Links in New Windows: Websites vs. Applications [en]

[fr] En 2011, c'est toujours pas bien de forcer les liens à ouvrir dans une nouvelle fenêtre. Sauf, on peut l'admettre, quand votre site est en fait une application web.

I was surprised recently to realize that in 2011, it wasn’t obvious to everybody that forcing links to open in a new window (with target="_blank") was not a good idea.

Actually, there are quite a few high-profile sites which force links to open in new windows, and I realized I actually don’t mind it that much: Twitter is one. I like that when I click on a link in Twitter, it opens in a new tab. I’ve learned that Twitter does this, and I now rely on it.

So, maybe links in new windows aren’t always a bad thing?

Here’s what I think: if your “site” is in fact an application, then it doesn’t matter much. People will learn to use the interface of your web application, and if links open in new windows, they will discover that and (hopefully) remember it. However, if your site is a real site, meaning it contains stuff that people are going to read, and that stuff might contain links to other stuff people might want to read or see, then it remains a Bad Thing.

Why is it a Bad Thing to force links to open in a new window (in your blog, for example)? Here’s the reasoning behind this.

  • Normal behavior is that links open in the same window.
  • When you force a link to open in a new window, you’re breaking that expectation — and there is no way to know, by looking at the link, that it’s going to spawn a new window.
  • Opening new windows is a user decision, not a website design decision. Windows are part of the browser, not the site.
  • A link can easily be opened in a new tab or window by holding down a modifier key before clicking on it (Cmd/Ctrl for example).
  • A link which is set to be opened in a new window cannot be opened in the same window if that’s what the reader would prefer.
  • Opening links in new windows may confuse the user (who might not notice the new window) and breaks the back button (to go back, you have to close the current window instead of hitting the back button — adding a different way to “go back”… more confusion).


  • if your site is actually a web application, where links open is part of the application design, and forcing links to open in a new window can make sense in certain situations;
  • if your site is a “proper website” or a blog, don’t force links to open in a new window — where they open belongs to the way your reader chooses to use his browser, and not to the website design.

10 thoughts on “Links in New Windows: Websites vs. Applications [en]

  1. I did totally agree with you. I did some evangelism about that, adding also the argument of accessibility.
    But I met a lot of people who are very basic users of the internet. The ones who have even difficulties in understanding the difference between Google and the address bar. And they repeatdly tell me “oh I prefer when it opens in a new window, if not I’m lost and I can’t always go back to the original page”.

    I think the “target blank is bad” is still true. But… at the end, the belief that it is more disturbing for the user than staying in the same window does not seem to fit with what a large number of users feel.

  2. I’t funny because I disagree entirely. I still dont understand why to open a link in target _blank is not a standard for everybody. I think the opposite makes no sense neither for the user nor for the website owner. Here is why.

    For the owner, it makes no sense because the user actually came on on his website first and you’ll give it the standard to leave that content at the first click on another link. So you are making it easier for the user to forget on which website he was on originarly. I dont think that is very smart.

    Then from the user perspective, lets say you are reading an article and you come across a link in the middle. Well, you didnt finish the entire article yet. So if you click on the link you leave behind you the ending and you start reading something else. But lets say that other new webiste looks also interesting in general and you would like to check it out, well you also still want to finish reading that old article, so what is it you have to do? You need to go back to the first website and open the second in a new window so that you can go back to the first one to finish your article and come back later to the second one. What an anoying process! Whereas if by default it opens in another window, if the new website is not much more intersting than that, you just close it. And if it is, you have both open! Much more convenient.

    At least that is my experience, that’s why I always do a right click open in a new window on any link just in case the webdevelopper didnt do it by default.

  3. Corina: isn’t that what tabs are for? With a middle click, it opens in a new tab very easily. I don’t want a thousand windows draining my CPU, personally.

  4. Very interesting. Before a late night editing session with Stephanie a week ago, I had never thought of the implications either way.

    I am an “open new tab” gal which might be come from working more on the application side, less on a blog/writer side. I am not new to the internet or technology. Perhaps I just really like navigating tabs and content?

    At work tabs work as “to dos” for me. At times I do wish there were less tabs open, however for me they all represent something that needs to be done. Working without them is disastrous for me.

    After the evening that I pushed Stephanie over the edge with my tabs, I realized that I should really understand the argumentation for and against target_blank better. I am very appreciative of this post and your comments. I had never really thought about the “why” before. So, thanks to you all!

  5. Nathalie: sorry you are right. Every time I said new window, I meant new tab. My mothertongue is french, so I went with the wrong word.

  6. Alors on est bien d’accord! 😉
    Mais je préfère choisir si je veux un nouveau tab ou si je veux, tout simplement, quitter la page. C’est à ça que le clic du milieu sert!

  7. That discussion made me curious about how browsers interpreted target=_blank, because for me it was obvious it opened a link in a new tab and not a new window. That is why I wrote my first comment in the first place (and made the mistake between the two) and after testing it, between Chrome, Firefox, Exporer 9, Opera and Safari, only Safari opens a new window and not a new tab. Maybe is it more a Mac user problem then?

  8. The standard behaviour for target=”_blank” is to open in a new window. Tabs did not exist when this attribute was introduced. New windows are so annoying that many modern windows capture them and open them in new tabs instead (initially, it was not possible either to force a link with target=”_blank” to open in a new tab). Shows, in my opinion, how important it is to leave that kind of control in the hands of the person visiting the site, and not in the control of the person designing the site. Some people like new tabs, some people like new windows, some people like the same page. Leave them free to choose. The only way to leave people free to choose is to not use the target attribute.

  9. Kelly: I open links in new tabs a lot, actually. But sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes, for some reason, I want a certain link to open in the same window. Maybe I’m done reading the article in question. Maybe the article is boring and I’m not going to finish it, but there was a promising link. Being against the target=”_blank” doesn’t mean I’m against opening links in new tabs (or even new windows), it just means I think the decision should lie with the person actually reading or using the site. It might even happen that one day I want a given link to open in a new tab, and the next day I don’t (for the same link!) because the context of my browsing has changed.

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