How to Change the Default Email Program for Mailto: Links

How to Change the Default Email Program for Mailto: Links

Any time you click on an email-address-turned-link (also called a mailto: link) on any web page or in any desktop program on your computer, it opens a compose window in the default mail client that came with your operating system. That’s quite annoying when you use a third-party email client or even a webmail service.

Wouldn’t you prefer having mailto: links open up in the email program that you use instead? Well, that’s exactly how things will work if you set up your email program to be the default handler for mailto: links. We’ll show you how to do that.

If you prefer the webmail experience, depending on the browser and the webmail service that you use, let’s see how you can make those two work in harmony to handle mailto: links.

In Chrome

Sign in to Gmail—this works only when you’re signed in—and look for the handler icon. It looks like a pair of gray overlapping diamond shapes, adjacent to the star icon in the address bar.

Click on the handler icon, and you’ll get a popup dialog where you’ll need to select the Allow option to ensure that Gmail opens all email links in the future.

Chrome Protocol Handler

Can’t see the handler icon in the address bar? You might have changed its default behavior in Chrome settings. No problem.


Go to Settings > Security and Privacy > Site Settings, expand Additional permissions, and select Protocol handlers. Here, select the radio button next to Sites can ask to handle protocols. If you’ve accidentally blocked a site from handling protocols, you can remove it here.

Chrome Protocol Handler Settings

In Firefox

Go to Settings > Privacy & Security, scroll down to Applications, and under Content Type look for the mailto option. The dropdown menu next to it is where you can specify which email program you want to use. It could be Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or any other desktop email program such as Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook.

For linking to a desktop client, you’ll have to use the Use Other… option in the dropdown menu and navigate to your email program via Explorer (or via Finder, if you’re on a Mac).

Firefox Applications Content Type Mailto

The mailto dropdown menu has a couple of other useful options:

  • Always Ask – To specify the email program that opens a mailto: link on a case by case basis.
  • Use Googlemail – To have mailto: links from Firefox open in Chrome. Of course, you’ll just get a blank new tab in Chrome if you haven’t configured Chrome first to open mailto:links.
  • Use other… – Specify an external program for Firefox to launch.

To open mailto: links in other webmail clients, search Firefox add-ons for a respective solution.

In Safari and Opera

No matter which webmail service you use, if you’re on Safari or Opera, you’ll have to fall back on an extension. You can use Mailto for Safari and Gmail Compose for Opera.

In Microsoft Edge

Edge is based on Chromium, so it works similar to Chrome. To make mailto: links open in Gmail, open Gmail, click the handler icon in the URL bar, and select Allow. You can do the same for other webmail clients that offer a handler, including Yahoo and

Microsoft Edge Protocol Handlers

If you can’t see the handler icon, you’ll find it under Settings > Cookies and site permissions > Protocol handlers.

If you have ditched webmail for a desktop email client, it makes sense to use the latter as the default handler for email links that appear in any program or on any web page.

There’s nothing you need to configure if you have decided to stick with the mail client that came bundled with your operating system. But if you use a third-party email client like Thunderbird, you can set that as the system-wide default for everything to do with email. Here’s how you can do that on the top three desktop operating systems.

On Windows 7 through 10, first go to Control Panel > Programs > Default Programs > Set Associations and click on Associate a file type or protocol with a program. Now scroll down to the Protocols section, look for the MAILTO row, and double-click on it.


You’ll then be able to select an email client of your choice (provided you have already installed it on your computer) from the popup that appears. You’ll also find an option to get an email app from the Windows Store and immediately associate it with mailto: links from the popup.

Windows 11 Settings Default Apps Mailto

On Windows 11, you can follow the instructions above, which will drop you off in the Settings app. So best to start in the settings app right away.

Open the Settings app (press Windows key + I) and head to Apps > Default apps. Under Set a default for a file type or link type, search for “mailto,” which will bring up the Mail protocol. Click it, then select the desired program from the list.

On macOS, open the Mail app and under Preferences > General, pick the email program that you want to set as the default using the Default email reader popup. Yes, you have to start with Mail, even if you want to configure a different email application as the default.

On Linux, you’ll need to ensure that your email program is set as the default application for handling email. The location of the default applications setting might vary based on the distro that you use.

On Ubuntu, you’ll most likely find it under System Settings > Details > Default Applications. Look for the Mail dropdown menu and select your email program within it.

Per default, mailto: links on Android will open in Gmail. To change your default email app, open Settings, head to Apps & notifications > Default apps, select Mail app, and choose a different email app. You can also clear defaults from the respective app.

Remember, if there’s no alternative to the default email app installed on your Android device, mailto: links will take you directly to the default app, which tends to be Gmail.

A Word About iOS

My search for a setting, app, or tweak that lets you change mailto: associations on iOS came up blank. If you had better luck with that, do let me know in the comments!

Associate Mailto: With Your Email Client

Setting up your favorite email client to handle mailto: links is a one-time tweak and doesn’t take much of an effort. Even if it looks like an insignificant change, you’re sure to appreciate the way it smooths out your workflow.

Image showing a laptop, a smartphone and several emails
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