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Should Links Open In New Windows?

No, they shouldn’t. At first glance, the decision to open links in new windows or not depends on the given site and the preferences of its visitors. Visitors to the sites with heavy linking are more willing to have links opened in new windows then open dozens of links in new windows manually. Visitors of less-heavy-linkage-sites are more likely to open some particular link in new window to remain on the site and continue to browse through it afterward. However, this is not true.

Users also don’t like to deal with dozens of opened tabs and some visitors tend to become quickly angry with the disabled back button. Furthermore, some visitors may not even realize that a new window was opened and hit the back-button mercilessly — without any result. That’s not user-friendly, and that’s not a good user experience we, web designers, strive for.

Place users in control Link

From the usability point of view the decision to enforce opening links in new windows violates one of the fundamental principles of the user interface design: users should always be in control of the interface they are interacting with.

Leading user interface and usability researchers such as

claim that a user-friendly and effective user interface places users in control of the application they are using.

Users need to be able to rely on consistency of the user interface and know that they won’t be distracted or disrupted during the interaction. Users must know, understand and anticipate what is going on and what will happen once user interface elements are used. Any deviations from this convention result in a more design-oriented and less user-oriented design.

As Shneiderman claims4, experienced users strongly desire the sense that they are in charge of the system and that the system responds to their actions. As designers, it is our duty to design the system to make users the initiators of actions rather than the responders.

Designers are tempted to enforce users to actually use the interface or browse through the site they have created. Although the rationale behind stems from some clear commercial objectives and therefore often preferred by project managers, it is the designer’s duty to make clear to managers that users do not care.

In fact, developers often tend to forget a simple, almost elementary fact: if users want to close the application or leave a site, they will — doesn’t matter which obstacles are placed on their path to the exit-button. The more obstacles there are the more negative the user experience will be.

As designers, it is our decision to provide users with a clear, unambiguous choice, but we have no right to decide for users which choice they make.

Since users need to be placed in control of the interface they are interacting with, it is wrong to make decisions for them as designer’s decisions don’t necessarily match users’ decisions. The main problem with enforcing links to open in new windows is that this decision overrules user’s decision to control the view in their browser.

Since large websites (Google, Amazon, AOL, Yahoo & Co.) open links in the same window (unless it is explicitly stated that links are opened in new windows), users tend to assume that the link on an unknown page will be opened in the same window. So users expect the link to be opened in the same window.

Let us now consider the following two situations where a user doesn’t know upfront if the site opens links in new windows or the same window:

  1. user wants to open link in a new window, but the site opens links in the same window,
  2. user wants to open link in the same window, but the site opens links in new windows.

In the first situation users can choose to open a link in the new window using context-menu or shortcuts described in the next sections of this article. In this situation, users are the initiators of actions as they decide how the linked page should be displayed. Here site’s behavior meets user’s expectations resulting in a good user experience.

In the second situation users would simply click on the link and suddenly find out that the link is opened in a new window. In this situation users are the responders of actions as they need to react in the way how the linked page is displayed — for instance close the windows that was opened automatically. Furthermore, here site’s behavior doesn’t meet user’s expectations resulting in a bad user experience.

Users find it annoying when the site does something without asking them to do so. If users want to open new windows let them do so and don’t indulge their intelligence by making the decision for them otherwise. Don’t force a new window upon users unless there’s a excellent reason to do so.

Every rule has an exception Link

Of course, there are exceptions: in some situations it is right to open links in new windows and wrong to open links in the same windows. Jakob Nielsen suggests to use new windows in case the linked document is not a .html-document. In this case, he recommends using a pop-up windows without browser control toolbar. In such case it is reasonable to let the user know upfront how the links will be opened.

A small warning icon usually suffices. However, you need to make sure that the link is unlikely to be misunderstood. After all, it is a common practice to use icons to inform the visitors that links lead to external websites. An additional or similar icon may produce irritation. Small usability tests may be helpful and necessary in this situation.

Telepolis6 lets its visitors know that a link leads to the external page. However, the icon used may be misunderstood as it can also symbolize opening links in new windows.

It is appropriate to enforce opening links in a new window in case

  • the link provides assistance or help. If you are on a shopping cart page, and users click on a “help” link. In that case, users don’t want to navigate away from the cart page, so a new window is acceptable. In such cases dynamic tooltips are usually better than pop-ups that are again better than opening new windows.
  • the link may interrupt an ongoing process. For instance, if users are filling a web-form and the form provides the link to terms of service or privacy policy below the form it is reasonable to enforce this link to open in a new window to not interrupt the ongoing process. This is important in sign-up forms and crucial in checkout-forms. Otherwise, users may lose the information they’ve already typed in and close the browser window in response.
  • the link leads to a non-html-document. E.g. .pdf-file, .xls-file, .mp3 and so on. Warn users in advance that a new window will appear. When using PC-native file formats such as PDF or spreadsheets, users feel like they’re interacting with a PC application. Because users are no longer browsing a website, they shouldn’t be given a browser UI. Best of all, prevent the browser from opening the document in the first place.
  • the link leads to a large image which takes time to load. Opening this image in a new window allows user to focus on your content while the image is being loaded in the background.

Forgive them, for they don’t know what they do Link

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find any recent research findings that would provide us with a better understanding of how users open links if they want to open them in new tabs or windows. However, it is likely to assume that most users don’t know shortcuts and prefer more intuitive straight solutions. More experienced users are more likely to use shortcuts that are described below as well.

There are three reasonable ways for opening links in new windows. Most users use the first option — not because it is the most efficient one, but because it is the most obvious one. These options are implemented in all modern browsers; older browsers may have problems with the second and third options, though.

  1. visitors use the context-menu: users click with the right mouse on the link and select the option “Open link in a new tab/window”. If the link is opened in a new tab, the active window remains the same as it was before the click. If the link is opened in a new window, new window appears, and the new window becomes the active window.
  2. visitors use the Ctrl+click-shortcut: users press the Ctrl+key and click with the left mouse button on the link. The link is automatically opened in a new tab. The active window remains the same as it was before the click. This shortcut can vary depending on the operating system and the browser implementation.
  3. visitors use the middle-click: users point the mouse pointer to the link and press the middle-click of the mouse. The link is automatically opened in a new tab. The active window remains the same as it was before the click.

The first option is definitely the most ineffective yet most popular one. It requires more clicks and more concentration, therefore more time and more cognitive load on the user. The third one is the quickest one as users don’t need to permanently switch between the context-menu and the page itself.

Open links in new tabs7
Most users seem to use the context-menu to open links in new tabs or windows. Image source8.

The main irritation from the users’ side comes from the fact that most users know only the first option. Consequently, if they want to open links in new windows they need to use the context-menu, with multiple clicks, switching the view back and forth again and again. That’s stressful and unpleasant. Still, opening links in the same window (by default) is the lesser of two evils. And if users don’t know how to do it quickly, tell them explicitly — they will be grateful for your help.

But I can force visitors to stay on my site, right? Link

No. Even if you enforce the external links to open in new windows users will find their way around to open the link on the same page if they want to:

  1. users can copy the link, paste it in the address bar and hit the return button; the link will be opened in the same window.
  2. users can drag the link to the address bar; the link will be opened in the same window.

Unfortunately, not every single browser allows users to do that. However, modern browsers have this functionality implemented since years. If users don’t want a link to open in a new window, they’ll try to find the way to circumvent designer’s decision.

Firefox enables its users to decide how the links designer has chosen to open in new windows should be opened.

Therefore, from the designer’s perspective, it is better to provide users with a clear and clean way to do so respecting their interests and not neglecting their time. If you want your visitors to come back, assist them, guide them, help them, but never impose on their patience and willingness to browse on your site.

Optimal solution Link

In our opinion the most effective and user-friendly solution is to allow users to select how the links should be opened. However, they don’t have to do that via their browser. Designers can provide users with a small check-box that “decides” how the links should be opened. You need to make sure that the checkbox is visible and users understand what it is good for.

This can be done via JavaScript. Once the box is checked all links will be opened in a new tab / window. Just check the box yourself and try it out:

Open external links in a new tab?

Source code for the check-box:

<input type="checkbox" onclick="linkopener(this.checked)" id="linksnewwin">
Open external links in a new tab?

Source code for the JavaScript (you’ll need to replace with your web-site’s URL; thus the browser will be able to distinguish between internal and external links):

<script language="javascript">

function linkopener(a) {
var b = a ? "_blank" : "_self";
var c = document.links;

for (var i=0; i < c.length; i++) {
  if (c[i]"") == -1) c[i].target = b;



This JavaScript doesn't use cookies so if users browse from one side to another their preference won't be stored. If you'd like the checkbox to work throughout your site you'll have to consider using cookies to store users' preferences.

Bottom line Link

It is important that users are placed in control of the user interface they are using. Since users expect the link to be opened in the same window, set your links to open in the same window. Don't force a new window upon users unless there's a very good reason to do so. For the latter purpose, consider opening links in new windows if the link provides assistance or help, if it may interrupt an ongoing process or it leads to a non-html-document.

Allow users to select how the links should be opened on a given web-site. Opening links in the same windows the lesser of two evils. And if users don't know how to do it quickly, tell them explicitly — they will be grateful for your help.

Sources and Resources Link

Footnotes Link

  1. 1
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  4. 4 /2007/10/09/30-usability-issues-to-be-aware-of/
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7 /images/opening-links/tab.gif
  8. 8
  9. 9 /images/opening-links/firefox.jpg
  10. 10
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  14. 14
  15. 15
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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs front-end/UX workshops, webinars and loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    See, I don’t know. I don’t know if users really want to THINK about it. Whether to open in a new window or stay in current. And honestly, if you’re scaling through a slew of links you’ll want to have everything in a new window so it’s simple to go back to the originating text.

    It just seems more good practice to me to open any link that’s not part of your website in a new window/tab. It’s more friendly and keeps your website in the loop so they can go back to see other links. Using sites like Google/AOL/Yahoo really isn’t applicable since they’re search engines. There is less need to stay their if someone is searching for a specific page. Not to mention – just because Google does it doesn’t mean it’s good practice. hehe

    So I suppose my opinion using _blank is a better idea. If it’s not part of your site it shouldn’t be in the same window. My website ( has all internal links staying internal and all external opening in new windows.

    The thought is good, but I don’t know if it’s all that accurate.

    • 2

      A web developer for 10 years, I have to disagree with this article.

      First of all, we’re discussing an opinion here and to state either practice is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ itself shows ignorance.

      As a user, if a link points to an external site, I believe it should open in an external window, making it easy to go back to the original site at the original spot with the session still in tact. Also, I can compare what I see between the two sites at the same time with ease if I choose.

      As a developer, why would I want the user to get sidetracked or lost in someone else’s site? Why wouldn’t I want to keep the user on my site as long as possible? I use external links to compliment my site, not replace it.

      Let’s say for example, I’m already using Excel and I open Word on my PC. Should my Excel sheet be replaced by Word instead of sitting under/beside it where I can refer back to it while using Word?

      Surely we all agree automatic pop-ups are bad practice, but how are user-initiated new windows a ‘trick’? Opening external links in a new window is not a shady practice, and I can’t imagine the average visitor thinks so. This process has been used since the beginning and anyone with any ‘Net experience should be used to it (and maybe even expect it) by now.

      To say it’s wrong to open external links in a new window is ridiculous, and to suggest using tedious JavaScript functions in ‘special cases’ over target=_blank/_tab is no better. Every day I encounter sites with JavaScript errors – it seems half the ‘developers’ out there can’t even code JS properly as it is. JS isn’t guaranteed to work for all users anyway, and cross-browser compatibility can be more work than it’s worth. Does a site links to an external window annoy me? No. Does a site that doesn’t work properly and/or shows the infamous yellow ! in IE annoy me? Hell yeah.

      The contradictions within some of these comments are funny too. Suggesting external links should open in the same window because users are ignorant, followed by stating these same ignorant users would have the knowledge to decide for themselves how to control these links by the way they click them?

      Yes, a handful of users will end up with 20 windows open because my page may have many external links and these users don’t clean up after themselves. Can these same people read 20 pages at once? Do they have 20 half-read books lying open around their house at the same time? I can honestly say I’m not too concerned about them.

      Despite knowing every trick there is to get back to where I was, I still prefer an external window for an external link. Why? It’s faster, easier and allows me to multi-task. Wouldn’t the majority of my ‘ignorant’ visitors agree while still providing the ‘experienced’ user a comfortable, functional experience?

      The Bottom Line
      “It is important that users are placed in control of the user interface they are using. Since users expect the link to be opened in the same window, set your links to open in the same window.”

      First, I’d be interested in hearing other generalized statements the author has about users.

      Second, does sending a person away from the site they were originally on, thus losing their place, session, form data, etc. give them more control than opening a new window? Does giving users complete control yield the best practice and experience? Unfortunately some people simply don’t have the intelligence or ability to control their own experience. That’s why we have police…LOL

      • 3

        Deana Goldasich

        July 25, 2010 7:18 pm

        Amen! I agree with Jay. I oversaw the User Experience at and a myriad of other high-profile sites for years. We never found that users were irritated. But they DID tend to abandon the site once taken out externally.

      • 4

        Amy @ MOMmetime

        June 13, 2011 10:24 am

        Jay, I agree with you!!!

      • 5

        Agreed. It’s a well known, tried and tested web app approach.

        A lot of hipster designers saying they’re “UX” experts are messing up common knowledge by rewriting the book without consider A LOT of shit, lol.

  2. 6

    Great Info, However, I disagree. Opening external links in new windows is good practice. As a web designer and web application developer for many years, I agree that the user needs to feel in control of the interface. The UI need to be designed and developed in a simple and effective manner, dare I say “Idiot Proof”. Opening links in a new window, however, is not the dark fiend it is made out to be in this article. I can’t remember the last time I purposely clicked on a link, it opened in a new window, and I felt I had a “negative” experience. Involuntary popups and windows are evil, external links in new windows are not. I like the Optimal Solution provided in this article but question two things. Is it worth the extra few seconds to implement this and how many users would actually see/use it. All in all, designers and developers need to stop bending over backwards to accommodate even the dumbest user. I think users are getting more savvy and experienced with slightly more complicated User Interfaces. Lets help them move forward by not holding their hands.

  3. 7

    David Airey

    July 1, 2008 6:57 am

    Well written, Vitaly, and thanks for the mention in the resources.

    I quickly realised, after the discussion on my blog post, that opening links in the same window was the most suitable method, and set about removing those target=”new” tags I’d previously coded.

    Keep doing what you’re doing with the magazine.

  4. 8

    I actually prefer links to open in a new window. I find that if they don’t and I don’t realise I then loose the original page too far back in my history to be bothered to return. I middle click on nearly all links now because I got fed up of it. Because of that, on my own site external links are target=”_blank”

  5. 9


    July 1, 2008 7:14 am

    I’m strictly against to open pages in new windows …

  6. 10

    I never get designers who force new windows to ‘keep users on their site’. I’ve been a webmaster / designer / developer for over 5 years now, and I have never felt the need to keep users on my site. Users go to my site, they get the info they need, they leave. No amount of tricksiness is going to keep users on your site if they don’t want to.

  7. 11

    As soon as you mention Jakob Nielsen a post becomes null and void.

  8. 12

    Watch your non-Web savvy friends and family navigate Web sites that pop up new windows. They often don’t notice the new window opened up in the task bar. When trying to go back with the browser’s back button, they often are confused as to why they cannot and get annoyed.

  9. 13

    To all those posting about having links open in a new window being good: It’s NOT. Let the user decide.

    The only thing I open in a new window is a .pdf file and the reader will be warned. The reason for doing this is because they take so long to open, and if it’s in a same window, people don’t necessarily remember to hit the back.

    If you think you’re doing good practice by opening external links in a new window, think again. That’s so 1990s, and people will be annoyed. And no matter what your site is about, annoying your readers is the LAST thing you want to do.

  10. 14

    heheh … just wanted to point something out that I thought was ironic.

    Your ads on this site are all target=”_blank”

    Meaning they open in new windows/tabs without the users choice .. hehe, sorry. I just thought it was funny in light of the article.

  11. 15

    “it is wrong to make decisions for them as designer’s decisions don’t necessary match users’ decisions”

    You’re already making a decision one way or the other, for your end-users, so it is a matter of opinion and there needs to be a certain amount of logic involved… and gmail opens new links in new windows. What does that say for this golden rule?

  12. 16

    You bring up an interesting point about the back button becoming disabled. Why is this? Why does opening a new window put me in a new “timeline”? As long as I’ve been clicking links to get somewhere, there should be a way for me to backtrace my steps, but there just isn’t.

    THIS is not user friendly and sadly a behavior which is standard among web browsers.

  13. 17


    July 1, 2008 8:06 am

    I get irritated when I am reading a blog/site with a lot of links to external content and they don’t open in a new window. I dislike having to navigate back to the original site, especially when I am looking at a list of links (like “10 Best *whatever* resources”) and then every single link is a great site in itself with many more links I want to check out.

    The people who are advocating so strongly against this practice say that users hate it. Where is your research data to back that up? What kind of audience are you talking about? Just saying “people don’t like it” over and over isn’t a compelling argument against it.

    I am in the internal links=same window, external links= new window camp.

  14. 18

    To the users posting about how having external links not opening in a new windows is irritating: learn how to use your browser. You can choose the target of the link when you click it.

    Open plea to browser developers: Make it easier for those users to configure their browsers so that the rest of us don’t suffer from poor usability decisions designed to cater for their lack of control over their browsing experience. Consider making it a default option to open links which point to a different domain in a new tab. Then people who have the cognitive capacity to use more than one mouse button for opening links can turn this off and carry on choosing ourselves.

  15. 19

    Daniel Blass

    July 1, 2008 8:31 am

    Great article! I just hope more web designers read it through, but considering the comments, there are still some “web designers” that think they know better. For those, one peace of advice of someone that is not a web designer, its not your decision to make, it should always be the user choice. As a user, I HATE (yeah! that much!) when a link opens in a new window when i don’t want it to. Again, great article! and if i may suggest a new topic, what about another offenders like browser resizing and background music on sites.

  16. 20


    July 1, 2008 8:32 am

    Just a small comment but the Sources and Resources of this article open into a new window. Could this be classed as trying to keep somebody on this site? It just seems to go against what is said in the article.

    I personally have internal links in the same window and external links and other documents such as PDFs open into a new window.

    @Victor: I believe that if you keep the existing timeline in the new browser window then the user would only become confused. If the user does not realise that a new window is opening then after a couple of hours browsing the amount of memory being used by open browsers would prob crash a slow machine. I would say that this would be less user friendly.

  17. 21

    i hate newwindow links…

    new tab links are fine, i really would love if every link would open in the same window becouse so i can deside myself what i wonna do, if i klick it with left button i stay in the same window, if i click on it whit the mousewheel button (its realy handy if you got used to it) i get in the new tab. really love this…

    window mangment is a task of the user not of the coder in 99% of the cases

  18. 22

    Gregory Bloom

    July 1, 2008 9:48 am

    It is arrogant to open links in the same window. By doing so, you’re stating that your new content is more valuable than the previous content, which the user may have gone to some effort to find. Links should always open in a new tab, by default. Browsers should offer a way to specifically request overwriting existing content, if that is what the user desires. This follows the content management paradigm of most windowing systems. If saving a new file would overwrite existing content, the OS will ask before trashing the old content.

  19. 23

    Sorry, but this article is completely idiotic. I have been developing websites for over 10 years, with external links ALWAYS opening in a new window and never once has anyone complained, or had end-users complain, that this somehow puts them in less control of their browser. Ridiculous. To the contrary, almost every client ASKS to have external links open in new windows – and most of these people are not in the least bit computer savvy, but at the very least they know this is one thing they want.

    I’m not sure who your “sources” are, or what exactly makes you an authority on the subject, but for you to decide for the rest of us that forcing new windows is “bad user experience” is completely asinine. Respect -1. Shame on you for writing such an absurd article, and shame on all the sheep here who are praising you for it.

  20. 24

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    July 1, 2008 6:45 am

    @Tadd: you make a point. Indeed, if Google does it doesn’t mean that it’s right. However, it is not what Google does, it is about what users are used to. The thing is that users need to expect something; and they expect the links to open in the same window rather than that links all are opened in the new windows.

  21. 25

    I’m a designer. And I’m also a user. As a designer, I generally have links open in the same window. For all the reasons sited above, as well as for accessibility. AND, because, as a user that is how I prefer the world to work. I generally use both Safari and Firefox. They have had tabbed browsing for years. All I have to do is press Command while clicking a link and it opens in a tab in the same window. I don’t really want dozens of windows open, thank you very much.

    There should be no tricks to keep people on your site. They don’t work. And they only irritate the visitors.

    • 26

      Designer of what?! we ask… There are specific needs for new windows and popups dear. Are you longing perhaps for the good old days of MS DOS?

  22. 27

    Your “optimal solution” is imho a pretty bad design decision. You shouldn’t make users decide whenever you’re in doubt about some UI related feature (ie. you generally should, but during design research process and not on runtime!). It’s your job as the UI designer. If you fail to recognize that you’ll end up with myriads of settings & options that no one will ever use. As you wrote users don’t care. It’s your job to make the UI simple and transparent for them.

    This is the kind of stuff that differentiates great design (like Apple products) from poor design (im not pointing fingers here). KISS.

  23. 28

    Good article. I’m in the club of users who prefer to open new windows when I choose to.

    Aside, here’s a generic version of your script and a teeny bit faster (given the reverse loop):

    function linkopener(a) {
    var b = a ? "_blank" : "_self", c = document.links, i = c.length;
    while (i--) { if (c[i].href.indexOf( === -1) c[i].target = b; }


  24. 29

    Doh – missed a trailing brace there if anyone copies the code!

  25. 30

    David Airey

    July 1, 2008 7:03 am

    ….or Sven (whoever pieced this one together). :)

  26. 31

    As a designer and sometimes developer I’m with the ‘open external link in a new window’ bunch. A user may want to follow a link to another site, but still return to the main site to continue browsing. This becomes a problem if a site uses javascript to prevent the back button being used.

    When I’m reading blogs in particular, which frequently link externally, I don’t want to have to keep pressing ‘back’ to return to the site. It’s much easier closing a window or tab. I also often browse around an externally opened site – making it harder to return to the original site that I may still want to browse.

    The new window icon is really good practice – but only if its a new window! But if you only use these for external sites and use a new window then there’s no confusion. They are getting the experience that is sign posted to them.

    Users are also getting used to using tabs, which aid this style of navigation/browsing.

  27. 32

    I only link to new pages when the user is being sent to another webpage other then mine. I want that user to always be at my page no matter what area or section they are in. The only time a new tab or window should be opened is if there is a PDF, DOC, or any external publication you allow the user to view. Thanks just my idea I guess.

  28. 33

    I dig that JS code you’ve provided. I like that idea and am going to put it near the top of my site and have them decide what they want to do with the links. I’m tired of decided for them.

  29. 34

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    July 1, 2008 7:06 am

    @Remy Sharp: thank you, fixed.

    @David Airey: thank you, the article was written by both of us, we have written it together.

  30. 35

    firdaus riyanto

    July 1, 2008 7:17 am

    it depends for me. if i’m navigating through the same site i don’t like it when i go to a different page it opens up in a new tab or window. but when i go to a site then have a link to a different site, such as here in smashing magazine, i’d rather have it open up on a new tab or window. why?? because if it’s a list of samples i’d like to be able to be able to click on the next link without having to press the back button. i’d rather find the original window or tab and quickly find which link i clicked last. sometimes when i have to click on the back button it automatically reloads from the top again and it’s very annoying if it’s a long list and the last link i clicked is somewhere in the middle.

  31. 36

    generally i don’t like opening new windows unless i want to
    i’d go with tabs, they work perfect for me
    i guess it depends on where the link goes to
    for instance here, id prefer opening links in new tabs, if there are like 20 links to great websites, i never know if i’ll ever get back to the article (tired of going to the back button all the time…), so i open in new tab, makes me feel saver
    … guess this would be a good improvement ;-)

  32. 37

    I prefer open in new tab. So, I can continue to browse the current page. :)

  33. 38

    Htoo Tay Zar

    July 1, 2008 7:32 am

    Great Article!! I always want to know should I do new windows link or not. Now, I understand what should I do.

  34. 39

    guys, how about open in new tab?…

    When I read a blog or searching on google, yahoo etc, I always open the interesting stories / search results in new tabs cause I want to be able to return to main list in case the chosen ones did not match my criteria….But never on new window…! too much cpu, possible system crashes from too many windows, desktop chaos and such!…

  35. 40

    Just a note: I’ve been design for about a decade for the web – and really it’s not just about “tricks to keep people on your site” but about making it easier for them. As stated, who wants to hit ‘back’ several times to return to the originating content? Even if your website is ‘good enough’ I think you’ll lose a lot of the client base simply because people are too lazy to try and get back.

    I know you’re what you’re saying. You say that users expect everything to stay in one window. But again – I disagree. I don’t know what users you know but those I work with all expect new windows for new web pages. Maybe it’s the people I’ve worked with, but really – that’s what they expected. For myself, I expect external links to load in a new page. Not that I’m the ‘standard’ but that’s my preference.

    Just because they’re used to it doesn’t mean it’s good practice. I remember mid-90s when all websites had crazy animated GIFs. Even on large corporate sites had the little animated email buttons and all this crap. Now a days we all say “a slew of animated GIF are distracting and unnecessary” but then it was expected by users to see those and everyone wanted it.

    Just my thoughts. I guess it doesn’t matter one way or the other if I agree with the article, eh? hehe

  36. 41

    Users can still decide to open the link in a new tab even if your link has a target of “_blank”.

    Command + Click will open the link in a new tab regardless of what the target says.

  37. 42

    @Raul: A majority of web servers are not as net savvy as the rest of us. Command (or ctrl)+ click is unknown to these people. Even people who surf around some have no idea. So yeah, so those of use who make our living via the internet may know a lot of shortcuts and tricks but the average user may (and probably) do not.

  38. 43

    Smashing is just opening opened doors thru this post

  39. 44

    Thomas Milburn

    July 1, 2008 7:44 am

    I’m not strongly against links opening in a new window. It all depends on the context. Links in an article are sometime best opening in a new window so users can easily return to where they left off.

    I don’t think the JavaScript technique works very well. I agree with Tom Sieron: users can’t be bothered to customise the behaviour of the page. If users know they want to open external links in a new tab they will do so in their own way.

  40. 45

    In certain instances, I’m annoyed when external links don’t open in a new window. Take Smashing Magazine, for example, on some of your showcase pages you may have a ton of content with lots of images on one page, each linking to the site that they’re from. To me, it feels intuitive that when I click on the picture to see the showcased website that it would open in a new window. When I forget that it does not, and click on it, I then have to click “back” to return to where I was on Smashing Magazine’s page – this concept alone is fine, but, what’s most annoying is that when I return to SM’s page, it has to reload all of the content, all of the images, and all of the advertisements, and THEN return me to where I was reading about 20 scrolls down the page or so. That, to me, is more annoying than having to close an external window when I wish to return to where I was. So, I would say that this is an instance when opening in a new window is not only acceptable, but helpful for usability.

  41. 46

    Hmm not sure, any is better.

    I hardly ever left click on links always middle click to open in tabs.

    My girlfriend however opens everything in a new window.

  42. 47

    I for one find it really irritating that site don’t link external sites externally.
    This is something i ALWAY do on my own sites
    It’s a simple rule: Internal links internally etc
    And for good measure in case it hasn’t been mentioned already Google Reader linsk externally

  43. 48

    where is my $ 5000 ???!!! no i joke, nice article ^^

  44. 49


    July 1, 2008 8:09 am

    I perfeer external links to open in ‘new tabs’. Why? because I like to visit the links while im reading a article at for example here. But the option to choose wether they should open in a new window or on that same site is almost alpha omega ;-)

  45. 50

    i still think all the links on smash mag should open in new windows …
    its a pain in the butt to keep going back to smash mag from another site .

  46. 51

    Let’s not forget the majority of poor unfortunate soles who are still using IE6. ctrl-click and middle-click doesn’t work for them. Just thought I’d point out that the majority of us web-savvy folks use Firefox (IMO) but the majority of our users are not web-savvy folks. And even those that we’ve convinced to switch to FF are still not using all the functionality they are given. So we can argue about same window, new tabs and new windows but for the majority of our users it’s really about same versus new window.

  47. 52

    Safari—the version for Windows at least—does feature tabs, but target="blank" links always open in a new window. Something to consider.

  48. 53

    As a user, I never let the site decide for me. I am always choosing whether to open the next link in a new tab, new window or current one. I protect my current window’s back-track this way. When doing research, I can launch all the links I’m checking out into new tabs, and quickly scan and dispatch them, or let them become the start of a new search.

    Anything a site does to force me into compliance is a turn-off and more than once has caused me to abandon a site immediately.

  49. 54

    ben i know full well how to use my broswer and and do out of practive open almost everything in a new tab out of habit… the thing is that habit has developed BECAUSE of poorly thought out and designed sites.
    This is my most irritating thing about the internet second only to adverts

  50. 55

    Revital Salomon

    July 1, 2008 8:38 am

    Interesting point, but as a user – I tend to disagree. I consume vast amounts of info and use many aggregators. I first scan for interesting headlines and links, and then force-open them in new tabs. I also do that when I read an interesting article. I open the external link for later browsing, or just to check it out and get back to the main article.

  51. 56

    exactly hermitcrab !
    One of the worst things is java links. These should rot in hell

  52. 57

    As a website visitor, I really don’t care if a link opens in a new tab/window, as I open all links in a new tab myself. The Firefox addon Tab Mix Plus also has an options to ignore the target attribute.

    To me as a webdeveloper, an unwanted new window/tab seems less worse than losing a website because the linked website broke the back-button.

    In the end, it all depends on the target audience. Smashing Magazine should let the user handle windows, AOL should decide for the user. Unexperienced users (like my parents) don’t know how to open a link in a new window or tab.

  53. 58

    Hi! Nice article and really helpful.

    We are actually opening only PDF links in a new window. Unless strictly required, all navigation is made in the same window.


  54. 59

    Whoa, quite the debate. Definitely don’t agree with this article. I don’t think most average web users know anything about the options they do/do not have for opening content in new windows or tabs. So in essence, you’re not giving them any more or less control at all. It then comes down to your preference as a developer and designer…and as a web designer who is also a normal reader of blogs, etc., I like to have off site content open in a new tab/window by default. It’s much easier for me, and it does the owner of the original site a favor by keeping their content open. In fact, I’ve gotten into the habit of right clicking and choosing to open anything in Smashing, etc. into a new tab just in case the “obvious” choice was not already coded in.

  55. 60

    I’ve gone back and forth with this on my own site, wanting to open external links with _blank so that the user can easily get back to my site. However, I realize that this can potentially confuse some people, so I’ve abandoned the process more recently.

    On projects at work, we generally advocate not opening in new windows – that everything should remain in the same window to maintain the back button, avoid popup blockers,etc. (I guess it’s “Do as I say, not as I do”, huh?). I’m somewhat torn about taking users to 3rd-party sites in the same window because they often don’t realize until they are a couple clicks in that they have left the main site. Yes, I’ve tried to get ‘external link’ icons implemented, but clients are wary.

    I started a similar write-up a few months ago, although I was focused on how people use tabs to manage their browsing. Granted, tweaking the browser settings are still more in the space of experienced users but I’d be curious if having tabs has changed the default behavior for some users – after all, a new TAB instead of a window is more manageable because you can still see your origination point. But I don’t know that most browsers have settings to force new windows into a tab by default – users would have to know to change it for this to be an effective method.

    It’s still a developing process in my opinion, but your article definitely gives some strong food for thought – I’ll be passing it around our UX department here.

  56. 61

    Great article. In the end you really have to think of the end user. Some of the comments about not catering toward the dumbest user does not make sense because aren’t you making the website for them? I don’t believe that would be a good decision to make a site just for the more advanced users, especially if you are trying to run a company. Even the dumbest user will pay money for a product.

    Thank you for writing about this topic. I hate it went tabs open all over the place. I can do that myself!

  57. 62

    Very very interesting. I work as a web developer and I always try to talk clients out of this but cant always refute their stubborn “dont let people leave my site” logic. Excellent read. I know plenty of people I’m going to be forwarding this to.

  58. 63

    Agreed, there are performance factors related to this and a lot of users don’t notice when new windows open (sigh, people and computers…). I would however at least appreciate the option.

  59. 64

    I have to disagree with this article on a very large number of points. First, there is nothing wrong with opening links in a new window when appropriate. For instance, on my website, I make references to people I’ve worked for and such as part of in-line text. Now I open these in a new window because it is more user friendly. Why do I say that? Because as much as users hate new windows they hate leaving a site by accident more.

    Of course there was the suggestion that the developer/designer provide a check-box to allow users to choose. However, this is almost as bad in terms of usability. When presented with a long list this is a viable option. But what about in-line links? Where would you put it? Up in the heading? You then are faced with two options, put it somewhere prominent where it will be seen but where it will distract users from other infinitely more important elements or put it somewhere a bit hidden where it will never be used.

    Now, don’t misunderstand me; I’m not a major proponent of new-window links. Quite the contrary. I find them extremely annoying when they’re just randomly there. Sites that open all content in a new window, for instance, I leave those almost immediately. However, I get equally annoyed if I hit an in-line link and it throws me onto a new site.

    Am I expected to know to open it in a new window on my own? Am I supposed to check the link to make sure it won’t do it for me? If the developer follows the XHTML Strict valid method as defined by the W3C then the link would actually be JavaScript powered so it wouldn’t be instantly clear that it opens in a new window.

    So, I guess my point is they may not be ideal and they may be overused at times but they are most certainly not a “no-go” in every instance. And for the love of god can we cite some more contemporary experts? Avoid Neilsen. He stopped being relevant half a decade ago. Try Steve Krug, he at least follows his own advice and avoids buzz words to attempt to make it sound like he knows.

  60. 65

    firdaus riyanto

    July 1, 2008 9:17 am

    i’m voicing my opinion as a user and not as designer.

    when i navigate through a site, say a portfolio site, i would be annoyed if the sections are opened in different windows or tabs. but if i’m opening a link to a different website, say their sample of work, then i prefer opening it in a different windows. simply because i’d like to continue to browse the website after visiting some of the samples of work.

    it goes the same for visiting resource websites, such as smashing magazine. when i ‘m reading an article of list of something, i would like it to open in a new tab or window for the simple reason of wanting to continue the list without having to click on the back button, but just simply changing tab or window or closing it all together when i’m done. one of the reasons i would prefer opening it in a different tab or window is when i browse a site on the list several pages deep, that means i have to press and hold the back button to open up the history then search for the site that i came from. on top of that, sometimes the original article would reload from the top and the last link i clicked on is somewhere in the middle of the list. very annoying.

    so does that make me a masochist for, according to the article, liking the “bad user experience” practices?? hehe.

  61. 66

    Great article – nice to see this subject discussed.

    1) With the advent of tabbed browsing we have to be careful about terminology. New window vs. new tab I hate to have links open up in new windows, but as I do a lot of online research I love opening up each link in a new tab (which I do manually). I also group windows according to subject (sometimes).

    2) Didn’t know about the middle button trick (I’m a Firefox user)- love it – no more right click for me.

    3) I like #32’s comments: internal links – within window; external links – new window/tab as default design. But ultimately it should be under the control of the user.


  62. 67

    On one of the sites I recently created all external links would take you to that page but at the top of the page I inserted a bar with a link back to the page they came from. I think this is a good solution since people don’t wander off and forget to come back to your site, yet you don’t have to open new tabs or windows.

  63. 68

    I think what most people are missing here is one simple fact in web usability: Unless you are a high traffic site, 99% of your user’s time is spent on someone else’s website. So the best answer to this question is to look at high traffic sites (not search engines) and see what they do. For these purposes, an offsite link is any link that is not part of the original domain. Links off site open in the same window Links off site open in the same window Links off site open in the same window Links off site open in the same window Links off site open in the same window Links off site open in the same window (though some internal links open in new windows for some reason)

    So we can see that, across the board, these sites do not force open a new window.

    I think the fallacy here in the argument to open new windows on external links is that people are so interested in your site that they want to return, so to ensure that, you keep it open for them. Problems with that line of thought:

    1. They aren’t really that interested. Users are task driven. Your site just happen to complete that task, which is probably how they found it in the first place. This leads us directly to…
    2. If they happen feel that your site will help them in future tasks, they will take it upon themselves to be sure they can get back to it by bookmarking it.

    Forcing users to open a new window does not guarantee that they will return to your site after their initial task is completed. I have observed this many time with non-computer-savvy family members. A site opens a new window to another site. The user keeps plugging away, usually oblivious to the fact that they are in a new window. When they complete their task, they close the window, and will usually close the original window that spawned the new window without a second thought, because they are finished with the computer.

    What is boils down to is this: You should not be making the decision for your user if your site is worth coming back to…they should. Yes, this makes your job harder…you have to make it more visually appealing, structurally logical, and ensure that the content is worth coming back to. But if you invest your time in those things, you will find your user return rate significantly higher than just popping new windows.

  64. 69

    Lady with 6 daughters

    July 1, 2008 9:50 am

    Personally, I prefer every click to open in their own tab. I have my browser set up that way. I HATE clicking on something and having to use that stupid back button to find where I came from. On my site, clicks AWAY from my site open in new tabs and clicks within my site open in the same tab. New windows piss me off to high hell- I just close them, forget about the content. The only exception is if I have a personal window open and a work window open in which case, one of them is minimized for several hours at a time.

    • 70

      yeah im the same, i hate it as well but how can i set it up like that???
      i cant seem to get every page into different tabs :( im running windows 7 ultimate

      thanks heaps…

  65. 71

    @Daniel – I’ve been designing for a while, and sure I don’t know everything – but something you have to consider … if you’re on someone’s website is is the choice of the designer, not really yours. You can always go and get add ons to force your browser to do what you want if you really want to … do what you want. But as a web designer it’s my job to make the site as friendly to a BROAD audience, not just those who are internet savvy enough to configure their browsers or use short cut keys or even that right click is an option.
    I remember working with a group of people, yes teaching them how to surf the web (silly class I only taught once and never would again). It was around 20 people. We did a lot of things like Google searches and so on and I can’t tell you how many people got lost because web sites did not have the _blank on links. They would stumble on a site they’d consider offensive and automatically think it was that they trusted – how could they have Mud Wrestling on their site? (or whatever) What they didn’t realize was they where three sites away from that trusted site and it had nothing, period, to do with the original site.

    If it’s just about people demanding power – I’ll take my risks. You can either figure out how to get around the _blank or just don’t go to a site that opens external links in new windows/tabs.

  66. 72

    I also agree with not opening links in new windows, this is a choice the user should make (in most cases) not the designer/developer.

  67. 73

    My client could also ask for dancing pink bears on their site, because their daughters think it’s pretty.

    Just because they want it doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. In fact, most of the time, they don’t know what they should be asking for, because, as you pointed out, they aren’t computer savvy. They have no idea why certain sites do it one way and other sites do it another. They have no idea of the process that went into those decisions. They don’t realize that just because it works for one site doesn’t mean it will work for theirs. They only know that they like it.

    That is why we are there, to help them make the right decisions, and to talk them out of the bad ones.

  68. 74

    Internal links I allways have in the same window. External links I sometimes have in a new tab. Never in a new window if I can help it.

  69. 75

    Just because a client wants something that you don’t like, doesn’t make it a bad decision. Pink dancing bears aren’t a bad decision. You may think they’re ugly, but that’s just your opinion – NOT your client’s. It is that exact mentality that makes this article so absurd. It’s all about preference, plain and simple. There’s no authority on preference. There is no “good” or “bad” involved, period.

  70. 76


    July 1, 2008 11:34 am

    I’m with Sue on this … I open PDFs in a new window, and all links have a “(opens in new window)” warning in italics next to them. I don’t have a lot of them, though, and they are typicalyl clustered in a “library” area on the site.

  71. 77

    Great post. We were always taught that opening in a new window was the way to go but I’ve recently been trying to work out if this is still the best option so good to see someone discussing it in depth.

  72. 78

    Yeah, it looks like this article is getting mixed reviews, but really, it’s completely unfounded.

    For starters, you have absolutely zero usability data backing this up, and you say as much. Citing that folks like Schneiderman and Mandel say users should be in control doesn’t suffice, because you don’t equate the problem of links opening in new windows to a lack of control. Nielsen is the only one that has a gripe targeted toward opening new windows, but you’ll notice that he doesn’t even comment on modern tabbed browsers, which have the same behavior but rein in the chaos of multiple windows.

    Frankly, forcing windows to open in a new window may remove control from experts (like you, presumably), but not doing so removes controls from beginners who don’t rely heavily on context menus (there’s actually data to support that statement, btw).

    Joel is exactly right – it is a pretty common convention these days to open external links in new windows. So common that I (personally) find I expect it for external links. I also expect help links in forms to open small pop-ups so they don’t disrupt my task (because I don’t want to risk my data getting erased if I navigate to a new page).

    This article is another example of why absolute claims are rarely, if ever, correct. You should have focused on designing for good feedback for when links open in new windows, and using this convention sparingly – those parts were brilliant, and fully backed up by common design sense.

    Instead you took a pet peeve of expert users (however common), assumed that every site is designed for experts, and presumed to say that the behavior is wrong without justification. That’s not the quality I’m used to on this site.

  73. 79

    The solution is actually quite simple. Ideally, all browsers would have the following option:

    When navigating a website, clicking on a link to an external website:
    [ ] Opens the link in the same window
    [ ] Opens the link in a new tab
    [ ] Opens the link in a new window
    [ ] Ask me when I click on an external link
    [ ] Surprise me

    All browsers that don’t contain this preference are then guilty of bad user-interface design. All users who fail to set their preference are guilty of being bad users, and should have their birthday privileges revoked.

    Now there’s a great article for discussion!

  74. 80

    Fernanda S.

    July 1, 2008 12:41 pm

    I am with Joel and Sam on this one – I have a 12 year experience, so I should be considered an expert, I think- and guess what? I like to have external links opened in new windows. That’s it. I want to keep track of what I am reading without having to use a back button, that is just the way I like to have it. I am even right-clicking links to open them in new windows because more and more the experts are doing it the way I DON’T like!!!!

    I am not saying that they are WRONG, you see? I am totally for standards on the web, but I also believe in the relativity of things rather than dichotomies like “right/wrong, good/bad” and so on. Gotta be flexible sometimes. Absolutism, bléh.

  75. 81

    Fernanda S.

    July 1, 2008 12:49 pm

    @Sean: Who is your client, the Grateful Dead? (just kidding….)

  76. 82

    Steve Dustin

    July 1, 2008 1:21 pm

    @Joel (#67): you see you completely miss the point. You believe that designing sites for clients is more important than designing sites for users. It doesn’t matter what the client asks for; it’s your job to convince them of the best design solution. Maybe you should reconsider your design decisions since you seem to have the same opinion as 10 years ago.

  77. 83

    I always open external links in a new window, especially affiliate links.

    I think a perfect example of the downside of opening all links in the same window is Smashing has many external links in almost every article and its a pain to go check out the link and then come back to smashing to check out the next link, plus its very likely that I may find an external link on that site and end up 2-3 sites down the line and because every link opened in the same window it becomes a nighmare to get back to where you want to be..which is smashing you can explore the rest of what it has to offer.

  78. 84

    Robnelp: you know how to use the middle-click to open links in new tabs? What I always do is just going through the post using middle-click to open links in new tabs and then close the Smashing article. And it wasn’t hard to figure that out :)

  79. 85

    I thought everyone knew about middle clicking to open in new tab/window

  80. 86

    @Steve Dustin
    No, I believe it is you that has missed the point. It is completely unfounded for Smashing Magazine (or anyone else, for that matter) to claim that opening links in new windows creates “bad user experience”, or to say things like “Since users expect the link to be opened in the same window…”, when such statements are completely baseless and utterly absurd. THAT is what I’m talking about.

    I create websites for clients who are also end-users. Why is there such a disconnect there for some of you? I prefer external links to open in new windows, as do 98% of my clients. And now there is some need for me to reconsider my decisions, especially because I’ve been doing it for so long?

    So, when you go to get your haircut and you tell the barber you just want a trim, and he shaves your head bald because he’s the expert and you’re not, you are OK with this? Oh, and the reason he did it is because that’s what he thinks other people expect you to look like? You’re OK with this? Apparently your clients are OK with similar treatment from you, since it is your job to “convince them of the best design solution“, or however you put it. In the world I come from, we try to give the client what they want, not convince them that they want what we want. Because really, that’s all it is. You’re no more an expert than any other shmoe who’s shlepping websites. You just have more of a need to control what your client wants. The end-user doesn’t care about your design decisions – unless he/she is a designer. End-users figure out how to use what you make.

    Back to point: to sheepishly support a baseless claim that that opening links in new windows is now considered to be infringing on users’ ability to be in complete control over their browser is simply ridiculous.

  81. 87

    I’ve long been frustrated that Smashing links open in same window especially with the web-roundup style posts. Lots of rigth clicking and selecting new tab. However armed with the middle click my web browsing has now taken on a new lease of life!

  82. 88

    That’s a bit harsh. Jackob Nielsen has some very very good insights and constantly reviews the user experience. when was the last time you ran a usability test on a site deisgn and actually watched what users did?

  83. 89

    Some novice PC user tend to have small monitors and only a basic grasp of the taskbar. My dad gets confused when a new window appears blocking out the old content. He isn’t used to having multiple windows open at once and application switching, so i can understand the argument for opening links in the same window.

    I don’t really agree with the “offering the user a choice” thing since i don’t think most users know they have a choice. It would be interesting to know what percentage of users actually know how to open up a link in a new window.

    P.S. Your sponsor ads open in a new windows :)

  84. 90

    @John (#85)
    I can appreciate what you’re getting at, let’s take a look at an example from Jakob’s site….

    Microsoft left-justifies (or centers) their buttons like this:
    [Ok] [Cancel]

    Apple right-justifies (or centers) their buttons in the reverse order:
    [Cancel] [Ok]

    Who’s right? Who’s wrong? People figure out what you’re doing and adapt. The same holds true to this silly discussion we’re all having. There is no right or wrong way, it is all preference.

    I still think it should be determined by a preference that is built into all browsers, and then it wouldn’t matter what the expert designers wanted the external links to do. That is how you solve the problem, not by claiming one way is bad practice while the other is hailed as good.

  85. 91

    Michael Martin

    July 1, 2008 3:56 pm

    Great write-up, and thanks for including me in the sources!

    Using a new window for help snippets is an interesting one. When the help links are on a form (Where I’ve been entering data), I always worry that the link will be in the current window and I’ll lose what I’ve typed. Because of that, I middle click the link. But if they’ve used javascript to make a pop-up, then that gives me an empty tab that I have to close, before clicking the link again. (e.g the PayPal website)

    I’m not sure what the right solution to that would be. I agree that tool-tips are the ideal solution though, if the help content is small enough to fit.

  86. 92

    I have do disagree with the Article even though I think it’s a really nice article talking about something very important.

    In my website I link to a new window when I link to an external link. It makes more sense to me, I like to navigate that way when I’m on other websites and I don’t like when I’m taken way from my “focus windows”. Every modern browser has tabs so… why not put them to good use? I think this question of not linking to new windows would be true if Tabs hadn’t been invented, but they were. So rejoice.. and keep the focus! ;)

  87. 93

    I’m with Gopic (13.) on this one. Links to external sites as well as to .doc/.pdf would benefit from opening in a new window (external link icon notifier would be nice of course), due to the fact that a lot of users (from personal experience) are NOT expecting what all the “experts” claim they do.

    I’ve seen dozens of users (not the super savvy 24/7 web surfing type) get confused and “lost” especially when following document links, which their favorite browser (yes .. i’m looking at you IE) brings to them in their browser window, rather than launching the application it should be opened with. This is especially a problem with documents slightly heavier than average and users on bad/slow connections. The don’t necessarily know what’s happening, then tend to forget it’s the same window and either close it and drop from the site they were just on or fail to use the back button.

    Just personal experience over the last 9 years as I said, but it does happen quite frequently and as long as the user is made aware what’s going on, no dramas.

    And for the “hardcore” crowd, a target=”_blank” hardly matters when we open almost every single link in a new tab anyway.

    p.s. Jakob Nielsen … so overrated it’s not even funny anymore.

  88. 94

    It seems to me that the proposed rule “don’t open links in new windows” propounded here is based on ideology rather than on real world experience. Nowhere in the post is user input or testing mentioned.

    It would be just as sensible, and just as useless, for me to write, “One should never write essays about how web sites should be designed. This takes away the designer’s sense of control.”

    But of course the previous sentence is surely nonsense.

    We might argue back and forth, around and around. about who is “right” in one of these ideological struggles, but there is no way to decide anything in that fashion.

    That’s why I think testing by real users, under carefully designed observation, along with asking users about their preferences, are the only workable tools to use in deciding such (earth-shaking!!) questions.

  89. 95


    Not sure why you assumed I don’t know the multitude of ways to open a new tab or window.
    I don’t believe I asked for tips..I was making a statement and offering an example, obviously there are options available user side and always have been…

    nevermind..not worth the energy

  90. 96

    Great article, thanks for getting into this small but important topic in such depth!

    I agree entirely with your analysis.

  91. 97

    Aaron Mills

    July 1, 2008 6:11 pm

    I am just not sure if I agree.. I do think that in most cases open in new window is a bad thing.. but for link lists.. I think it really comes down to “would I want this to open in a new window as a web surfer?”

    If the answer is yes.. and my usability testing does not pick up a problem with the new window links, they were an important part of the user interface..

    to say users are not used to new window links is probably not true.. They did not pop up yesterday!

  92. 98

    As a user:

    I usually open all links in new tabs. Apparently, I’m an exception. My logic is that I may want to go back to the page I was previously viewing and I don’t want to wait for it to load on my amazingly slow connection.

    However, it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when stuff opens in a new window. It’s just really really awkward!

  93. 99

    I know its not scientific in any way, but take from it what you will.

    I just did a quick poll in my office. Out of 8 staff (who range from early 20’s to late 50’s and are medium to long term PC users, most with a PC at home) they all said they expected a link to an external site to open in a new window. Thats 8 from 8. External links not opening in a new window annoy the hell out of me.

    I see also that some of you have used your parents as examples to support your arguments. Ive also seen mine make the same mistakes with getting lost with new windows for external links, BUT, they only made it once. To suggest or imply that they always get confused or lost is wrong. Who bangs their thumb with a hammer and then tunrs around and does it again. Live and learn.

  94. 100

    I always followed the rule that internal site links open in same window, links to other sites opened in a new window.

    Some research we did recently with our target audience – Australian Doctors, showed that they preferred links to open in new windows as they liked to have lots of information open at the same time in order to cross reference. So although the usability guru’s would say this was wrong, our users actually want this.

  95. 101

    I use the same rule internal links in the same window and 3rd party in a new window.
    I’ve noticed lately that when I’m browsing I often right click on the link and make it open in a new window. Especially on really large pages that take a long time to load. If I don’t do it that way then I have to wait again for it to load when I click the back button.

  96. 102

    Thank you for the article. I usually tend to use the rule of opening site-wide links in the same window and 3rd party links / off-site information in a new tab, usually followed with a “(link opens in a new tab)” line after the link.

    However this has changed and more and more users and clients of our sites are used to the mouse-wheel click or the CTRL+click options and tend to open any link in a new window if they have not yet finished looking at a page (or to pre-load the next page) rather than using the “go back” links or the back button. So in effect, the research of these usability experts is a bit outdated I’d think.


  97. 103

    I always have multiple browser windows open, overlapping (not completely maximized like most people seem to do, although probably at about 95% of screen size). Regardless of how the link is targeted, I open almost all links in either a new window or the 2nd window I have open (dragged from the first). It simplifies things SO much.. I don’t have to have a million windows open, but I still open things in “a new window” each time. Then I can browse the new site as much as I want, then when I’m done go back to the other window and continue on. (A perfect example of when this works really well is on one of Smashing’s showcase posts.)

    So I guess it doesn’t matter a huge amount to me as a user, but I have pretty much always assumed most people prefer new links to open in a new window. I’ve been designing my sites to reflect that for probably 8-10 years. I have watched my mom have trouble with links that opened in a new window, but, though very intelligent, she’s just not that computer-savvy and doesn’t get a lot of other things either, like Photoshop basics or how to change her computer’s resolution, no matter how many times we try to teach her. Most people who don’t use computers every day are probably going to have more trouble; that doesn’t mean you have to cater to the lowest common denominator. These kind of people learned to adapt to email and cell phones.. they should be able to figure out how to close a browser window.

  98. 104

    OK I didn’t make it to read all the 97 comments but here’s two things:

    1. There is no “main site” from which the user is going further through the web. What if the user came to your site just by a hyperlink, hm? Let them decide.

    2. Imagine all the sites you’ve visited today would have opened in a new window – how many windows would you have? Check your history. Really.

    The point is: If links have target=”_blank” I have no chance to open them in the SAME window. If they don’t have a target attribute, I can open them the way I want.

    Still a necessary article, as we see.

  99. 105

    @Celeste: perfect example of how YOU like to browse. How do other people? We don’t know! There are millions of choices (browser window, screen size, …)

    So let everybody make their decision how to browse – just like you did.

  100. 106

    This article misses a very important point, however. As a designer and programmer who’s worked in the SEO/SEM space for some time, it is often vital that pay per click advertising links do open in new tabs, for the simple reason that some advertising sites actually break/disable the back button, and thus prevent users from going back to the original site. This can be disastrous.

    I recognise that, in an ideal world, opening links in new windows is an attempt to hijack the browser, but in a case like this, it is necessary until this practice of disabling back buttons is stopped.

  101. 107

    Ugh, that’s a lot of comments.

    A very useful script – I’ve wondered what the best way to add that functionality was for a while.

    I don’t agree with a few of the points though. The idea that all links should open in the same page annoys me – I think internal (same-site) links should open in the same window, but external (other-sites) should open in new windows. That way readers can confidently click on links on your pages, but still remain on the same site.

    And as for non-html links opening in popup windows without browser controls? Removing browser controls, regardless of the page content, is a bad idea – who cares if the functionality is duplicated – Adobe Reader in a browser window, for example – consistancy should be key.

  102. 108

    @James: “I’ve wondered what the best way to add that functionality was”

    The functionality is already there in every browser – no need to add it, IMHO.

  103. 109

    I have been surfing the net since Windows 95, I always open links in a new window so I do not lose my navigation.

    If a site forbids be from for doing this, that is the LAST time I will be back that way!.

  104. 110

    What amazes me more about this same-new window usability discussions is how the general computer user experience seems to completely ignored in the general equation. Its like you only use the computer to surf the web. I’ve never heard of problems with multiple windows in other applications!!! Can you see yourself using the back-button to navigate through 50 images opened in Photoshop? I think much of the general HCI environment extrapolates to the way users browse the web, that’s why almost everything stated in this article regarding what the ‘user’ prefers is not what this ‘user’ does. So there seems to be a general practice designing ‘websites’ and a general way of using them, but there also is a specific way of using them and there’ll always will.

  105. 111

    As a user, I want the website to do the trivial thinking for me – I want to external links in a new window without having to remember to hold down CTRL when I click.

    If it doesn’t do this, I have to hit the back button (possibly find the link again, possibly retype some info, possibly pause music I don’t want to hear, etc.) and then CTRL-click. Major PITA.

    I want to be in control, but I want sites I visit not to annoy the living bejeezus out of me because they’re too stupid (or over-clever) to stick to a well-known, well-founded convention like opening an external site in a new window.

    Also, I strongly believe in giving users what they need, as opposed to what they think they want. The user who doesn’t like new windows will often be the same user who complains that they ‘lost’ a site they were browsing earlier.

  106. 112

    When I made my site in 2006, all the advice which I read said that you should open links in a new window so that users would stay on your site.
    Now, a couple of years later, this is a big no no due usability issues. My point is, why don’t these so called experts make up their minds as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. One day they’re advising you to do something one way, the next day, they’re advising you to do it another way. On my site, all my links open in new windows and I state this clearly on my site and if this is an “issue” the word tough springs to mind.

  107. 113

    Great article, I totally agree with you. Keep up writing posts like this one!

  108. 114

    As a heavy internet user I must say that I disagree. I usually expect external links to open in a new tab, and when I find that I have clicked an external link, surfed the external website before closing the tab and realize that I just closed my whole browsing session, I get a little annoyed.

  109. 115

    Nielsen is as overrated as it gets and nobody should ever pay any attention to him.

  110. 116

    John Faulds

    July 2, 2008 4:14 am

    The other annoyance of forcing links to open in new windows with javascript is that people who do choose to open their own new windows or tabs will often find ctrl or middle clicking won’t work on these types of links.

    And there’s one other way to open new windows or tabs you haven’t mentioned (which is probably even less used by people) and that’s with mouse gestures.

  111. 117

    Open links in new windows/tabs? Sure do it. I do when I want or need to
    Markup links to open in new windows/tabs? No, leave the visitor/user in control.

    Take a Google for example. Google is a website, just a well-known one. None of their links are marked-up to force new windows/tabs onto visitors. Yet with a Google search result they link from their website to external websites (just more so than the a regular website). This works extremely well. And if a visitor does not want to keep hitting the back button to return to the search index, then they can use the browser to open an external site in a new window/tab.

    Further reasoning:

    All links point to a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI).

    A URI identifies a resource on the Internet.

    Therefore keep it simple. Make no behavioural distinction between links to within a website or to an external website. Because both the website and an external website are the same; internet resources.

    All the best

  112. 118

    As with many other subjects in this field i think the biggest problem is the lack of education. How would you expect someone that thinks the blue “e” is the internet’s logo to be able to control how a link opens? Until the majority of users know how to use their given tools it’s always gonna be a compromise and leave room for discussion.
    Quite shocking how many people responding to this article do not know how to open links in individual tabs…

  113. 119

    Agreed with Bongo…
    Also, most of you guys say that we have to let users choose if they want to open links (external links i’m talking about) in a new tab but most of them wouldn’t know they could so in that logic you’re “forcing” them to open link in the same window…

  114. 120

    Daoud > “Quite shocking how many people responding to this article do not know how to open links in individual tabs…”

    And people reading this article are supposed to be technically savvy so imagine how many average users know that!!

  115. 121

    I agree with you stoffb, to my surprise I also see those responses. But if we are here is for something, and the reason is simple: learn.

    excellent article boys continue well.

  116. 122

    target=”_tab” now!

    thank you.

  117. 123

    don giannatti

    July 2, 2008 5:23 am

    Put me clearly in the “new window” group. I hate slamming the back button to get back to the material I was working on after following a link. And then so often I do get back and have to start at the top of the page instead of landing at the point on the page I left. I use internal for internal on my site and new windows for externals. Occasionally there are times when external opens in same window, but there is always a thought process involved.

  118. 124

    In internet there’s no difference between internal and external links (like Dave Smith #115 said). This is just the view of the website’s author – my page vs other pages. This is not user-centered thinking.

    If there are people, who think: “oh, here’s a nice link but I want to keep this page open when going there”, they will find the way it’s done.

    Also, I rely on the users’ short term memory: if your site is valuable, they will come back.

    @don giannatti #121: you don’t have to slam the back button: there’s actually a context menu on the back button that gives you recently visited pages.

  119. 125

    Tyler Henson

    July 2, 2008 6:20 am

    In my opinion, I think that all links going to an external site should open in a new window! As a freelancer, and a designer, if someone is looking at my site, and wants to check out a resource I have linked, I don’t want them to have to back track to get to my site… it should just be there! ;) I also design a 15,000 page+ intranet information site and that’s the same philosophy we have!

  120. 126

    A web site is an experience that you are creating for someone. If a link occurs in a place where I don’t want to direct someone away from my site, you’d better believe I’m going to open in a new window/tab.
    Also, I can’t believe it would be suggested to rely on javascript for page links.
    Can’t say I agree with this article; the user is just going to have accept there are some things they can’t control. I’m sure there are people who’d prefer my whole site be in blinking text; doesn’t mean I have to make it happen.

  121. 127

    I don’t want to direct someone away from my site

    Well, then: simply do not link!

  122. 128

    The angle of this post is quite original. However, perhaps the choice to open a link in the same window or a new window could depend on the content of the link itself once open.

    If it is related to your site then, I think, it would be preferable to open the link in the same window. However, if it is a link with a completely different feel or content, perhaps it would be less confusing for the visitor to have the link opened in a new window.

    Just a thought I wanted to contribute to this thread of discussions.

  123. 129

    I totally disagree with the whole article. First of all, not everybody is a geek and are exactly “in control”. Second; same window for internal links and another window for external links so the users have clear they are leaving the web.

  124. 130

    I’m strictly in the new tab for external links camp. I stick a new window icon next to these links so it’s not a total shock to the user.

    As a user myself, I do hate sites that link external sites in the same window and I forget to hold the ctrl key…BBC..for example. I hate using the back button but especially to navigate back through multiple sites.

    I find I only really use the back button if a site has not linked external sites via a new tab or if their own internal navigation is incomprehensible.

  125. 131

    Good article. Of course opening in the same window should be the rule !

    Now that said once in a while I always run into the case where, i think this list of links would so much more convenient to use if it opened in a separate tab or window. But until ‘how to open links in a new tab’ is taught in first grade and every user knows how to… I think we should notify on the page if links exceptionaly open into a different window, or notify on that particular page how to open links in a separate tab or window… users will appreciate learning something new.

  126. 132

    What about having a frame with your navigation in it and opening external link in a special frame, so your navigation is still accessible for users to go back to your site ? … ain’t nobody building websites with frame this days ?? I’m just kidding… but on a second thought… lol

  127. 133

    For the love of all humanity. Please make your links(external sources) open in a new window. It drives me crazy when I click on a link and it takes me to another site within the same window. If I’m visiting a website, I’m there to gather information. 99% of the time when there is a link that references another site I just want to read about it real quick and get back to my original source. If I was forced into this site in the same window and I drilled down 10 times finding content, I would have to hit the back button 10 times just to get back. Is this post implying that is good UI design? That is ridiculous and so is the authors claim.

  128. 134

    Pete Skenandore

    July 2, 2008 10:53 am

    Designing (other mediums) for 20+ yrs. Web/graphic 4 +/-
    I like as many UI options as possible.
    What I really want is for users to cluck like a chicken in order to login.
    Same = boring.

  129. 135

    I disagree — the information and philosophy outlined in this article is outdated. Ever since the introduction of tabs, opening links (especially external links) in a new windows/tab is most common and quickly becoming the new trend.

    I personally like external links to open in a new window/tab and internal links to stay on the same window/tab.

  130. 136

    Your own sidebar ads open into new windows. Esp ironic, since I ad I clicked on was for usability testing.

  131. 137

    Chris Mills

    July 2, 2008 12:59 pm

    I also disagree (though I agree with points made by SDK). Why would a website owner encourage a user to go deeper into the rabbit hole …and forget where they started. In my case, I’ll begin on an “authoritative” site. If I leave it’s only to quickly check a source or two. The most important thing to me is getting back to the article or content that I was originally interested in. – C

  132. 138

    I completely disagree that links shouldn’t open in new windows.

    Internal links definately shouldn’t, external links should. If i come across a link that I want to open when I’m reading an article, I want that link to open in a new tab, so I can read it afterwards so my focus isn’t distracted from the original article.

    I personally think that the web design community, not utilizing tabbed browsing capability of all modern browsers just because we are worried our aunties and uncles might be confused by it at first, is letting usability issues get in the way of positive innovation. The way I see it, people will get used to it, it will catch on. It ain’t rocket science.

  133. 139

    I have a feeling I’m in the minority here, but I agree pretty strongly that links should generally NOT open in a new window.

    Partly because a large part of our own user base are relative novices and they DO get confused about new windows and “broken” back buttons, especially if they run their browsers full screen and don’t realize that they’re in a new window. (Yes, it happens. Not as often as it used to, but still…)

    And partly because, as a user, I really want to be the one to make the choice for myself. Sometimes I want to stay in the same window because I’m following a very linear trail. Sometimes I want to have a new, separate window so I can compare two pages side-by-side or keep an eye on a page that needs to load/refresh. Most frequently I open a new tab to reduce my window clutter (especially when I’m running searches and want to be able to follow several leads at once). Frankly, I don’t even know which pages I visit default to opening links in new windows because the shortcuts are automatic for me.

    One of my personal usability guidelines I try to follow is: if it helps the novice and doesn’t hinder the expert, then do it. If it helps the expert and hinders the novice, think twice. Expert users are rarely hindered by minor details like this which can make a huge difference to novices.

  134. 140

    Great article, as always!
    The JavaScript at the end is really cool – but how can I make it to “remember” the visitors’ choice if they navigate to another page on my site?

  135. 141

    Farid Abdulhadi

    July 2, 2008 2:57 pm

    Wow, this always seems to be an interesting topic.

    Personally, I almost always open links in a new tab, unless I’m done with the current site and want the last link to open in the same tab.

    I’m going to look into this for my own peace of mind.

  136. 142

    internal links = same window
    external links = new window
    -> simple as that

    i HATE it to lose search engine results because a link did not open in a new window. that is just one example.

  137. 143

    I have to agree with Marie (comment #33). I love Smashing Magazine, but one of its more annoying design features is the fact that external links don’t open in a new window, especially given the fact that a vast majority of the content deals with and links to other websites. As a user, I don’t want to go through the hassle of right-clicking, but I also don’t want to be required to hit the back button 8,000 times before I’m back to Smashing. Perhaps the best, and most reasonable, solution would be for Smashing to provide a JS-based option to open external links in a new window.

  138. 144

    Gary Barber

    July 2, 2008 5:34 pm

    Same old debate. how far do we push Nielsens “depends”. Do we force the new window onto people. Maybe disable scrolling and back button too. :)

    Would have been nice to see the javascript as an unobtrusive example

  139. 145

    Sorry I think if you are referring the user to another site you should open a new window. You assume a high level of user savvy if you think most people even know what the contextual menu is. I encounter levels of user stupidity that still blow me away on a daily basis. One high level exec honestly did not know how to copy and paste with shortcuts, so as a developer I go for the lowest common denominator and open in new window/tabs for the user and I think this is good practice. Just because I know how to right click or control click doesn’t mean they do.

  140. 146

    Jesus Christ, how many more usability bullshit artists with no development backgroud or clue on how to browse the interent are going to dictate to developers how to do thier jobs.

  141. 147

    You would think this would have been something browser vendors would have figured out and adapted to. A browser preference that opens links outside the current domain in a new window *if you want*, like Firefox’s ‘New pages should be opened in’ preference, would go a long way to putting the control back in the hands of the users where it belongs.

  142. 148

    I think personally after wathcing people browse, is that opening pages in new windows ain’t that bad as stated. It depends more or less what kind of llink you have. If you open external links..say in reference to the article, or comparisation material, then it might be handy to do that. I personally am utterly annoyed when all opens in the same window. However, my own opinion isn’t very valuable in this case.

    The idea of Raena is pretty nice.

    I’m sure usability designers are doing better then developers in this case. I study basicly the basics of all three, and you realize that combining it all, can be hard with self-loving designers, 1337 developers yada yada :-). I think these kind of articles will just give a good insight of “problems”.

    The best thing is to experience the problems yourself. Every crowd is different. Developers (as i know) hardly go out and see how their programs are being used, same for designers.

    Back to the topic, linking internal, i think the article covers some good point, but i wouldn’t definately make all my links internal.

  143. 149

    Judging from the comments and from personal experience I’d say the best practice is to indicate that the link refers to another site and let the user/browser decide to open it the way the user prefers it.

  144. 150

    anyone aware, that target=”_blank” isn’t valid XHTML 1.0 Strict?

  145. 151


    It’s not valid HTML strict either.

  146. 152

    It’s a long time since i used strict. I think personally that strict is … too strict… :)
    Depends what audience the site is for, i think that remains a main reason differences in do’s and dont’s

  147. 153

    From Jakob Nielsen’s article (linked in the text):

    2. PDF Files for Online Reading

    Users hate coming across a PDF file while browsing, because it breaks their flow.

    And the punchline: The second link (right above) the one to Nielsen’s article is a PDF. Too bad Smashing didn’t tell their users…

  148. 154

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    July 3, 2008 4:06 am

    @all commenters: thank you for the heavy debate, opinions, ideas, insights and suggestions. We are confident that every designer will learn something from the article and this thread. We highly appreciate your time and your input.

  149. 155

    @Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz:
    Top of the page shows ‘…in How-To | 170 Comments’
    Bottom shows 151 comments…

    19 got lost in scrolling?

    ; )

  150. 156

    I think for the most part this is true, unless the site is a “news” type of site. Because the user will be accessing so many different things and going back to the originating page, it can get pretty annoying. So I think for news sites it’s better to have, by default, articles open up in a new window. A “one-hit” kind of site, like myspace for example, where the user really doesn’t care to go back, but continually progresses through the site, I would say to open in the same window.

  151. 157

    This article was friggin’ USELESS!

  152. 158

    Fred Boulton

    July 3, 2008 2:41 pm

    I have some clients who request that visitors not be allowed to follow links away from the page and request that links open in a new widow.

    These are clients who have associations and are obliged under terms of membership to list members links but do not really want visitors following the links and leaving the association site!

  153. 159

    Luis Espinal

    July 3, 2008 9:34 pm

    God, I am glad this article was not the first one I’ve read in this website; I would’ve flip an imaginary finger to the author and get the hell out of here.

    Here is the problem with an important site like Smashing Magazine publishing something like this: New web developers/designers come here for guidance, so you need to be professional about it, and don’t claim to be the ONE to show the rest of the world the right way.

    Anyhow, if what you are saying was really true, then the two major browsers wouldn’t be focusing in tabs in their browsers; instead, they would be forcing the end of the “target” tag or the tag.

    Anyway, great job on the site and all the information is fricking awesome.

  154. 160

    I always click open in new window either through the menu, a middle click or a control click if I expect a new window. Otherwise I want it in the same window and not a new tab. I have an intense distaste for sites that open a new window.

    Why would I want a dozen windows open hogging up my resources? Everyone knows how to use the back button. We really all do. We can make it back to your site if its worth it to do so

  155. 161

    See this is another ridiculous standards issue that designers shouldn’t be forced to do but rather use good judgment. With some sites, it’s okay to open in the same window, while other sites, I do not agree with opening another page in the same browser. Such as…

    Take for example when I’m logged into my WordPress admin section and I need to surf the plugin directory for a moment. I navigate to my Plugin section and find the “Get more plugins” link. The damn link I click goes to WordPress’s Plugin Directory and completely disrespects the fact that I’m still logged in but now to get back I have to click our trusty little back button or be forced to just open a new window to get back into my logged session. IMO that is complete garbage behavior in the very reason why I disagree with this topic. For this reason, that link should open in a new window so I can refer to MY OTHER window that I’m logged in to.

    Secondly, how about if I’m a client that doesn’t give a rip about standards and just hired somebody to make me a website and at the bottom of a website when the designer decides to have their “Created By:” link… oh but wait, it just opened in the same window my website I hired them to build for me is in, now my customers have to click back to continue looking at my site… See in opinion, that’s disrespectful to the website built for that client because the designer’s link for selfish reasons has just hijacked the website those customers were browsing without keeping it a separate entity.

    So let’s say I’m logged on a website to pay my bill, but need to direct myself to the “Help” section because something doesn’t seem right, so I click “Help” right in the middle of having half my form filled out and “OH” low and behold it goes to another page in the same window! How am I supposed to reference to help or directions on what to do when I don’t even have the window accessible? Oh top of that, I click the back button after trying to memorize what the directions are telling me and OOPS, my half page of content has just reset itself.

    This is why it’s complete arrogance to write such a topic as to why it’s a “bad” idea to open links in a separate window. Designers/developers, keep building the way you feel, but don’t make links open in the same window because you feel standards are forcing you how to do it a certain way.

  156. 162

    Nice article to read about the other side of the fence. I guess if every site had to follow the rules set out by the above people, then it would matter.
    Well what about the people who struggle to surf the net.??
    Imagine a user looking at a Bike Shop website. This user is not too experienced and gets annoyed easily (like most baby boomers who have money). So he wants to check out one of the pro’s pages and clicks on an external link. Under this article, he should just click and go to that external site.
    But wait he goes there and get lost.
    Now he as to go back to google, because he forgets the URL, and type in the name of the site again.
    Now tell me if I was the owner of that site, would I be happy a potential customer, whom might spend $8000 on a road, was mislead somewhere else.
    I currently work on a very large site here at work. I use jquery for my external links to pop-up in new windows. The owners of the site requested it because they are the same demographic of people who use it

    I think this article is another crappy point of view by people who expect the end user to know more than they do.

    If you are going to put Javascript Source in your article then maybe it is time to learn about Jquery and get that inline javascript out of there.

    Not impressed with this article.


  157. 163

    Maggie Longshore

    July 7, 2008 4:52 pm

    I understand the reasoning in the article, but I am one that wants most links to open in a new tab. Especially in the following cases:

    1. I have done an advanced search and I want to look at the details of an item. I want this in a new tab so I can return quickly to my search results without them moving or scrolling or changing pages. Too many websites open the link on top of the search results then take you back to the 1st page of search results when you return.

    2. When I’ve had to go through several layers of authentication to use a company intranet, I do not want a link to pop up in the same window and force me to re-log in.

    3. I want to be able to view a shopping cart/ shipping details/ etc without disturbing the current window. I have found myself using a different browser to go in and look at product details while I am in the middle of a check-out transaction. I have been burned too many times having to re-fill out forms because I click on the privacy policy before entering a Credit Card number and having the window taken over.

    I do want to be in control, so I guess I really want a better experience dealing with searches and purchasing.

  158. 164

    The sad thing is we as web designers created this mess ourselves. Once upon a time we all (yep, all) thought the right thing to do was to open external links in new windows, mistakenly taking over the control of the user. Everybody (yep, everybody) thought frames were great and thereby had to target every link to a specific frame or window. A reserved name “_blank” was invented to trigger a new window – just as the name “_self” would open a link within the specific frame – still doing that, but fortunately frames died out.

    Target is not part of the Strict DOCTYPE, weather using HTML or XHTML, though still part of Transitional and Frameset – makes perfect sense, but along the road some forgot the actual purpose and that kind of led to the misconception that external links should open a new window.

    In a sense opening a new window by targeting “_blank” is a hack and should be avoided, but we did in fact teach users what to expect ourselves.


    anyone aware, that target=”_blank” isn’t valid XHTML 1.0 Strict?

    Actually it’s just the target attribute that’s invalid, as the DOCTYPE you mention doesn’t support frames – the name “_blank” is irrelevant.

  159. 165

    Typo at end of section “Why enforcing opening links in new windows is wrong”:

    Users find it annoying when the site does something without asking them to do so. If users want to open new windows let them do so and don’t indulge their intelligence by making decision for them otherwise.

    Should be ‘insult’.

    Excellent article, as always.

  160. 166

    Back to my comment above. I took this topic and asked 4 different clients (35 – 40 plus). They all agreed that when they click a link that goes OFF SITE, they would rather see the page open in a new window. When the user is done they close the window (or whatever) they are still at the clients site.
    These are old usability tricks but is that not the point. Keep them on the site longer.
    People that think I am wrong. Ask your clients what they want.
    It seems that people who understand how all this works forgets about the end users.

    What do they want?
    Do they want a new window to open up? Some do?

    Here is some nice jquery:
    //get the click to open popup
    $(document).ready(function() {
    return false;


  161. 167

    the standard on the web since it began was clicked links don’t open new windows and thats the behavior people expect, contrary to all the commenters who think otherwise. nothing annoys me more when this isnt followed. well, actually flash based sites annoy me more…

    if I want it to open a link in a new window or new tab i will right click the link and choose to do so myself. designers should not make this decision for me. are you listening idiot designers?

    one thing that has helped me thwart the idiot designers somewhat is this mac terminal command that forces safari to open all new windows that pop up into new tabs instead –
    defaults write TargetedClicksCreateTabs -bool true

    • 168

      @ Ron…
      You know what I hate? People like you who don’t know jack squat about good design and then they try to tell me what good design is. I’m the designer, I’m the professional. I don’t come to your job and tell you how to change tires, so don’t tell me how to design a website.

      There is a time and a place for new windows. Sometimes it is good navigation and good design to use new window links.

      You may have no idea if a link even warrants opening in a new window. It could be a.pdf, or a link to an image, or if the page is lacking site navigation for whatever reason, such as a link to a database…or you could be linking off site. You wouldn’t know something warranted a new window until AFTER YOU’VE ALREADY CLICKED ON IT. So then you click on a link and realize a new window would be better, so you hit “back” then right click on the link and choose “open in new window”. Do you know how many people will go through that trouble to open a new window? Very few…especially technologically challenged people. It is the web designer’s responsibility to be properly use new window links.

      And you know what? If you don’t like it…build your own internet. Good luck with that.

  162. 169

    Wow – I didn’t know it was controversial until yesterday. I thought it was a convention to open external links in a new tab/window and internal links in the same. I’ll revisit this practice seeing as how high the emotions run about it.

    I’ll bet this conversation represents a shift in the demographic of Internet users . If you polled us by age, would the ones who expect external links to open in new window be “older” and the ones who a re p.o.’d be it be the 20-somethings? I don’t expect users to be savvy enough to know how to right-click and select a new window, but of course you 20-somethings who grew up with computers take it for granted.

  163. 170

    My opinion is that by default (and with few relevant exceptions, as the article points out), off-site links should open in the same window. I would rather assume that visitors are smart enough to know how they wish to navigate the web, and I also would rather assume that if they like a site enough, they will bookmark it or otherwise find their way back to it.

    I also believe this is how the INTERnet is meant to work. It’s part of the fun of it, one link leads to another which leads to another, and so on. Too many get so concerned that they’re going to “lose” visitors to their site that they inhibit the adventure of browsing the Net.

    Unless there is a darned good reason to make an off-site link open in a new window (and such should be clearly identified in some way), **leave it to the visitor to decide**.

    Great article!

  164. 171

    @Joel: A good designer will give the client what the client needs – which may well differ from what the client assumes that he/she wants. Spittle-licking obedience to an uninformed clients whims amounts to bad service. Get a backbone man – you’ll be surprised by how the entrepreneurial types like an upright man who faces them eye to eye.

    Most of the discussion above becomes moot when you code for a company that falls under the full disclosure rules of the Sorbanes-Oxley act and whose website has to follow Section 508 to the letter. You’ll have the SEC, the CLU, and whoever else feels litigious during that particular week, up your pooper if a blind or otherwise handicapped investor’s screen-reader hickups on one of your jQuery pop-up links, and sends him into a dead end instead of to the quarterly report he came for. Won’t help you to point the finger at the CEO and whine: “You requested those pop-ups”.

    The decison about the behaviour of links is not just about useabillity you see, it is also about accessability. Test your product in a screen-reader – and wear a blindfold while you do so. Can be a real eye-opener (pun intended).

  165. 172

    Everybody acts as if they invented the internet and know what they’re talking about. Jeez people, if “you” the designer feel it’s important for the end user to open the link in the same window, then give them the choice to do so, such as why not give them two links? One to open in a new window/tab and another link to open internally so the end user has a choice to do what they want. Duh. We all started (most of us designers) to build web pages that wouldn’t make the end user have to scroll so much right? Because why?? It was inconvenient for the lazy end users to scroll down the page too much. Same with ecommerce sites, new platforms have “one page checkouts” because the end user is so lazy now a days. We don’t want abandoned shopping carts right? So we gave them the choice to follow a one page checkout. Do the same for links… instead of assuming the end user wants an external link to open in the same window, be creative about it and give them the choice! Too much work to do you say? Well think of the end user when they were logged in somewhere and clicked a link for help that kept them in the same window, now they have to go out of their way to direct back to the logged in page to only find out the data has erased itself. Gotta fill in the form again because some web designer/developer thought the link needed to open in the same window. Damn.

    People act like internet standards were around before the internet was even invented. Get real people, just use your best judgment and don’t be an ass about it.

  166. 173

    Joel at #75 has the answer – modify the browser. Leave the site designers to code their preference. I got into mark-up by doing my work department’s Intranet pages, so I deliberately open new window/tab for external sites. It surprised me to find that Strict blocks the Blank attribute, so I’m still on Loose.

    And on the subject of PDF files, I still find that my browsers crash out on them occasionally – that’s IE7 and FF2 on XP-SP2 – so just ditching a tab is far less inconvenient than losing all your current tabs.

  167. 174

    My 2 rules for New Windows are:
    1. Never open a new window if the user is not leaving your website.
    2. If taking the user to an external website then a new window is fine.

    • 175

      @ Robert…
      That’s not two rules…it’s just one. They are both the same thing.

      .pdf’s, links to database pages, clicking on a thumbnail and displaying a large image, etc.

      Don’t limit yourself to new windows when leaving the site only. There are a few good reasons to use new windows.

  168. 176

    I prefer open in new tab.
    Yes, I always done its

  169. 177

    Tom Trethallen

    October 8, 2008 5:04 pm

    When I learned to drive a car the headlight dip switch was on the floor. Had the Luddites been in charge the sensible repositioning to the steering column stalk cluster would never have happened. Things change, sometimes for the better: but check out and enjoy the vile popup Nielsen is using to undertake his research–but hit the close button PDQ because it crashes some setups. Do as I say, not as I do. If the first browsers had opened links in new windows, would the web Luddites now be arguing that opening links in the same window was bad web design?

  170. 178

    Who in the world knows what the user expects??? I like my externals in new windows or tabs at least. It makes sense to me and that’s what drives the style of my sites. If someone is gonna get sniffy about it – get a life! Am I gonna stop using someone’s site because it opens all its links in the same window – I don’t think so, not if the site’s any good. I reckon you guys’n’gals getting hot under the collar about this oughta get out more.

  171. 179

    Thank you for the great article. I’d like to bring up the case where there is a link in the body of an html email. I that case I think that it should always be opened in a new window. I would go so far as to suggest that the email client should bring up a new window or tab by default.

  172. 180

    What I don’t like is when I click on a link that references something within the same site, do my reading, and then click on the back button, I find that I have to wait for the page to load (if it has images, which most seem to) and then wait for it to automatically scroll down to where I left off. Like most people, I don’t like to wait even if it is only ten seconds.

    All of my links reference external sites and when clicked on a new page pops up, slightly staggered off my main site. In addition, when you run your cursor over any of my links, you can read in the status bar that it will open in a new window.

  173. 181

    I love the irony of an article about placing the user in control and clamping down on _blank while having incredibly intrusive advertising… let’s get things in perspective guys.

  174. 182

    I’m with you guys, but the suggestion of having a checkbox to “open all links in new window” or not seems gratuitous. Just open links in the same window and be done with it. Power to the user!

  175. 183

    I agree with Marie, it takes a long time to come back to smashingmagazine and wait for the page to load all the ads etc. Would prefer it open a new window when linking to an external site.

  176. 184

    i’m just a lowly blogger – but for what it’s worth I suspect that many of the opinions here are more to do with people defending how they have set up their respective link behaviours on their sites, rather than any real interest in the discussion at hand. And that’s human, but for my 2 cents it seems that
    A. standardisation NOT regulation is a good thing
    B. the amount of people who learn/know the middle button trick will grow exponentially (and yes, many people don’t yet know it), this in turn means that the only reasonable default behaviour is to leave links to open in the same window.
    On my blog I tell people the middle button trick (1 in 10 might read it). But the real point here is about visitors using, rather than being used by, the sites they visit. It also pays to remember that we are all ignorant; just on different subjects eh?

  177. 185

    Five Minute Argument

    March 23, 2009 5:14 am

    If you’re one of those concerned about linking to a website breaking the back button (does anyone actually have an example of such? I can’t believe such a site exists anywhere on the web …) there’s an easy solution: don’t link to that site.

  178. 186

    It is this kind of disagreement that causes the internet to be so inconsistent with links in new windows. Opinions and preferences seem to split right down the middle. I’m afraid we’ll never see an end to this partisanship, which is a shame.

    As a 12-year web developer and user, I’m firmly in the camp that prefers all linkage to stay in the same window, unless it’s a non-HTML page. If I want it to be in a new window, I’ll right-click/Ctrl-Click to do it. If every single site forced me to open a new window from an external link I’d be inundated with a multitude of different windows/tabs in minutes. Just think how novice users would feel. This excellent article soundly repeats what I have always believed from day 1.

    As a compromise to clients, upon clicking an external link I always pop a disclaimer saying that ‘you are now leaving this site and we’re not responsible for the content beyond this point.’ No client of mine has ever insisted on the “new window” rule after I explain the reasons against it, and how I handle this scenario with disclaimers.

    If you’d rather have links open in a new window, then there’s always an easy option for you to do so, explained in the article. For the other side who hate it, there is NO easy option to keep the link in the same window (unless you copy/paste or drag, which is not intuitive, since you’re never sure when you would have to do this because of the design choice).

    I wish browsers had a checkbox option to “Keep all HTML links to one window/tab” cause I’d check that off in a heartbeat.

    Again, like everyone else, it’s just my opinion, but one derived from my own experiences of user logic and expectancy.

  179. 187

    George Serradinho

    April 25, 2009 11:28 pm

    A very informative post, thanks for sharing. I will consider what you have written here and might apply it.

  180. 188

    I’m personally a hater of opening links (internal or external) in new window. Computers are wonders but not as it was 10 years back. Thoughts which seemed to be right are not right anymore. So people who have been “new window” things and take it as a standard are completely wrong in my view. I just hate when i click and i get a new tab opened. A user with some weeks of browsing experience knows how to open links in a new window. So we shouldn’t dictate on user in that front.

  181. 189

    As both a designer and a user, I have to agree with Tadd and Xavier and disagree with this article. The fact of the matter is that the designer usually has better knowledge of what is at the other end of a link than the user, who usually has never been there before. If I, as a user, always knew to what kind of page a link would take me, I would resent any help from the designer, but the fact of that matter is, as a user, I usually have no more information than a word or two of text as a clue what’s at the other end, and in that situation I appreciate the designer’s help making that decision. As someone else mentioned, I have never had a bad experience when a link to an external site, reference page, etc., opened in a new window, but I have had bad experiences where I clicked a link that didn’t open in a new window, only to see that even though it opened in the same window, it was not something I wanted opened in the same window. That situation requires going back and reloading the old page, which is a minor pain to a major pain, depending on how big the previous page was. As a user, I want to be in control, but I want to have the option to tell the designer, “You decide.”

  182. 190

    I apologize if this was already pointed out in a previous response (OK, I see now that two people have mentioned this already, so let me just agree with them). It’s true that the Google search engine opens links in the same window, but Gmail does not. If there is a link in an email message, the link opens in a new window. I think that both of these choices on Google’s part are the RIGHT choices. There are times that opening an html link ought to (by default) open in a new window. Links in email messages are a prime example, but I’d argue that links in a blog post (or its replies) ought to work in the same way.

  183. 191

    Consider me in the bunch who likes to have internal links open within the parent frame, and external links open via a new window. I like to make it easy for visitors understand that concept by opening the new windows at a lower resolution (1024×768, I hope that is low enough these days…), and I nudge them down from the top so it is indeed a new window.

    If someone is visiting my site and enjoys their time while there, I want him/her to be able to go back to it easily because opening an external link in the parent frame could lead him/her to totally forgetting about my site depending on what all is looked at from there.

    That is my 02¢, and I am sticking to it!

  184. 192

    And just to clarify the new windows opened from my site… I have script running to open all external links within the same secondary window; thus, as long as the visitors do not kill the new window, they can view each link from the same window.

  185. 193

    Marie, well stated!

  186. 194

    Marie, I forgot to mention that an easy solution for you is to manually open those links into a new tab/window. When doing img searches via Google, I will often right-mouse click the various items I am interested in, and look at them that way. I imagine google’s results are easier to load than smashingmagazine’s pages… but that concept should help greatly.

  187. 195

    I have all my links on my FREELY hosted sites, like the ones on Angelfire.. open in a new window BECAUSE when I did not do this then Angelfire was always shutting down my site for using too much bandwidth… and trying to get me to up grade to a pay to use space. Opening to a new window solved the bandwidth consumption

  188. 196

    I love all the comments from people who write (more or less): “I have a personal preference for how the browser should behave when I click on a link and therefore I will enforce it on everyone who visits my website.”

    That’s my favorite. It makes me want to unfollow them on Twitter.

  189. 197

    I don’t agree totally with this article. I think it’s very depending on what type of web site you have.
    Someone had gmail as an example. This is more a web application than a web site. And in web applications I think nobody complains if external links opens in new window. The same with other applications. If you, for example opens links in in the same window (by dragging it to the address bar) your whole session expires and you are logged out. There are many other examples of similar applications so to say that “Open a link in a new window is always wrong” is not correct but quite old styled. It’s not the thing that people want the users to stay on their site, it’s a more user friendly design. Other types of applications are for example shopping sites.

    For sites used only for finding other information, like search engines, it’s the opposite. especially in cases where people know what to search for. Those sites should definately open links in the same window since the web site itself does not contain any valuable information. Newspapers, “home pages” etc I think also should fall into this group of sites.

    Then we have some types of sites that are in between. Forums, blogs, and similar. These are a bit more tricky. But personally I prefer that external links opens in new tab because going back can cause pages to reload and by this mark things as read or end up in a different place on the blog/forum.

  190. 198

    BTW – this site runs like s**t in IE!

  191. 199

    I’m so surprised at the number of people who view web usage as a linear mental activity. I think that the metaphor underlying “first they go here then they go there” is the TV metaphor. It’s not appropriate for the web. The internet-enabled computer is supposedly a wonderful machine for replacing not just office paperwork but books, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, phone calls to businesses and the yellow pages that helps one find the phone number, right? When someone is reading physical materials to discover information, they most likely have more than one source in use at the same time, right? Consider paper-based travel planning: two or three magazines with appealing articles, a Frommer’s guide or two, yellow pages and a newspaper for travel agent listings, their mileage plan info and who knows what else. They are not engaged in linear activity here, they are dipping back and forth between resources. They do not get up and put the guidebook away in order to look at the pictures in Conde Nast, so why would anyone think that external links should replace the content someone is viewing? External links should open in a new browser or tab. Internal links are like flipping the magazine page: of course the content can be replaced in that instance.

    I’m with Joel and the others who seem to recognize this. Sure, it’s useful to indicate that a link opens in a new window or tab, but other than that the site design should respect the mental activity that the user is actually engaged in, as well as the time the user spent to get to the point on the page which contained the external link. Let the user decide when they are done with the page.

  192. 200

    I do not agree with this post. Actually, sometimes we have to open a new/relevant info in a new window because we don’t want that the user lost the information that he/she is reading or he/she is on that page.


    There is a page called Benefits and there is a link called Register then I don’t think that anyone would like to redirect that user from that page to another/Registration page. I won’t do it. I don’t want that the user don’t able to see the benefit page at the same time.



  193. 201

    User should be in control.

    I’m amazed at all the folks who think all external links should automatically open in new windows.

    I am not one of those folks who doesn’t want to have multiple windows open. I have 17 Firefox windows open at the moment. How do I get them open? I choose to open them in new windows. Been using Firefox since the early days, and have never taken to tabs. Folks thinking windows should open in new tabs automatically should be punched in the eye and left to flounder aimlessly on the whitespace they so love.

    User should be in control.

  194. 202

    “I have script running to open all external links within the same secondary window; thus, as long as the visitors do not kill the new window, they can view each link from the same window.”

    This is one of the most heinous conceits on all the internets.

  195. 203

    If I want to open a link in the same window, I click the link.

    If I want to open a link in a new window, I shift-click the link.

    I have no doubt that I often shift-click links that would have opened in new windows. But I don’t notice that behavior.

    What i do notice is when I simply click a link (to open it in current window) and it opens in a new window. It is bothersome.

    So, the only time I even notice the code is when the new-window-cabal send me somewhere I don’t want to go.

  196. 204

    “I create websites for clients who are also end-users. Why is there such a disconnect there for some of you? I prefer external links to open in new windows, as do 98% of my clients. And now there is some need for me to reconsider my decisions, especially because I’ve been doing it for so long?

    So, when you go to get your haircut and you tell the barber you just want a trim, and he shaves your head bald because he’s the expert and you’re not, you are OK with this? Oh, and the reason he did it is because that’s what he thinks other people expect you to look like? You’re OK with this?”

    You’ve got this all backwards.

    You’re the scalper in this analogy.

    You folks in the new-window-cabal are the ones making arbitrary and unwelcome decisions for the end users.

    (Of course your clients are end users. Everybody on the planet is an end user.)

  197. 205

    I disagree. I visit many websites, graphics websites, seeing I am a designer. And I personally get very annoyed/think down on the site when links don’t open in new windows.

  198. 206

    Since the web changes so quickly – I wonder if this article could be revisited? After all, it was written in 2008 and it is now 2010.

    Still sticking to the single window argument?

    (I’m an external link = “_blank” proponent myself)

    • 207

      Yes I agree with that… even 2 years after this article I’m pretty sure most of the web users don’t know the short-cuts.. therefore, except if you are visiting bad websites.. you definitely want to keep the window open.

      It’s not all about wanting to keep your visitor on the site.. but if the user has found a link on your website interesting enough to click on it, you want to offer him the capability to come back easily to your website to keep browsing.

      Nowadays, if tabs are so successful it’s because you want to have several windows opened.

      Anyway I DON’T understand how such “supposed-to-be” usability experts are so categorical about this.. do they really browse the web ?

    • 208

      Not opening new windows is just as valid today as it was back in 1998. Usability guidelines are very durable (

      Everyone who thinks that there’s value to opening links in a new window, the main argument seems to be this:

      1) Users might want to open a link without leaving the current content.
      2) Users generally aren’t tech-savvy and have no idea how to open a link in a new tab/window.
      3) Opening links in a new window therefore helps users do something they might have wanted to do, but don’t know how.

      Except here’s the thing. Users know how to use the Back button. Want proof? Look at your bounce rate! What’s worse is that if a user doesn’t know how to open a link in a new tab, then users are accustom to using their back button to get back to the content they want to finish reading. Opening a new window for them actually breaks that functionality and confuses users!

      Basically, everyone who wants to open external links in a new window by default has an ego problem. They think that because I clicked on one of your links, I now value you as a trusted resource to show me what to look at on the Internet. If I like what you’re peddling, I’ll come back. If I don’t, I’ll close your tab and never look back.

      If your site has a bevvy of links that you honestly think people might want to open in different windows/tabs as references without losing your site but may not be tech-savvy enough to do, consider alternatives such as using text+icon to display a version of the link that automatically opens in a new window, signaling the user that it’s going to happen.

      • 209

        Also, as a tech-savvy Internet user, I still miss a beat when a link automatically opens in a new tab without notification and I want to go back to the originating page, only to see that my back button is grayed out. Even worse, because I browse with multiple tabs open to begin with, sometimes closing the tab doesn’t automatically signal my web browser to make the originating page the new focus, meaning that I’m left looking at some other page and have to sift through my open ones to get back to yours.

        Bottom line, you aren’t being helpful. You’re being irresponsible. You are creating confusion, even if momentary. Stop thinking too hard about making my life easier. Everyone who uses the web already has their way of dealing with default behaviors, such as link destinations staying in the current window/tab. Why make me think of a new way to use your site? I really can’t think of a good excuse, other than an over-inflated ego.

  199. 210

    Users could be in control IF THEY KNOW what controls they have, but most don’t even know their own mouse has a center button. No wonder why the big social networks put external links to open in new windows (and yes, they do make studies about how users work their interfaces).
    So called usability experts always talk about “conventions”, well, i think this is a convention in the real world for non-computer-friendly users.

  200. 211

    Hi, i have been reading the article and most comments. What i use on my blog is opening external links in blank.

    Why ?

    Because when you provide lot of links and informations, you want the user to be able to check the other pages and sites and then go back to information source easily.

    For savvy users, opening all links in the same window is a curse. Personally, i hate when sites do that, because it often makes me lose the original site with the informations i wanted first.

    And you can expect me to browse with more than 60 tabs opened at the same time, keeping them for further consultation.

    And by the way on last generation browsers, blank means new tabs, not new windows. So most users are not bothered by this at all.

  201. 212

    I suspect that there are more users who don’t know how to open a page in a new tab/window than those who do.

    I just want to see DATA that tells me what most users do so I can make good decisions based on fact and not a few people’s personal preferences.

    I personally like windows to open in a new tab, but I understand not everyone is like me.

    DATA DATA DATA = Ability to make good decisions

  202. 213

    I’m torn.

    As a developer I go to all the pain of creating wonderful breadcrumb trails so the user always knows where they are, only to have that ‘ruined’ because someone has clicked on an external link and suddenly they are thrown off somewhere that has no concept of my client site, let along a breadcrumbed route back.

    Are we seriously saying the average user is not knowledgeable enough to understand tabs but is knowledgeable enough to work out back to the article he was reading several clicks ago and several sites ago?

    Without doubt as a user I prefer external links opening in new tabs. I find them intuitive and also less interrupting to the flow of my journey. I click as I go, sometimes I flick to the tab, read it and close it, sometimes I let them stack up while i carry on and then read them all in turn when I’ve finished on the site I am on.

    This whole linking to the _self feels like one of those bits of research done years ago, particularly before tabbed browsing arrived and has just become folklaw since then based on no new research being done.

    Just my opinion but I think times and practices move on. If they didn’t and everyone looked to the past there would be no innovation. I bet best practice a few years back would never had said forcing the user to only ever enter 160 characters to get their message across was a good idea.

  203. 214

    Havent we seen a fundamental transformation of the web from ‘surfing’ from link to link, accessing static resources, to full blown applications? The web is an operating system, and last time I checked, ‘multitasking’ is a pretty much indespensible part of any operating system. To say that the typical users experience with the web *should* be a single threaded clickstream, preserving history with ‘back buttons’ totally ignores the reality that I dont want my Mail application to go away when it takes me to my Photo manager, nor do I want my Photo manager to be ‘buried somewhere in my back button stack’ when I switch over to my social networking application to share that photo with my friends. And, oh, thats right, I want to print this photo out and have it sent to my grandma.. ahh.. theres a link to an web app service that will do that right here in the photo app. But I want to see if I can get the same thing for cheaper, so I run a search in my “toolbar” (really just web os built into the chrome), and expect to be able to perform my search without disrupting my photo sharing. While searching I certainly do not want my searching application to disappear while I examine a resource to see if it answers my question. etc. etc.

    What we really need is a browser that has a task oriented interface that can manage the states of our various web applications so if I get distracted from consuming news long enough to click on an advertisers offer (like they are hoping I will) I have an easy interface to return to my previous state. The back button sucks, and just because even the least savvy of users know how to use it does not mean its valueable and should be preserved.

    The back button was an adequate solution for navigating around with cello and mosaic, but isnt it time we updated our methods?

  204. 215


    May 27, 2010 9:33 am

    I’ve been involved in professional web-dev since 1998- including design, UI, UA, and QA.

    I’ve never MET a user who prefers to be navigated away from the page they initially intended to view by clicking a link.

    I’ve never MET a user who was confused by a new browser window opening. “Oh there’s a new window displaying the link I clicked. Oh there’s also the window with the page I originally intended to browse.” Where’s the confusion?

    Not to say that these users don’t exist, I’ve just never MET one in 10+ years. Internal polling and other metrics associated with sites/projects I have worked on indicate that 75%+ of our users prefer EXTERNAL links to open in a new window. In general, people DO NOT want to be navigated away from the site they originally chose to browse.

    “Since users need to be placed in control of the interface they are interacting with, it is wrong to make decisions for them as designer’s decisions don’t necessary match users’ decisions.”
    …and it’s your site, your decision on how the user experience should play out, your creative vision, and your responsibility to provide a consistent and focused experience. I think the statement “it is wrong to make decisions for them” is misleading, purjorative, and inflammatory. Do you really think this is about developers wanting to “control” people? Is serving hot coffee in a heat resistant cup “forcing your choice” on someone? Semantically speaking, yes it is, and for a damn good reason. Should said coffee buyer be allowed to have their hot coffee served in a baseball cap just because 100% user choice is the end-all goal of everything? I think not.

    I’ve never MET a user who was “angered”or “annoyed” by a new browser window opening. The anger/annoyance claim is the biggest BS argument in my opinion. C’mon, we’re not talking about pr0n-ad popups that the user never intended to view. The only people people who think rights are somehow being violated and choice taken away are the high-horse theorists who disagree with this practice on a philosophical level. Crafting how the user experiences the content is an integral part of web design and if the designer wants to guide the user’s experience in a certain way that is certainly their prerogative. As a designer, I want to keep the user focused on the original site with all external links provided to support, not drive them away from the original site.

    In my opinion all EXTERNAL links fall into the category of “additional resources”, are not part of the original site, and therefore should be displayed in a new window.

  205. 216

    You wrote “…don’t indulge their intelligence by making decision for them otherwise….” which insulted my intelligence!

  206. 217

    I’ve been blogging for about five years now and all my links are target=”_blank” opening in a new tab.

    Because, when I’m surfing a site, I always right click links to open in new tabs. I hate losing my place, losing my original site.

    I’ve never had a single mention of the links opening in new tabs, and I have between 300-600 regular visitors a day. Not astronomical, but surely someone would have complained by now?

    As another commenter mentioned, actual data would be nice. This post was written over two years ago. Might as well have been 10 in the tech world, right? My 80 year old mother doesn’t get tabs yet, but, hey, she now understands what the window is, what the desktop is, and what all those things are on the gray bar at the bottom. And she still reads my blog.

  207. 218

    I agree with a lot of the comments saying how it is wrong to assume the user wants to be able to stay in the same window. Some people believe that links should open in a new window while others feel that is should stay in the same window. It depends more on the personality of the user and not their experience as a user.

    On a side note I really love the fact that this article is all about staying in the same window with links but if you click on any of the ads at the top right they open in a new window. I guess that is the last exception that they failed to mention. If you give us money you can control how the user views the link.

  208. 219

    Nice use of pascal’s wager under “Why enforcing opening links in new windows is wrong”.

  209. 220

    You have two sides here:

    1. Users who want external links to open in a new window/tab.
    2. Users who want external links to open in the same window/tab.

    Your solutions:

    A. Code external links to open in a new window/tab.
    B. Code external links to open in the same tab.

    If you choose solution A, usergroup 1 is happy and usergroup 2 must go extremes (ie. copying and pasting the link) to override target.
    If you choose option B, usergroup 2 is happy and usergroup 1 can right-click to open the link the preferred way.

    With the exception of special cases (ie. web applications), I think I’d rather code my links so that it’s a minor annoyance for usergroup 1 rather than a major annoyance for usergroup 2.

  210. 221

    Alex Debkalyuk

    November 12, 2010 3:31 am

    Totally agree with the author.

    But adding that checkbox to the page is crazy.

  211. 222

    What is all that about stop “keeping users on my site” and people should control everything? Shame on you people who ONLY cater for the tach-savvy. This is the same disease that prevents Linux from being mainstream.

    Face it, most people live *outside* of the computer. What that means? That means they don’t care about how the Browser or the Internet works. Do you know exactly how the TV works? Do you know how to get the best signal? How to choose a language if a channel supports multiple languages? I bet not. Just because you are tech-savvy on the subject does not mean that you can demand from a user how to open links in new tabs.

    I consider it good practice to tell the user that a link leads to an external site, and to open it in a new window/tab. If I link something external, I am showing something that has nothing to do with my site, so it has to be shown implicitly by opening a new window/tab or by an intermediate window explaining it (bad IMO!). I am not trying to keep the user on my site. I am keeping the site open (in the background since new windows/tabs take focus by default in most browsers), so that when the user decides to come back to my site, it’s right where you left, waiting for the user to either interact with it or to close it. It has nothing to do with me being “greedy” and wanting to force the users to stay on my site. I give that medal to the guys who use redirects to make the back button useless.

  212. 223

    Just because the writer of this article thinks opening links in new windows is wrong, doesn’t mean it IS wrong. It only means the writer is arrogant and pompous enough to feel the need to decide for all people who use FireFox. Feel free to ignore at will…. :-)

  213. 224

    Having some links open in new windows is not only ok, it is preferred in some cases. Saying links should never open in a new window, is not only pompous and arrogant, it’s just plain wrong.

    Sometimes, you link to .pdf files. It is a much more user friendly process to have that link open in a new window. Why? Because within that .pdf file, there is not a link back to your site. Relying on users to use the back button of your browser to return to your site is not efficient form of navigation. You will lose visitors, traffic and sales.

    Another reason to open a .pdf in a new window, is that a user may not realize they are still in a browser, as adobe acrobat viewer tends to resemble a document viewer and not a browser. And if that happens….when the user is done reading the .pdf, they may close it out completely and they have in turn closed out the entire browser, along with your site.

    Another time a new window is a better option, is if you provide a link off of your site that takes visitors to another site. You do not want to provide an easy exit for the users of your site. If a link does not open in a new window, a user may leave your site, start browsing the other site and never return to yours. If the link opens in a new window instead, then when they are done reading/browsing the other site, the user can close out that browser window and your site is still open in the background for them to return to. Other sites probably don’t have a convenient link back to your site, so why should you have to rely on users using the back button in their browser? As a web designer, that is just poor navigation.

    Other instances where links in new windows are preferred: Linking to images, or any page on your site that does not follow the site template and does not have navigation.

    With that said, new windows shouldn’t be used when linking to standard/ordinaty pages on your own site. You need a good reason to open a page in a new window…and there are a few good reasons to do so…I listed them above. But if you open all of your pages in new windows, well that’s just poor design. You don’t want a bunch of different windows of your site opening up for not good reason. That is a good way to lose visitors as well.

    • 225

      Did you even read the article, or did you just skip to ranting. He covered PDFs and images as being appropriate for new windows.

      Also, if you think that opening a new window keeps your visitors on your site… you are mistaken. Studies have proven that if a user wants to come back to your site, they will find their way back. By the same token, studies have shown that opening new windows has a negligible impact on users continuing to engage with your site.

      The only good argument I can make for opening new windows is for mobile devices (due to the slowness of going back in history).

      • 226

        “Also, if you think that opening a new window keeps your visitors on your site… you are mistaken. Studies have proven that if a user wants to come back to your site, they will find their way back. By the same token, studies have shown that opening new windows has a negligible impact on users continuing to engage with your site.”

        Besides the PhD mentioned earlier, where can these studies be found?

        I’ve searched extensively…

      • 227

        Second that request for these “studies.”

        I’ve looked for studies on new windows/back button and user experience for some time this morning due to needing to resolve this issue and have uncovered nothing more recent than 2009.

        To say the web and browsers and user patterns have changed since 2009 would be a massive understatement.

        Consider also that the “target” attribute is valid in HTML5. So that’s some indication that users can handle external links in new new tabs.

  214. 228

    I myself prefer that any links should open in a new window/tab. I actually hate the back button, and can’t understand why would you make me click a link that opens on the same window on top of content that I am already reading and more than likely want to finish reading.

    If you don’t want the user opening 20 different windows, then the site should have less links in their content. Or possibly a list of links and their association at the end of the article. Like many books I have read have it setup.

    Many times when I open a link, its usually to give me a better understand of what I am already reading/doing. So sometimes I may read the content or come back to it. It all depends on how the author specifies that link may affect the current content.

    To sum it up I rather open a link in a new window/tab, look at the content and determine whether I should read it then or come back to it. Either way I can always go back to the site I was initially on, or to other open windows/tabs, without hitting the back button a thousand times every time I click a link.

    For example I hate when I click to follow someone on Twitter (but wanting to continue viewing there site), and it opens in the same window. So now I have to either hit back and reopen in a new window/tab. Or login to Twitter, follow the person/site, and hopefully the link on their profile takes you back (which won’t be where you were currently at) to the site, or hit the back button about 10 times.

    This opinion is totally from a users point of view as I am just beginning to get involved with blogs and websites. However I do surf the web for hours daily.

    • 229

      Why don’t you just ctrl+click on any link you want to open in a new window instead of getting all bent out of shape about it. You have the option to open new windows whenever you want… why not use it?

  215. 230

    Related to this post, I have a coding conundrum. I run an e-store, and I want a link to open in a new window/tab (e.g. when a user clicks on a link from our general product landing page to buy a book, it opens the book’s specific page in a new window).

    However, if someone goes back to the original page and clicks on a different link, rather than opening a completely new window it opens it into the existing new window (e.g., if the user doesn’t like the book’s specific page, goes back to the general product landing page, then clicks on a different book, it will open that different book’s specific landing page in the already open rather than opening another new page).

    If you have any insight on how to code this, can you let me know? Thanks!

  216. 231

    Honestly folks. There’s nothing wrong with opening a link to an entirely external site in a new window/tab. You give users too much credit and as designers (you call yourselves) you should KNOW that users are not smart. Most users (I’d say 95%) are not smart. If you move them away from your site before they are done there by opening an external link in the same tab/window, you take a chance at losing them.

    Really, I think designers biggest problem at times is that they neglect to remember what it’s like to know absolutely nothing (and most people know exactly that).

    It somewhat depends on the audience, but that’s your job. You’re supposed to know when to design a certain way and when not to.

  217. 232

    Floyd DePlama

    March 18, 2011 5:33 pm

    I own a data-driven marketing firm and two of the metrics we capture are

    1) Time spent on page
    2) Time spent on site

    By popping a new window, my metrics get bloated with inaccurate information: Did users really spend 30 minutes on this single page, or were they off browsing other websites? Moreover, I am unable to determine the actual intent of the visitor wanting to leave the site. Without accurate time information, I am unable to optimize my client’s site properly.

  218. 233

    Brent Lagerman

    April 16, 2011 5:29 pm

    This is more your own personal preference than a best practice. You can make good arguments either way.


  219. 234

    What a nonsense and a waste of my time…!

    New windows and popups are not about keeping users on specific site. They are a useful browsing devices for ensuring that stupid users do not shoot themselves in a leg while they look for or acquire additional resources related to the page they are on. This includes sometimes comments or explanations, or completely new thread but is not limited to that. Sometimes a payment must be made, a reference looked up for plugging into a form, etc.

    Often the mid-paragraph reference link offers optional detail but you do not want the users to loose the spot in the article they are currently reading while they review that extra bit of info.

    One can list numerous examples when these devices are not only desirable but outright necessary (the list is longer than the article even mentioned and amongst others includes frames, overlays, hidden blocks and balloons, etc.)

    In short stupidity reigns supreme and all those self-proclaimed designers and experts spreading their “thou shalt not use” nazi propaganda should just shut up.

    Ah yes – the idiot who wrote in the post about half-way above this one stating that he was using _blank target for all of his links until he learned not to use it at all is a prime example of the kind of expertise. (To think that any one of those crackpots has the power to cancel my vote in the next election… DAMN!)

    • 235

      “New windows and popups are not about keeping users on specific site. They are a useful browsing devices for ensuring that stupid users do not shoot themselves in a leg while they look for or acquire additional resources related to the page they are on. This includes sometimes comments or explanations, or completely new thread but is not limited to that. Sometimes a payment must be made, a reference looked up for plugging into a form, etc.”

      It is obvious that you can’t write (“you do not want the users to loose the spot in the article…”), but gosh, you can’t read either?

      “Don’t force a new window upon users unless there’s a very good reason to do so. For the latter purpose, consider opening links in new windows if the link provides assistance or help, if it may interrupt an ongoing process, or it leads to a non-html-document.” (emphasis mine.)

      So, the article invites you to think for yourself and use the right tool for the right situation? Wow, you’re right! That sounds exactly like Nazi propaganda! Hitler would be so proud. Web design is exactly equal to the Holocaust in its scope and importance.

      “To think that any one of those crackpots has the power to cancel my vote in the next election… DAMN!”

      At least there’s something we agree on…

  220. 236

    I love this. because of the help i got on this page; i didn’t need to take my computer back to get a new one.

  221. 237

    “Users also don’t like to deal with dozens of opened tabs and some visitors tend to quickly become angry with the disabled back-button.”

    Who are these users? They need to be trained in how to use a browser. It is much easier to manage multiple tabs than using the back button.

  222. 238

    Disagree, opening pages,especially external, in the same window, is super frustrating.

  223. 239

    I pride myself on being somewhat technically savvy. My mother and some of my friends are not. They sometimes find Copy and Paste challenging. I would say that they have no idea how to manually open a link in a new window. As a result, they always lose the original site when they click on a link and don’t always understand why. I know how to open a link in a new tab manually but sometimes forget and accidentally close the linked page. Then I discover that I can’t get back to the original site. So, from a user experience standpoint, I am firmly in the camp that says open internal links on the same page and open external links in a new tab. Even my non-technical relatives and friends can handle multiple tabs.

  224. 240

    Lol this post sbeen going on for 5 years… i started making a count of nr of ppl ‘pro new win’ versus ‘against’ but gave up … ‘pro new win’ was in the lead, big time.

    Question: is there a different recommendation for mobile UX?

    I propose a compromise: target=_old … it suggests ‘same’ window but prolly opens ‘new’ (hahahaha)



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