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I'm running into the same problem as the person who asked Are mailto: links practically deprecated? During user testing we are finding that when we ask users to click a mailto link to send an email, a large percentage of users don't have their browser configured correctly to open their preferred webmail provider.

What can I do about it on my website? For example, is it practical to:

  • Provide instruction to users to configure their browsers such as installing plugins
  • Show direct links to compose a mail directly in each webmail provider ("Click here for gmail".)
  • Detect that clicking mailto didn't open anything and provide a fallback behavior
  • That seems to be the defacto effect. I would assume that even for us with our own e-mail servers, or using an ISP, or company e-mail, that the bulk of the e-mail is managed through a web based client these days. The mailto link cannot manage much beyond the construction of the e-mail itself and not what client is used or how it a client should be configured. tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6068 I found no setting for e-mail in Chrome unless I totally missed it. Cheers!! – closetnoc Oct 11 '16 at 20:54
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Here are stats about webmail usage of the top web mail providers:

  • Gmail: 16%
  • Outlook.com 5%
  • Yahoo! Mail 3%

Given that these are the top 3, it makes sense to create links specifically for them. All of them have URLs that will open a compose email message in their system.

  • Gmail: https://mail.google.com/mail/?view=cm&fs=1&to=TO@EXAMPLE.COM&su=SUBJECT&body=BODY
  • Outlook.com: https://outlook.live.com/owa/#subject=SUBJECT&body=BODY&to=TO@EXAMPLE.COM&path=%2fmail%2faction%2fcompose
  • Yahoo: http://compose.mail.yahoo.com/?to=TO@EXAMPLE.COM&subj=SUBJECT&body=BODY

Along with the classic mailto: link:

  • mailto:TO@EXAMPLE.COM?subject=SUBJECT&body=BODY

PlanetScale Networks suggests in his answer that craigslist does something similar. They include AOL (presumably because it has been bigger historically). They also call the Outlook option "Hotmail, Outlook, Live mail", presumably because it has had other names over the year to which users still refer to it.

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For completeness, here is the AOL link for compose: http://mail.aol.com/mail/compose-message.aspx?to=TO@EXAMPLE.COM&subject=SUBJECT&body=BODY

When you use these URLs, parameters must be URL encoded (percent encoding) so THE SUBJECT would need to be THE%20SUBJECT to be put into one of the links.

Sources: Hotmail/Live.com mailto: URL no longer working. Is there a new format?, What is the format of compose links to web mail clients such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and AOL?

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Unfortunaly there is no way to do this within the confines of the mailto: link. That link is designed to open the default email client installed on the computer and open a compose new email window and populate the to address with the address from the link. Many sites (such as Craigslist) have added to the send email dropdown links to do this with webmail clients like hotmail and gmail but there is no easy way to do it with a single link as that would involve a level of access to the computer which would be a significant security issue with allowing access to the installed software list and browser list. You can suggest that the client install plugins to their browser to divert the mailto link to webmail if you want but they may or may not do it. I find the easiest way to do it is to simply use the mailto link and the client would know themselves from past experiences if they can click the link to make it work or if they need to open their webmail client to send the email.

  • Enough users are having problems with the mailto that multiple links may be needed. It seems that many of our users are just not technical enough to configure their browsers in any way without hand holding. I'll have too look at what craigslist does. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 16 '16 at 9:41
  • Thanks for the pointer about craigslist. I think they do it very well. I've researched what they do and put their approach into an answer. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 31 '16 at 13:39

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