As a power web user, I know how to use my browser and it drives me nuts when web sites force me to open a new page. My mother, by contrast, just gets confused when this happens. At the end of a web session, she closes the current browser window and wonders where all these other browsers came from.

Some companies I've worked with have a policy that all external links must open in a new window, in some kind of misguided attempt to stop people leaving their site. Instead it just annoys or confuses people.

So is there ever a good, justifiable reason to open a new window?


I really want to say "never!", but as with all things, there are exceptions. As mattlant mentioned it can be because there are items on the page that cannot be lost, help pages can be good for this, as the user may be half way through filling out a form when they click 'help' and are going to be pretty annoyed if they lose all their entries (although a lightbox-esq solution could work there too)

I think it should be avoided where possible, and certainly never used in a misguided attempt at increasing page impressions or time-on-site. It never works and as you said it just frustrates people


I can't believe no-one's mentioned it, but PDFs and other non-web documents should be opened in a new window, mainly because users who do not understand windows/tabs/embedded plugins have a greater expectation of that behaviour than the 'replace web page with PDF' behaviour of 'same window' linking.


We have an application that uses a third-party web reporting tool. Our value-add is basically navigation of reports and improved input screens for the report parameters themselves.

Once that's done, the report is opened in a new window so that NOTHING is different between the report from the standard tool and the report we generate.

Our customers actually like the fact that they can just kill off the report window and have the original window re-appear rather than having to use the browser back button.

Another example I've seen is help for a web-based application - the help screens come up in a separate window so that you can easily switch between the application and its help screens.


I do love how google reader opens all links in a new window. There are lots of reasons why Reader wouldn't work if it used the current window but besides that, it work great with Firefox cause it opens in a new tab rather than a new window. So it's a great experience overall and it just had to evolve that way. So never say 'never'.


Yes, a full ajax app that needs to open something that wont integrate well into the current page. For example, on one project I am working on I launch open a new window for various reports.


I agree with Ben.

If you want the users to be aware of opening it in a new window, tell them how to do it.


To summarize the many good responses.

  1. Opening a new window just because the link is outside the current site is never okay.
  2. A preview window or external reporting window might be useful in a new window, and will cause less confusion in some circumstances. Ideally this would be configurable to accomodate users who prefer not to open in a new window.
  3. In cases where a popup is used at the moment, for example to give help, modern JavaScript libraries can provide nice hover-over tooltip-style overlays that don't break the flow of the page and don't lose any in-progress edits, so can be considered to solve the same problem without a popup. Popups are blocked by many browsers.
  4. Modal overlays with DOM-manipulating JavaScript could solve many of the cases where a new window might be required, such as previews or external applications.
  5. Educate your users on the use of middle-click (open new tab) or right-click > open new window/tab functionality in their browser, so that they realise they can always open new windows or tabs if they prefer. Of course, this requires that your application doesn't break the standard linking model, which many badly-written JavaScript applications break.

There are... for example, imagine a page with ~1000 options, and each of those options has a "Help Text"... now you could load the text for each one, display it in some kind of tooltip etc, or you could create a "help" icon and open a popup that displays information about the option you're editing. You dont want to move to a new page, as you'll lose edits, so this is here.

That's an actual example of something from my old job, to justify not adopting XHTML Strict over Transistional.

But, this is as a popup, rather than browsing to a new window. I think that saying "you must continue browsing this external site in a new window" is bad... and that's probably why you can't do it in XHTML Strict!


I think sometimes there is a case for it. If you do have a link which opens in an external window, it should be marked as so - with an icon, or at least a title attribute to let the user know what will happen when they click the link.

In general, it drives me nuts when sites don't let me choose how to work with links.


Public websites: no. Corporate apps: maybe, only if you must.

Note that with multi tabbed browsers, often they can display "new windows" as a tab (not as a pop up, which is obnoxious from a users point of view - a new tab is much more pleasant - especially to power users).


Only when the client insists. And even then, only after you have tried to educate them on the reasons not to.

Although I'm sure there are some situations that I haven't run into before, but I've yet to find one that can't be solved with another method that's non-intrusive.


No, never.


I think it could be done if it is absolutely necessary. For example : If on your own website, you are linking to another one, and you would not want people to navigate to that one on top of yours. So in this case, I think it's fair enough to open a new browser.Although you could always specify "(Will open in a new browser) " alongside the link.

But forcing the links to open in a new window all the time is a really no-no. It's confusing and very irritating for the users.


Generally speaking i think no. However for sites like Stack Overflow where I am fishing around for interesting questions I would rather a separate tab open so that i don't loose my spot.


when the context is important: as someone above mentioned when Google Reader does it that's good for me at least, because I don;t lose my place on the page. Same thing with GMail, for instance.

Not so sure about Stackoverflow - I manually open all those links in a new tab, so I like that it doesn't force the new tab, but you could certainly make the same argument.


There's only one type of site where I think it's acceptable for all outside links to open in a new window and that's a web application. e.g. webmail sites when the user clicks on an attachment, or online feed aggregators like Bloglines or Google Reader when the user clicks on the title to go to the website for the feed item, calendars, etc.

which considering the userbase of web applications, will more likely be a new tab


I've actually been considering this question as well. After some thought, I don't think it is acceptable to ever do it without the user's consent and that's the reason the W3C deprecated that behavior. I suggest providing two links, one that opens in the current window followed by one that opens in a new window. You could have the second link formatted like this: (new window) or you could have a graphical representation of it. I'm working on a JavaScript snippet that does this dynamically for all external links so that you can have valid HTML while at the same time offering your users a one-click solution for new windows or tabs.


Lets say you are building an HTML editor for stand alone web pages. And you want to see what it would look like to the end user without all the tools (and JavaScript) for editing. Preview in a window is a perfectly good reason to pop up a new window.

Another good reason is Gmails chat UI. Someone is using google talk with me. I want to click "pop out" which makes another window. That way I can continue browsing.

There are reasons to do it. It's a tool. If you use it with thoughtfulness you will mke the right choice.


I was just wondering about same thing for my site. The site is in a public beta phase at the moment, so I got a "found a bug? report it" bar on top of each page. There is a link to fugbugz page for the project - so i think it's better to open it in a new window/tab.


I was just creating a web page that has a flash music player. I have added an option to open a new window that contains only the player, and I think that in this marginal case a possibility to open new window is useful, if the user want to listen to the track even when he leaves the page/site.


3 words: "never say never"

Any developer/designer worth his salt should know when and where to use popups and how to minimise their use. Unfortunately for the zealots, there are actually usable situations where popups are more usable than alternative solutions (e.g. lightboxes, floating divs). Sure 99.9% of the time you aren't going to use a popup.. The minute you start using absolutes to convince yourself that your the man when it comes to usability, you've shot yourself in the foot. Work with your users, don't dictate to them. (By the way, when I say 'you' I don't mean Shermozle, I mean all of us).

IMO, popups work well as dialogs and are more user friendly than lightboxes as they are closer to the functionality of the OS. IEs modal dialogs work well. Ajax popups that float around or flicker on and off or get stuck because a mouse event doesn't fire properly is not really that usable.

Unfortunately, browser makers have lost trust in developers to know when and where to use them and we've now lost control to popup windows with full control - the bastards have ruined it for the rest of us and we have to deal with popup blockers and firefoxes open in a new tab option.. oh well. Personally I'd like to say 'open in new tab', 'open in new window', 'open as lightbox' ... that allows me to make an educated professional decision.


Here's my cent, not thinking as a web developer but as a user. I would open content in a different window/tab when:

  • i) The Content MIME Type is not xhtml (.pdf, .jpgs, .rss, etc.)
  • The link takes me out of the current website

Why those cases??

  • i) Most of times you want to download or check something as you keep on reading the same page.
  • ii)As a user after 20 secs. browsing, I got 10 tabs opened ready to be read, and I keep on opening pages as I'm reading because that is a way to let them load completely without waiting. When I jump from one site to another I dont want to miss a thing about the previous page.