How to Navigate Mail Messages with the Keyboard in Mac OS X
Many Mac users who rely on Mail app for accessing their emails in OS X are in the habit of navigating emails with their mouse, double-clicking an email, closing it, then repeating to go to the next message. A lesser known option is to use the keyboard to navigate within Mail messages of OS X, which can be considerably faster for many users once they learn the tricks of how to use it. Not only can you navigate between emails this way, but you can also reply, send, forward, mark as unread, and perform many other Mail functions directly with a keystroke.
To use keyboard email navigation in the Mac Mail app, you’ll want to start at the primary double or triple pane primary Inbox screen as if you just opened Mail. The rest is just a matter of using the keyboard rather than the mouse, and making a new habit of that.
Basic Mac Mail App Navigation with Keyboard Shortcuts
- Use the Up / Down arrows to navigate to the next or previous email message and open the selected message in the mail panel
- Use the Spacebar to scroll down in the selected mail message
- Use the Tab key to switch the currently active panel (Search box, Mailboxes, Inbox, Message content
That will allow you to move between the next and previous mail message using just the keyboard, but if you want to start replying to, forwarding, marking as unread, and other common mail activities, you’ll want to use some other keyboard shortcuts.
To really get the most use out of this, you’ll want to be using Mail app expanded to take up a sizable portion of the screen, if not using fullscreen mode. You’ll also want to break the old habit of double-clicking an email message to open that message into it’s own window, and instead use the arrow keys to select the message to view, and the spacebar to scroll down in the active message, which is why it’s important to have a large enough Mail window so that you can read the message content of the emails you are selecting.
By the way, if you find the email content text to be either too small or too big, you can change the font size in Mail rather easily.
Of course, navigating between the next and previous message in your inbox is one thing, you’ll likely want to interact with those messages to, which is where the next set of keyboard shortcuts comes in for a variety of tasks in Mail app for Mac OS X.
Other Helpful Mail App Keyboard Tricks for OS X
- Hit Command+R to reply to the currently selected message
- Hit Command+Shift+D to send an active message, reply, or forward
- Hit Command+Shift+U to mark as unread the selected message
- Hit Command+N to create a new eMail message
- Hit Command+Shift+F to forward the selected message
- Hit the Return key to open the selected message into a new window
- Use Command+W to close an open message, or the primary message window
- Use Command+0 (zero) to return to the message viewing window if you accidentally close it
There are many other keyboard shortcuts for Mail in OS X, but these are some of the essentials that are worth remembering without being overloaded with some of the more obscure options. Exploring the Mail menu items will reveal many more, and you can always create a custom keystroke for something if you discover a menu item function that doesn’t yet have an attached keyboard shortcut.
At the moment, the Mail app in Mac OS X does not include a “Next Message” or “Previous Message” keyboard shortcut that is independent of the arrow keys for selecting messages, which can lead to some confusion for users who have turned to the Mail app in OS X as their default email client, particularly if they came to Mail from another email client like MS Outlook or Thunderbird. Note that none of these keyboard shortcuts for moving around Mail are specific to any version of OS X, they’ve been on the Mac for quite some time and therefore will work regardless of the computer running OS X Yosemite, Mavericks, Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard, and likely just about any other version too.
Considering that iOS does include a “Next” and “Previous” message button in the Mail app on iPhone and iPad, it wouldn’t be too surprising if such a feature was added to the Mac sometime in the future. In the meantime, use the arrow keys and spacebar trick, it’s effective and makes browsing through a ton of emails quite fast.