Including profile pictures in your application from the nifty (and free!) gravatar service is very easy, assuming you’ve already got an ’email’ field for your users that you’re tracking.

To use the system, you just need to form a url that points to the user’s profile image (using a hash of their email address) and use that url in an image tag. The url looks something like this:

Format:{md5 hash}


The basics

But how do you create the MD5 hash of the email address? No problem. You can use .NET’s built-in crytography libraries to help you. Here is a nice helper function that takes an email address and forms the hash you’ll need in the gravatar url:

using System.Security.Cryptography;

/// Hashes an email with MD5.  Suitable for use with Gravatar profile
/// image urls
public static string HashEmailForGravatar(string email)
	// Create a new instance of the MD5CryptoServiceProvider object.  
	MD5 md5Hasher = MD5.Create();

	// Convert the input string to a byte array and compute the hash.  
	byte[] data = md5Hasher.ComputeHash(Encoding.Default.GetBytes(email));

	// Create a new Stringbuilder to collect the bytes  
	// and create a string.  
	StringBuilder sBuilder = new StringBuilder();

	// Loop through each byte of the hashed data  
	// and format each one as a hexadecimal string.  
	for(int i = 0; i < data.Length; i++)

	return sBuilder.ToString();  // Return the hexadecimal string. 

Using the returned hash in the url is very simple. Just place the formatted url into an image tag:

//  Compute the hash
string hash = HashEmailForGravatar(email);

//  Assemble the url and return
return string.Format("{0}", hash);

Customizing the output

Pass the ‘size’ querystring parameter if you don’t want to use the default image size of 80px by 80px.

One last tip: If the hashed email address can’t be found, the following (unattractive) image will be displayed as a placeholder:

But you can pass in your own image to be used as a default, instead: