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Alternatives to Using the HTML Mailto Email Link

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

What is the HTML Mailto Email Link?

The mailto protocol creates new e-mail addresses to a specified email address.

The standard HTML mailto email link format is: <a href="mailto:exampe@website.net">

A mailto protocol can be added to the action field of a JavaScript form. The user's browser will pop up a warning message that the form is being submitted via email. Users are given the option to continue or cancel the submission.

If you are using an HTML Mailto link, users of psuedo protocols like mailto so that they are not surprised when their computer tries to open an email program.

Problems with Using the HTML Mailto Email Link

A mailto link in html only works when users set up a default mail program, and the default mail program is the software application users want to send this particular message. Mailto will not work for those with browser based email.

Websites cannot detect in advance if users have an email client on their computers, so the mailto will try to run even if the user doesn’t have an email application.

Furthermore, Internet Explorer warns users when a mailto form button is selected. Mozilla users activating the HTML mailto protocol activate the navigator.registerProtocolHandler(...) API. The API triggers a security prompt that activates a URL based handler once approved. Users may refuse to use the mailto email link because of the security prompt.

Mailto email links create confusion because they look like a security breach, though they are not.

Mailto email links create confusion because they look like a security breach, though they are not.

Alternatives to Using an HTML Mailto Email Link

Provide users the option of copying the contact email address into a web based email program. Write the mail to address in Javascript instead of HTML so that it cannot be read by software programs that scan websites for new email addresses to add to solicitation lists.
Or add links to your social media sites so users can contact you that way.

For website administrators, create a contact us page with a contact email, phone number and mailing address. Website administrators can use web based forms as an alternative to the HTML Mailto email link. Using a server side script to receive form submissions allows web sites to control the layout of the data they receive. Contact forms can be created in PHP and other languages.

Use an email form filled out by visitors instead of an HTML mailto link that can be harvested by spammers. However, this option requires a PHP or ASP.NET script running on the server. JavaScript cannot email a form, due to security concerns.

If you do not have the ability to run server side scripts, consider using services like wufoo to handle the form. You will receive an email of each submission. Or use Google docs to create forms. Then download the Google documents as a spreadsheet and open it in Excel or similar application.

Mailto links are an old-fashioned way of generating emails to a specified address. There are now alternatives to mailto HTML links.

Mailto links are an old-fashioned way of generating emails to a specified address. There are now alternatives to mailto HTML links.

Tips for Managing Mailto Links

If you do not have access to the server side, such as those who are working on websites hosted by others, you cannot use some of these alternatives to a mailto link. Or these options may not be practical for your organization. Fortunately, there are options for making the HTML mailto email link easier to find.

Do not place mailto links alongside navigational links, in order to minimize user confusion. Place HTML mailto links in the middle of a page, and clearly identify them.

Spell out the contact email address instead of relying on the mailto function to work.

Regularly check that the mailto email address works. The only thing worse than a pop-up email notice when users expected to receive a form to fill out is a bounced reply.

Use the font-weight property to bold the mailto hyperline. This replaces the b tag for bolded text used in traditional HTML. Set the background-color property to blue so it is clearly recognized as a web link. Set the color property so the text is white.


  1. "The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications" by Michal Zalewski
  2. "Beginning HTML and CSS" by Rob Larsen
  3. "Future-Proof Web Design: A Survival Guide" by Alexander Dawson
  4. "Creating Web Pages for Dummies, 9th Edition" by Bud E. Smith
  5. "jQuery Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach" by Bintu Harwani
  6. "Creating Web Pages All-in-One For Dummies, 4th Edition" by Richard Wagner
  7. "Dreamweaver CS4 Bible" by Joseph Lowery

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