Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How should I configure my email so that clicking mail links in other programs works?


I use Yahoo as my email but when I’m on another program and I want to send
an email, it defaults to Live Mail, which I don’t use. Then I have trouble
getting it into Yahoo Outbox. What do I do?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #98
I look at ways to configure a default email program to send
email from your computer even if you are using an online email program.


Clicking mail links

I think what you’re experiencing is a confusion in how Windows, or your browser, treats what are called “mail to” links. It’s also a concept that can appear in other programs under Windows.

Default email program

It all boils down to what Windows thinks your default email program is. And I have to stress it’s the “default” email program.

If you’re using something like Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail (using your browser) you’re not actually using an email program. You’re using a web browser to access your email on the web. So then, when a program, some other program, wants to fire up the default email program, well, what it fires up is not gonna be related to what you actually use.

There are a couple of ways around this and I do have an article specifically about setting the “mail to” or default email program. What it boils down to is that you have basically two options – or actually perhaps three.

Manage “mail-to” manually

The first of course being – do nothing.

Live with this behavior although it is inconvenient – I’ll absolutely grant you that. But it is one, somewhat practical, solution.

Browser based default email

Another approach is to search for a solution that will actually fire up the browser-based email in response to a request for the default email program.

This doesn’t always work; and it’s not always available.

For example, I’m not actually aware of a solution for Yahoo. I believe there’s a solution for Hotmail and I think there might be a solution for Google Mail, but I don’t necessarily know of one specifically for Yahoo. Perhaps someone will provide one in a comment.

What that would do is somehow tie this concept of a “default email program” to your web browser. Your web browser will then bring up the appropriate web page that will allow you to create the email message. That is typically what you’re attempting to do when you click on one of these “mail to” links.

Local email program

The third solution is typically the solution that I try to encourage people to use. It’s a little bit more complex but it works.

What you end up doing is going ahead and configuring a mail program on your PC.

Set a local program to send

You can use Windows Live Mail, if that’s what you’re comfortable with. You can fire up Thunderbird. You can use Outlook; you can use anything that is installed as a program on your PC.

In other words – if you were accessing your email through a program on your PC, that’s the software that you would be installing.

We’re not going to change the way you access your email. This is simply a solution to make this “default mail program” concept work.

Use your local SMTP

What you end up doing is you configure that email program with the appropriate SMTP sending options to your email service. Now with Yahoo, there are settings for that; for Hotmail there are different settings for that. Basically what they allow you to do is use the desktop email program to send email.

And that’s all you would ever do. Since you read your email using a web-based interface, there’s no need to use the email reading capability of the desktop email program. All you really want to do is have that program be configured so that it can send mail through your online email account.

Once you do that, you can then set that as your default email program.

Then when you click a “mail to” link or when you invoke some other program that wants to run the default email program to send mail, it fires up this desktop email program that’s configured to be able to send email through your account.

That’s my recommended solution. None of the solutions are clean when you’re using web mail – but those, I believe, are the three basic approaches you can take.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

5 comments on “How should I configure my email so that clicking mail links in other programs works?”

  1. Firefox handles this well. You can set the mailto links to open the webmail of your choice in a new tab. Other browsers may do this also, I don’t know.

    I don’t think it would work if the link is in another program, like Word.

  2. The best thing to do, for everyone, is install a reliable email client locally so it will be the default app. Leo has talked about this many times. If you have Outlook, perfect. If not, check out Leo’s article on Thunderbird: Not only is it a better interface, it provides the all-important backup mechanism that most people are missing. Just set it up using the POP3 protocol and forget about logging in to the web site to manage email.

  3. Leo, I hate to say you’re wrong, but you’re wrong. Well, not really wrong, you admitted you didn’t know and was hoping someone would comment.

    On my laptop, when I click a mailto link, it always opens Yahoo’s compose window. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how I did it. However, I don’t remember doing anything.

    I think it’s either a Firefox thing, or it’s because Yahoo mail is pinned tab in Firefox, or it’s because my wife is continuously logged into her Yahoo mail account. Either way, it always works.

  4. As far as I know it works for Yahoo IF you download the Yahoo Toolbar and install the Yahoo Mail plug-in and check the box to “Make Yahoo my default mail provider”.

  5. Nope. I don’t download ANY toolbars. I don’t trust any of them, and they are just one more thing to bog down my computer. I have never seen the usefulness of one yet. So no, it’s not the Yahoo toolbar that makes it work.

    I just checked my laptop. It took some hunting. It’s a Firefox setting. Go to Options | Applications tab. Look for Content Type: mailto. The Action is set for “use Yahoo Mail.”

    So there you go. Another reason to use Firefox as your browser. I didn’t see an option like that in IE’s options.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.