Mac Basics: Use Mail to check your email in OS X

Mail is the email app included with OS X. It’s easy to set up and works with many popular email services like iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft Exchange.

Setting up Mail

When you first open Mail, you're prompted to set up your email account if you haven't already. 

Mail setup sheet

Choose your email provider from the list. If you don't see your email provider, click "Add other email account." Then click Continue.

Enter an email address and password sheet

Mail asks you for your name, email address, and password. Fill in this information, then click Create. Mail sets up the rest of your email account settings, based on the email address you provide.

If Mail doesn't recognize your email provider, you may be prompted to enter additional settings. If you need to override automatic settings, press the Option key when clicking Create. Mail then asks you to provide your server settings.

If you need to add more than one email account, start with your primary account. Then, use Mail preferences or Internet Accounts to add more accounts. 

Composing messages

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

  • Press Command-N (N).
  • Choose File > New Message.
  • Click the Compose new message button  in the Mail window.

New message window

Type a name in the To field. Mail automatically helps you complete this field with associated email addresses from Contacts, or from a past message you've received or sent. If you are sending a message to a new person, type in their full email address. Add more contacts to the To or CC fields to send your email to additional recipients. Press the comma key on your keyboard to start entering the next address.

Type a descriptive subject for your message in the Subject field. If you leave this field blank, Mail will remind you to fill it in.

Type the body of your message in the large field below the Subject field. To change how your message looks, click the Show Format Bar button  and use the on screen controls that appear to select a typeface and text alignment. You can also choose from one of the many built-in stationery options by clicking the Show Stationery button 

After you finish composing your message, click the send button  to email it. If you're not online, Mail keeps the message in the Outbox mailbox until you connect to the Internet again. If you're not ready to send your message just yet, simply close its window or select another message. Mail keeps your unfinished drafts for you in the Drafts mailbox.

Viewing messages

Mail window

Mail automatically checks your email accounts periodically for new mail. If you want to manually check for email, click the Get New Messages button get mail. To view an email message, select it from the list of messages on the left side of the Mail window. The message body then appears on the right side of the window.  

To reply to a message, click the Reply  or Reply All  button. When you're ready, click the Send button  to send your reply. Or, switch to another message to save your reply for later. You can also forward messages you've received to other people by clicking the Forward button .


As you reply back and forth on a subject, Mail organizes the multiple replies into conversations. This makes it simpler to follow a thread of emails that have traveled between you and other people. Mail collapses text you've already seen in earlier emails so you can read through a topic more easily. To see all of the text of a specific message, click See More.

Conversations in the Mail window

More Mail features

Choose a topic below to learn more about features of OS X Mail. You can also learn more about Mail by choosing Mail Help from the Help menu.

Expand All | Collapse All


OS X includes Notifications that let you know when you've received email. When one or more messages arrive, a banner is displayed in the upper right corner of your screen.

 Example Mail notification banner

This means you don't have to switch to the Mail app to keep an eye on your Inbox. If you want to see the complete message, just click the banner. OS X opens Mail to the incoming email mentioned in the banner. In OS X Mavericks, you can even reply to the email directly from the banner without switching between apps. The Mail icon in the Dock also includes a badge to help you keep track of your unread messages.

mail badge


Mail and iCloud are made to work with each other. 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 devices that use iCloud Mail.

Mail on all your devices

If you use Contacts with your iCloud account, your VIPs and Previous Recipients are available on your other Macs and iOS devices that use iCloud Contacts. 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 Rules, Signatures, Flags and Smart Mailboxes across all of your devices.

Organizing Mail

Using Mailboxes

You can create Mailboxes to organize your messages. Mailboxes work like folders in the Finder.

Mail sidebar

To create a Mailbox:

  1. In Mail choose Mailbox > New Mailbox
  2. In the sheet that appears, choose the location for the Mailbox.
    - On My Mac creates a Mailbox that resides on only your Mac.
    - An email service such as iCloud creates a Mailbox on the email server that can be accessed from any device that you check mail from.
  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. Use one of the following methods to move messages into your Mailboxes

  • Drag and drop messages into the Mailbox you want move them into.
  • When viewing a message, Choose Messages > Move To or Copy To to file the message away.
  • Control-click or right click a message and choose Move To or Copy To from the shortcut menu that appears.
  • Create Mail Rules that move or copy messages matching them into the a Mailbox.

Favorites bar

Use the Favorites bar at the top of the Mail window to create shortcuts to your most commonly used mailboxes. Mail includes some of the more commonly used mailboxes in the Favorites bar automatically like Inbox, Drafts and Sent.

Favorites bar

Drag a mailbox to the Favorites bar to add it. Drag a message directly to a mailbox in the Favorites bar to move it to that mailbox. You can also click the Show/Hide button to show or hide all of your mailboxes in the Mail sidebar. 


Keep track of messages from especially important people by making them 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 Mac computers and iOS devices that use iCloud.

Searching Mail

It's easy to find messages. Use the search field in the mail window to search by sender, subject, attachments and more. Just type what you're looking for into the field. If you want to narrow your search, select an option from the menu that appears as you type.

searching with Mail

To narrow your search further, enter multiple names or terms related to the message you're looking for. Select a search token such as People or Subject to search just that field in Mail. You can also select a mailbox from the Mail sidebar or the Favorites bar in the Mail window to search just that mailbox.

search tokens

Important: Information about products not manufactured by Apple is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute Apple’s recommendation or endorsement. Please contact the vendor for additional information.
Last Modified: Sep 5, 2014
  • Last Modified: Sep 5, 2014
  • Article: HT5361
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