How to Specify a Web Based Email Service as the Default in macOS

This guide will show you how to configure your browser so when you click a link it loads any web based email as the default “Email App” on your Mac. That way you can use Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, iCloud, etc as your default email app – you can even configure your own private/work webmail to work.

There are two parts to this guide – the first is to configure macOS to open your browser when you click on a mail link within a file or App. The second is to configure your browser to open the webmail service (Gmail, Yahoo, etc) of your choice when a mail link is clicked on a web site. If you’re using Safari, you can skip the first step and jump right into configuring Safari for webmail.

Configure macOS for Webmail

  1. Open the Mail app from your Applications folder and then select Mail from the main menu bar and Preferences… from the list of options.
  2. an arrow pointing at the Preferences item in a macOS menu

  3. On the General tab, click the ‘up and down arrows’ icon in the Default email reader: field (see screenshot below).
  4. a screenshot of the macOS Mail Preferences with an arrow pointing at the Default email reader item

  5. Choose Select… from the list of options.
  6. Navigate to your Applications folder and select the web browser you use most often (the one you want to open when you click an email link in a document or App). Click the Select button after you’ve made your choice.
  7. Make sure that your browser is listed as the Default email reader: and then you can close out of the Mail Preferences and quit the Mail app.
  8. Now when you click on an email link inside of a document or App (something that isn’t your browser) – it will open your browser. In order for your browser to know which email service to use, continue by selecting your browser: Firefox, Chrome or Safari.

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Configure Firefox for Webmail

Not so long ago, when you clicked on a mail link in a website in Firefox you had to use an addon in order to specify which one. Now it’s built right into Firefox –

  1. Open the Firefox Preferences by selecting Firefox from the menu-bar and then Preferences… from the list.
  2. Select General from the list of option in the left column, and then scroll down to the Applications section. Locate the item named mailto: and then click the ‘arrow’ icon next to the item in the Action field (see screenshot below).
  3. firefox mailto preferences
    click to enlarge

  4. From here you can choose one of the two “built in” defaults – Gmail or Yahoo. If you want to specify your own Webmail service, or one that’s not listed, click the Application Details… item in the list.
  5. Paste in the address of the web-based email service you use and click the OK button.
  6. Now when you click on a mail link within a web page, Gmail (or whatever mail service you selected) will open up!

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Configure Chrome for Webmail

  1. Select Chrome from the menu-bar and then Preferences… from the list of options, or enter chrome://settings/ in the address bar.
  2. Select Privacy and security from the column on the left side of the window.
  3. In the Privacy and security section click the item named Site Settings
  4. Scroll down to the Permissions section and click the Additional permissions item from the list of options, and then Protocol handlers from the expanded menu.
  5. Make sure that Sites can ask to handle protocols is selected.
  6. Now open another browser tab and visit the webmail service you want to set as your default (eg. Gmail). When you visit the page, a “double-diamond” icon will appear in your address bar (see screenshot below) – click it.
  7. Make sure that Allow is selected and then click the Done button.
  8. If you return to the Protocol handlers section of the settings you’ll find your webmail service now listed as the email handler. That means when you click on a mailto link, Gmail will load.
  9. That’s it!

Configure Safari for Webmail

Safari is by far the most annoying of the browsers to let you use Gmail as your default email “app”. If you’re using an old version of Safari, you can use the mailto extension, but that won’t work with current versions. If you set Safari as the default Mail App in macOS and click on a mail link, you’ll get an error similar to the one below:

Fortunately there’s a solution! It’s not free, but a very reasonably priced app ($1.99 USD / $2.79 CAD) named Open in Webmail will let you open any and all mail links in the webmail service of your choice, in Safari.

  1. Start by installing Open in Webmail from the Mac App Store.
  2. Launch the App after it’s installed.
  3. Now open the Mail app from your Applications folder, select Mail from the menu bar and then Preferences… from the list of options. On the General tab, click the Default email reader: item and select Open in Webmail
  4. Back in the Open in Webmail App, select Gmail (or your preferred webmail service). Now you can test it out using the Test it now link in the top part of the app window.
  5. That’s it! Safari will now open Gmail when you click on an email link – regardless as to whether that link is on a web page or in a document.

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2 thoughts on “How to Specify a Web Based Email Service as the Default in macOS”

  1. I’ve been searching all over for information on setting Yahoo Mail as my default email in Chrome. Thanks for the info. This is exactly what I was looking for.

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