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I was thinking...

  1. Mailto: links are handled by standalone email clients only.

  2. Most users nowadays use webmail (like GMail).

  3. Webmail can't handle mailto: links.

  4. When a webmail user clicks a mailto: link, he gets either a confusing message about no email client installed, or the link opening in an email client he doesn't use.

  5. Anyone can copy and paste an email address, considering the addresses don't always come in a mailto:.

Ergo, mailto: links are harmful and deprecated? Should I not use them when I need to display an email address?

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5  
"Most users nowadays use webmail." Citation? –  Dave Ward Sep 4 '11 at 15:12
    
Those that use webmail are the ones that DON'T know... –  Anonymous Sep 10 '11 at 16:36
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3 Answers 3

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Mailto are not deprecated at all.

You are wrong by saying that webmail can't handle mailto: links. It's browser stuff to handle mailto link correctly.

For example, if you don't have a mail handler installed, Firefox proposes you with several webmail like Gmail/Yahoo.

The real problem is wrong mailto handling. It Is usually done on system when IE, which is your default browse, tries to force you to use outlook, rather than asking you if you don't want to use something else.

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True, Firefox can do that out of the box. What about other browsers? Googling points out that Chrome requires installing an extension to pass mailto: links to webmail, which is something most users won't do. Safari requires an app (superuser.com/questions/20770/…) –  Leonid Shevtsov Sep 3 '11 at 19:05
    
@Leonid If a user has already gone to the trouble of installing a browser (eg. Chrome) other than their default and is keen to get mailto: links working then installing an extension is not necessarily such a big step IMO. –  w3d Sep 3 '11 at 23:10
    
Opera can do this too. –  toscho Sep 6 '11 at 21:13
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mailto: links in webpages are not deprecated, for the reasons already mentioned... webmail can be configured to use them and users can still 'Copy link address' when the email is only in the href and not visible on the page.

HOWEVER, the main reason for not using mailto: links (unobfuscated at least) are email harvesters. Automated bots that crawl webpages searching for email addresses to be used for spam. Using an unobfuscated mailto: link is just telling these bots, "Hey, spam me!". JavaScript can be used to help obfuscate your mailto: links if reqd - providing they don't get too clever. But, at the end of the day, it is a compromise between security and usability.

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They were too clever 7 years ago. Nowadays the best defence isn't not posting the address but having good filtering. –  Peter Taylor Sep 5 '11 at 9:17
    
@Peter Yes, filtering is very important, but isn't prevention better than cure? I'm not suggesting that mailto: links should be avoided altogether, but should be used in such a way that (attempts to) prevent automated scripts from grabbing the email address whilst still being human readable. –  w3d Sep 5 '11 at 10:34
    
Yes, what I'm saying is that that genie is out of the bottle. Back in 2005 I had a mailto which was decrypted and set in JavaScript, and it was getting scraped. Harvesters today are going to be more sophisticated, not less. –  Peter Taylor Sep 5 '11 at 11:25
1  
I believe this is the most important point about not using mailto links. We have tracked when we put an unobfuscated mailto link on our website and the spike in spam to our exchange server. Within 24-48 hours our exchange server will be seeing thousands of spam emails daily to the email address. –  Richard Fantozzi Sep 7 '11 at 16:18
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It seems to me that there are three options:

1. Email me at <a href="mailto:fred@example.com">fred@example.com</a>
2. <a href="mailto:fred@example.com">Email</a> me.
3. Email me at fred@example.com

I can believe that some purists would argue for option 2, but I think that most people use option 1 and that it's the most usable option.

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Why the downvote? –  Peter Taylor Sep 13 '11 at 11:59
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