How to Change the Default Mail App Client in Mac OS X

May 6, 2014 - 12 Comments

How to change the Default Mail Client App in Mac OS X

The default email client in Mac OS X is the simply named “Mail” app, and it’s a pretty good mail application, but what if you’d rather use something else, like ThunderBird, Sparrow, pine, or a browser and web mail client like Gmail? That’s when you’ll want to change the default mail app to something else, and it’s super easy to do on any Mac.

Note that by changing the default mail app you will change what app launches when you try to send emails from anywhere in OS X, whether it’s from another Mac app or a link on the web.

Changing the Default Mail Client to Another App in OS X

Many third party email clients on the Mac will ask you if you want to set them as the default mail app, but regardless you can always set it yourself using the following actions:

  1. Open the “Mail” application in OS X – yes open the Mail app even if you’re wanting to use another mail client
  2. Pull down the “Mail” menu and choose “Preferences”
  3. Go to the “General” tab
  4. Look for “Default email reader” and click on the menu to pull down other mail app options – if the mail app you want to use is not shown in this list choose “Select” to browse the /Applications/ folder and select one manually

Change the Default Mail Client in Mac OS X to another app or service

Everyones available mail clients will likely be different, depending on what apps are installed on their Mac. In this screenshot example, the possible email reader apps to select are: Google Chrome (for Gmail), (the default in OS X), iTerm (for pine, the command line mail client), and Sparrow Lite (a third party mail app).

Other default mail client options in Mac OS X

Choosing the “Select” option will bring up a Finder Open window viewer to locate applications stored elsewhere in OS X, whether it’s the Applications folder or somewhere else. If you’re going to download a third party email client like ThunderBird, remember to throw it into the /Applications/ folder before selecting it through the Mail’s default selection procedure.

Note that if you want to use a webmail app within a browser (to be perfectly clear, that means a mail service like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, or Hotmail loaded in the web browser and not in a mail client application) as your Macs default mail client you’ll need to use a variety of tweaks to launch the browser directly. For example, setting Gmail as the default for Chrome and other web browsers is just a matter of using a javascript or browser extension, and is completed in a moment.

Admittedly, it’s a little weird to use Mail to change the email client away from that app in OS X, but it’s actually similar to setting the default web browser on the Mac too, which is done through Safari even if you don’t want to use that as the browser. It’s just the way Apple does it, for now anyway. In case you think this may be confusing, you can complete the entire process in under 20 seconds, as demonstrated in this quick walkthrough video:

Mail app is a great email client but if it’s not for you, there are plenty of options out there. Happy emailing! Thanks to Mark for the question and tip idea!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Bo West says:

    I was aware that you can change the default in Mail Prefs, but you said that it changes what app launches throughout OSX.

    “Note that by changing the default mail app you will change what app launches when you try to send emails from anywhere in OS X, whether it’s from another Mac app or a link on the web.”

    I have changed the prefs to, yet if I want to send an email with a photo in iPhoto, Mail still launches. Same is true for some other Apple programs that allow you to email directly.

    Anyway to get them to launch Postbox?

    • Steve1 says:

      iPhoto has it’s own settings about emails, so open iPhoto settings → “Email photos using”

      • Bo West says:

        Thanks for the reply. But in iPhoto, it only has the options to choose Mail, iPhoto (Not sure what that does) and Microsoft Outlook (which is greed out). There does not seem to be a way of selecting another email client…

        • Paul says:

          You should be able to select another email app to use through the iPhoto preferences, as described here:

          • Brendan O'Connor says:

            There’s no option like that in Word for Mac (2008) that I can find, it seems like it will always launch Mail when emailing an attachment even after switching to Google Chrome as the preferred email default as described above…..

            And Bo is right re: iPhoto, Google Chrome is not an option & they don’t allow new ones to be added.

            That said, what is the use in changing the default to Google Chrome for email, what does it actually change?

  2. arlo says:

    Possible to do via terminal? stupid mail wants me to setup an email account, just to change this preference. annoying

  3. Albert says:

    What about Yahoo mail?

  4. Neil says:

    Thanks for this. What would really be handy is for when I click on a hidden “mailto” link is for the computer to ask me what I want to do. I cannot count how many times in the past I have been caught by accidentally clicking the hidden link and now my mail app fires up and for the next five minutes it syncs several past emails (I normally use web mail). This is very frustrating especially when this happens when I least expect it.

    Do you have any suggestions for this?

  5. Krista Brooks says:

    but what if I’ve never set up my Mail with Mac… I can’t get into the preferences…i can’t figure out how to set it up b/c i don’t know my password and there’s nothing that let’s me reset it… any ideas? (it’s not my main computer password, as I tried that).

    • omer ger says:

      You will need to know your eMail password to set up Mail for Mac. Where ever your email provider is coming from is where you would reset that password. For example, you would use Gmail to reset a Gmail password, etc.

    • Kat says:

      If you haven’t figured a way around this yet… I too had not previously set up Mail and did not ever want to set it up w/ an account just to access the preferences.

      I opened Mail, chose “other” for account type, then typed a random character in each required field, hitting next and repeating through a few “manual set up screens” until it was done, then I could get to preferences.

      Delete the false account afterwards if you want or leave it in case you need to access the preferences again at a later date (i.e. if you update the mail app through system updates it might revert to the default which is why I ended up here trying to figure it out again).

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