Avoiding the mailto: trap

August 29, 2007 ⋅ 6 Comments »

Does anyone else find it annoying when you accidentally click on a mailto: link? I’ll click on someone’s name, expecting the link to go to their blog or a bio page or something, and then realize (too late) that my system is firing up Thunderbird. D’oh.

I know it’s a part of internet history, but I think mailto: should be buried alongside the blink tag. It’s a wart on the web browser user interface, a Burmese tiger pit in the browsing experience. 99% of the time, clicking a link takes you to a new web page, but sometimes, depending on a whim of the developer, it might open up your email client.

Dear web developers, may I humbly suggest that the only time you use a mailto: link is when the link text is an email address? That way, the consequences of my clicking will be much clearer. Thanks!


  1. anand - September 3, 2007:

    I think FF 3 is looking at support for handling mailto: in the browser itself, via firing open your favorite webmail service or other options. I think the biggest pain of the mailto: tag is the huge wait time for bulky email cilents to load up.

    It's like the difference between opening and email attachment or clicking "View as HTML" that gmail lets you do. So much nicer to keep it in the browser, and keep the load on the big corp's servers.

    ps, redesign our facebook app man! :P

  2. Patrick - September 4, 2007:

    Yeah, definitely the biggest pain is waiting for the mail client to open.

  3. colin - September 24, 2007:

    Hey Pat! Keep up the blogging, I enjoy the reading of them.

    By the way, checkout the website I made for my hockey league ... don't click on my name in the footer, ha! ;-)



  4. Ryan Lowe - September 28, 2007:

    FireFox opens Gmail for me when I click a mailto: link. That would be convenient if people actually used mailto: any more. :)

    I'm in favour of allowing people to disable mailto click support in FireFox to prevent accidental clicks. Then in the rate instance I want to use a mailto: address I can copy and paste it.

  5. Patrick - September 28, 2007:


    I agree, I'd be all for disabling mailto support altogether. Whenever I encounter a link that I actually know is a mailto (i.e., the link text is the actual email address), I just use right-click -> "Copy Email Address".

  6. matt - December 14, 2007:

    To identify mailto links, I updated my userContent.css file to put a Unicode envelope icon after the link, like this: a[href^="mailto:"]:after { content: " \2709"; }

    Then I saw how useful it was, and I added rules for PDF, Word, Excel, and new window links. a[href$=".pdf"]:after { font-size: smaller; content: " [PDF]"; } a[href$=".doc"]:after,a[href$=".dot"]:after { font-size:smaller; content: " [Word]"; } a[href$=".xls"]:after, a[href$=".xlw"]:after { font-size:smaller; content: " [Excel]"; }

    :link[target="blank"]:after, :visited[target="blank"]:after,:link[target="new"]:after, :visited[target="new"]:after { content: " \2197"; }