87 says:

    First of all thank you. Gravatar is a great service and should be more widely used, I think. So I just implemented it into one of my projects (

    Why not let the website-owner decide, what kind of imagefiles are to display? If your service returns a png, the CMS may recognize that and show the dafault-image, instead. I think, like the users choice, what kind of image to choose for his gravatar, this should be the choice of the website-author, what kind of imagesfiles to are be shown.

    Another Idea for that problem:
    With something like &png=noalpha (or &file=noalpha or something) your service could implement an fall-back and show an secoundary image.

    I hope, you already came to this ideas. ;)
    But however: Very sad, we have to worry about such issues, though.

    Open ID
    Never heard of before, but – like gravatar – the very path the web has to go, think.

    +1 vote PNG
    +1 vote OpenID

  86. Jeff Waugh says:

    I would (also) very much like to see OpenID and transparent PNG support. Plus logging in with any of the associated email addresses. Thanks! :-)

  87. noelbillig says:

    It would be great if 3rd party developers could have some way of directly uploading images.

    For example, a developer could add a “make this my gravatar” button to their site/application. When a user clicks it, the site/app could either post the image or the image link to gravatar. Gravatar would then ask the user to login, at which point the image would appear in the users account.

    (also, chalk me up for a transparent PNG request)

  88. LouCypher says:

    Matt says:Alpha-masked PNGs also don’t work in IE6 without special scripts, they look terrible.

    and Gravatar doesn’t event work in Lynx. Stop supporting older browsers!

  89. Dejan says:

    +1 for the png support (the reasons why its dropped are lame)

  90. Noel says:

    It would be nice if there was a way for 3rd party sites/software to upload gravatars to the site. For example, a site could have a “Make this my gravatar” link as could local photo managements software. 3rd party sites/software could simply forward you to the site with an image post at which point could ask you to log in.


  91. Jeff says:

    ba bump on the openid support.

  92. honewatson says:

    Gravatar should have a widget which you can add to your blog which allows people to sign up and upload an image without leaving your blog.

  93. +1 to PNG support, please run voting.

  94. Aslak Raanes says:

    I agree on supporting PNG, but you should probably white list PNG chunks when uploaded. Keep sRGB, gAMA et al, throw away anything else.

  95. Stephen Chu says:

    So. Any word on restoring proper PNG support?

  96. racoon42 says:

    Sweet :)

  97. opss31 says:

    Во как

  98. Pedro Melo says:


    But is this feature life yet? I’ve uploaded a 512×512 GIF (also tried PNG) and I get the crop interface everytime, to cut my image to the 80×80 box.

  99. [...] Automattic took over, one thing users have repeatedly asked for is to be able to have transparent Gravatars. Now that feature has returned. Posted in Asides, [...]

  100. [...] 15/3/08: Leo en el blog de Gravatar que el que las imágenes de 80×80 no se redimensionaran era un bug, no una característica. He [...]

  101. [...] (the company behind WordPress, the software that powers افكار و احلام). Among those changes was a buried, but rather unpopular, one: Gravatar had dropped support for images in PNG format and, [...]

  102. [...] now support resolutions up to 512×512 pixels. The higher resolution your gravatar image is, the better it [...]

  103. [...] השרות בגראווטרים גדולים (גדולים מאד) של 512 פיקסלים. עד לשינוי, לפני מספר חודשים, הגראווטרים נתמכו בגודל של 80 פיקסלים [...]

  104. [...] now support resolutions up to 512×512 pixels. The higher resolution your gravatar image is, the better it [...]

  105. [...] now support resolutions up to 512×512 pixels. The higher resolution your gravatar image is, the better it [...]

  106. FlyboyArt says:

    One more vote for adding support for OpenID. This would be huge!

  107. christopherroberts says:

    Yey, Gravatar is even better now :)

  108. jhonte says:

    How can you specify the file format? If we always wan’t to get png:s from the url… And never a .jpg or so.

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