Mac Basics: Mail (OS X Mountain Lion)

Learn about Mail in OS X Mountain Lion.

What's new in Mail for Mountain Lion?


Keep track of messages from especially important people by making them VIPs. You can make up to 100 people VIPs.

Your VIPs are identified by a star to the left of their names in messages you receive from them. Mail adds a mailbox for each VIP to the Favorites bar, so it is easy to get their messages.

Use one of these methods to make someone a VIP:

  • In a Mail message move the cursor to the left of someone's name, click the star that appears to toggle their VIP status.
  • In a Mail message move the cursor to the right of someone's name, click the downward pointing arrow and choose "Add to VIPs" or "Remove from VIPs".

Tip: Turn on iCloud Contacts to make your VIPs available to your other Macs that run Mountain Lion and use iCloud Contacts.


Mail uses Notification Center, a new feature in OS X Mountain Lion.

New email messages will generate a Banner showing the sender, subject line, and the beginning of the message.


Tip: Click the Notification banner to go directly to the message.

Note: Mail notifications appear when Mail is running and in the background.

iCloud account

With an iCloud account, you can use Mail on your Mac and have instant access to your messages and mailboxes on other computers and iOS 5 and later devices that use iCloud Mail.

If you use Contacts with your iCloud account, your VIPs and Previous Recipients are available on your other Macs running Mountain Lion that use iCloud Contacts.

If you use iCloud Documents & Data, your Rules, Signatures, Flag names and Smart Mailboxes are also available on your other Macs that use iCloud Documents & Data.

Share Safari webpages in different formats

When you share a webpage in Safari, it will generate a new message containing the webpage title in the Subject, a link to the webpage with the content of the webpage in different formats. From the "Send Web Content As:" pop-up menu, choose one of the following formats:

  • Reader: If the webpage is Safari reader capable, you can send the webpage in Safari's reader format. The option is dimmed if the webpage is not Safari reader capable.
  • Web Page: Send the actual webpage in your message.
  • PDF: A PDF of the webpage content will be attached to the message.
  • Link Only: The message will have a link to the article.

Setting up Mail

When you first open Mail you will see the "Welcome to Mail" dialog

Simply fill in your full name, email address, and password. Click "Continue".

Mail has the settings for the most popular email service providers and hundreds more.  

Tip: Press the Option key when clicking "Continue" if you need to manually enter the server settings of known email service providers.

If an email address is entered where Mail has no email server settings, follow the onscreen instructions to manually enter in the email service providers server settings.

Note: Use this online PDF to gather the email service providers server settings.

To add another email account follow one of these steps:

  • In Mail select File > Add Account… then follow the onscreen instructions.
  • Select Apple menu > System Preferences… > Mail, Contacts & Calendars
    • Click your email service provider or "Add Other Account…" then follow the onscreen instructions.

Composing a new message

Use one of the following methods to create a new message:

  • In Mail, press Command-N (N).
  • In Mail select File > New Message.
  • Press the "Compose new message " button in the Mail toolbar.

Follow these steps to compose your message:

  1. Type in a name in the "To:" field. It will auto fill with email addresses from Contacts or from a past message you received or sent. If you are sending to a new person, type in their full email address.
    • If you would like to send a carbon copy (CC) if the email message, click the "CC:" field and type in the name of those you want to CC the message to.
  2. Type in a descriptive subject for your message.
  3. Type in the body of the message rich content including text, emoji emoticons (via the character viewer). You can also drag and drop pictures, movies, audio files, PDF's etc.
    • Click the paperclip button () in the toolbar to drop down the "Choose File" sheet. Highlight attachments then click "Choose File" to attach.
    • Click the "Show format bar" button () to toggle exposing the inline format bar, where you can choose fonts, font size, font color, bold, italic, underline, test alignment, insert or modify a list and indent text.
    • Click the "Photo Browser" button () to toggle exposing the Photo Browser, where look through your iPhoto or Aperture libraries for images to attach to your messages. Tip: How you organize your photos in iPhoto or Aperture is carried into the Photo Browser.
    • Click the "Show Stationary" button () to toggle exposing email stationary, where you can choose from many pre-made rich content email message stationary. Tip: Create your own stationary. Compose your email message and in Mail select File > Save as Stationary… then give it a name.
    • Once you have finished composing your message, click the send button () or press Shift-Command-D (⇧-⌘-D).

Tip: Press Command-S (-S) to save the message in your draft mailbox. You can then close it and open it later to edit further or send. Note: If you are in full-screen mode, click the "Cancel" button and you will see a Save sheet appear to save your draft.

Important: See this article if you have any issue sending or receiving email messages.

Viewing messages

Elements of Mail's main window:

  1. Get new message button – Click it to get messages from all your accounts.
  2. Compose new message – Click it to create a new message to compose.
  3. Favorites Bar – Contains the following items:
    • Show / Hide Mailbox List – Click it to toggle exposing the Mailbox List.
    • Favorite Mailboxes – Drag any Mailbox onto it to add. Drag any Mailbox off it to remove.
    • VIPs – Present when you have nominated one or more email addresses as a VIP. Each VIP will get their own Mailbox that you can select when you click on the downward-pointing arrow.
  4. Delete message / Mark as Junk buttons – Clicking the Trash can will delete all highlighted messages. Clicking the Thumbs Down button will mark all highlighted messages as Junk.
  5. Reply / Reply All/  Forward buttons
    • Tip: If you click the Reply button but then realize you wanted to Reply All, click the Reply All button in your message to convert. 
  6. Flag message button – Flags all highlighted messages. Click the downward-pointing arrow to select the Flag color. 
  7. Message control bezel – Appears when your cursor hovers over this area of the message. The controls are:
    • Trash – Delete the message
    • Reply – Reply to the sender of the message.
    • Reply All – Reply to the sender and all recipients of the message.
    • Forward – Forward the message to another recipient.
  8. Search field – Search your messages contained in Mailboxes highlighted in the Favorites Bar. See the searching Mail section for more information.
  9. Full Screen Mode button – Click it to get Mail to enter Full Screen Mode.
  10. List of message previews – Shows senders name, Time or Date of message, Subject line of message, First part of body of message.
    • Tip: Click the "Sort by Date" pop-up menu for other sorting options. Menu will change its name to the option you select.
  11. Second message in a conversation – A convenient way to read a email message thread.

Tip: Press the Spacebar when you highlight pictures, movies and other media for Quick Look.

Searching Mail

Mail has a very easy and power Spotlight-based search tool to quickly help you find the content you are looking for.

Like any search field, if you type in something and press return you will see a list of messages in order of relevance to what you entered. By leveraging the search tip that will appear under the search field, you can quickly refine your search to a more relevant result.

For example:

  1. Enter "Smith" and pause — notice the search tip list appearing below the search field. Select a relevant person listed by clicking their name.
    • Tip: Click the "From" pop-up menu to change the type of user selected. 
  2. Enter "Last" and pause – The search tip now has date fields to choose from. Select "Last Year" by clicking it.
  3. Enter "Attachments" and pause – Select Message has attachments by clicking it. 
  4. Enter some text you expect to see in the message; for example, "download".

    With just a few quick steps you can quickly find messages from Smith, received in the last year, that has attachments and has the word download in the message.

You can also enter in multiple names and other attributes to further hone your search.

Organizing Mail


You can create traditional Mailboxes to move your messages into. They are like folders used in the Finder.

Follow these steps to create a Mailbox:

  1. In Mail select Mailbox > New Mailbox…
  2. In the sheet that appears, choose the location for the Mailbox:
    • On My Mac will create a Mailbox that resides on only your Mac.
    • An email service such as iCloud will create a Mailbox on the email server that can be accessed by any device that you log onto.
  3. Name the Mailbox and click OK.

Click the "Show" button on the left side of the Favorites Bar to expose the Mailbox list or press Shift-Command-M. The Mailbox list is like the sidebar of a Finder window. Moving the cursor to the right side of the Mailbox list next to the group name will show the Hide / Show option. Click it to toggle the exposure of the Mailbox group content.

Use one of the following methods to move messages into your Mailboxes

  • Drag and drop highlighted messages into the Mailbox you would like to move them into. Even a Mailbox that is on your Favorites bar.
  • Control click highlighted messages > Select "Move To" or "Copy To" > Select the Mailbox.
  • Create Mail Rules the move or copy messages matching the Rules criteria into the predetermined Mailbox.

Smart Mailboxes

You can create Smart Mailboxes to dynamically organize your messages based on a set of rules you establish. They are like Smart Folders used in the Finder.

Follow these steps to create a Smart Mailbox:

  1. In Mail select Mailbox > New Smart Mailbox…
  2. In the sheet that appears, give the Smart Mailbox an intuitive name.
  3. Select a "Contains messages that …" pop-up menu option:
    • all = messages have to meet every one of the criteria you set.
    • any = messages have to meet just one of the criteria you set.
  4. Enter in the first criteria for the Smart Mailbox. Criteria can be:
    • email address of the sender or receiver
    • Date of the message
    • Sender is a VIP
    • Message attribute – Flagged, Unread, Priority, Replied to or Not Replied to, in Mailbox or Not in Mailbox, Attachment Name or Type, and so forth
  5. Add criteria to refine the Smart Mailbox further by clicking the "+" icon to the right of the first criteria. Add as many additional criteria attributes as you like.
  6. Check "Include messages from Trash / Sent" if you would like to include those locations to look for matching messages.
  7. Click OK to create the Smart Mailbox.

Once created messages that match the criteria you set will automatically appear in the Smart Mailbox.  Note: Messages are not moved into a Smart Mailbox, they still reside in the Inbox or other Mailbox.


Mail Preferences has a "Rules" section where you can create Rules to automatically manage your messages.

Follow these steps to create a Rule:

  1. In Mail select Mail > Preferences… > Rules > Click "Add Rule".
  2. In the sheet that appears, give the Rule an intuitive name.
  3. Select a "If" pop-up menu option.
    • all = messages have to meet every one of the criteria you set.
    • any = messages have to meet just one of the criteria you set.
  4. Enter in the first criteria for the Rule. Criteria can be virtually the same as a Smart Folder, shown above.
  5. Add criteria to refine the Rule further by clicking the "+" icon to the right of the first criteria. Add as many additional criteria attributes as you like.
  6. Select the actions to be taken for messages that meet the criteria you set. Actions are:
    • Move / Copy the message – select the Mailbox to Move / Copy the message.
    • Set color of Message
    • Send Notification
    • Reply / Forward / Redirect Message 
    • Delete / Mark as Read / Flag Message
    • Run AppleScript
  7. Add another action to perform by clicking the "+" icon to the left of the first action.
  8. Click OK to create the Rule.

Tip: If you use iCloud Documents & Data, your rules are available on your other Macs that also use iCloud Documents & Data.

You can also Edit, Duplicate or Remove an existing Rule.

Securing Mail

You can get a personal certificate (Digital ID) from any number of third-party certificate authorities that can resolve to your verified email address. Just search for the term "Digital ID" to find a certificate authority that can issue a certificate for you.

Tip: You can also use the personal certificate (Digital ID) to sign and encrypt messages in iOS devices as well.

Once imported into your keychain, Mail will automatically securely sign your email messages (this is not the same as adding your personal signature). A message that is certificate-signed has its integrity guaranteed, as any alterations to the message will break the signature.

People you exchange emails with who also certificate-sign their email messages with their personal certificates (Digital ID), will enable Mail to encrypt messages that you send and receive with them.

With everything in place, you will see these functions and indicators in Mail:

  • Your email messages will have a digital signing button. It is checked by default, enabling your message to be signed. Click it to not sign your message.

 = Composing signed message      = Composing unsigned message

  • Once you have exchanged emails with someone who signed a message, you can encrypt the message. A padlock icon will be present. Locked indicates an encrypted message and Unlocked indicates an unencrypted message.

 = Composing encrypted message      = Composting unencrypted message

  • Received messages that are signed will have a "Security:" field under the recipients email address containing a check mark icon, the word "Signed" and the email address of the signer.

  • Received messages that are encrypted will have in the Security field: A padlock icon, the word "Encrypted" and the same signed indicator as above.

Important: Do not delete from Keychain your expired personal certificates (Digital ID). You will need them to decrypt past messages.

Last Modified: Jul 1, 2013
  • Last Modified: Jul 1, 2013
  • Article: HT5361
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