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In reference to a question asked back last October "Should PDFs open in a new tab?" I implemented the method of PDFs opening in the current browser tab (as provided to be an answer to the question). However when creating a table/data-table holding over 1,000+ pdfs customers had voiced about having to constantly hit the back button every-time they needed to access a pdf.

One major concern is customers using a data-table are always returned to the first rows of entries having to paginate until they reach their desired rows. This step is repeated multiple times until customers are frustrated and felt constrained having to go back and fourth while losing their place within the long table trying to locate desired pdfs.

If a website has a table/data-table containing over 200 - 1,000+ pdfs should the pdf open in the current browser tab or should it open within a new tab?

*NOTE: I understand as stated above there was an answer to a previous question but that question's answer doesn't fit my needs with a large datatable/table. The question's "Should PDFs open in a new tab" answer was to open a pdf in the current browser window. This method does not work with a data-table containing over 1,000 rows of pdfs. If a user paginates to say 33 and clicks the pdf, views pdf in the current browser window and hits the back button, they are directed to page 1 of the pagination. Opening the pdf in the current browser is creating more work for the user as every-time they need to open a pdf the same process is followed always taking them away from their previous pagination.

Here is a small example of what I am working with datatable

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marked as duplicate by rk., Charles Wesley, Benny Skogberg, Matt Obee, JohnGB Jul 12 '13 at 14:01

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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If going back to the table via browser history doesn't return you to the same page of the table you were looking at before, that's where the bug is. Fix your paging mechanism! –  Dan Hulme Jul 15 '13 at 14:42
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You already know the answer. Either fix the navigation (pagination) issue like Dan pointed out, or just use a new tab for the PDF. –  rk. Jul 15 '13 at 16:00
    
Unfortunately I am unable to tackle the paging mechanism but it's good to know it's ok to open a new tab for the pdfs. That's all I needed to know. –  Courtney Jordan Jul 16 '13 at 11:49

3 Answers 3

It should be consistent. Generally it's better to use the same tab.

If a link opens in the same tab by default, the user can force it to use a new tab instead either by right-clicking or with a keyboard combination like Ctrl-click. It's entirely under their control.

If a link opens in a new tab by default, in most [all?] browsers there is no way for the user to countermand that and open it in the same tab. With a browser like Mobile Safari, which has a maximum number of open tabs, opening a new tab can cause another tab to close. It may be difficult to recover that closed tab.

If it's necessary to offer a choice, you could use clickable icons to make it easy for users, like the following shamelessly culled from somewhere else. The text would open in the same tab; the icon would open in a new tab. You could add tooltips to explain the difference.

Link with new-tab icon

Related: Why does clicking on a link not open a new tab?

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I find the behavior you suggest misleading. First, I would expect the same behavior whether I clicked on the icon or the text. Second, the meaning of such an icon is convoluted. It is commonly used to disclaim responsibility for external links (for example, Wikipedia and hhs.gov/web/policies/webstandards/disclaimer.html). –  user113215 Jul 11 '13 at 15:39
    
That's why I mentioned tooltips. And another alternative could be not to link the text, but have two icons, one for "same tab" and one for "new tab". Frankly I would rather have a single "same tab" action like SE does most of the time and let users choose for themselves. –  Andrew Leach Jul 11 '13 at 16:03
    
I had thought users would be-able to grap the right-click or the ctrl-click but sadly many of them are not web savy. Trying to explain how to use these methods to many people from email to verbal is difficult. It's a struggle just like trying to convince users not to use IE7. –  Courtney Jordan Jul 11 '13 at 17:04

The answer depends on your application. It is important to be consistent within your app, users actually get used to various behaviours as long as they are aware that they are doing something internally consistent. For example, is your web app mainly a pdf browsing/opening one? Or does it have several pages out of which only one has the pdfs?

If you have mainly pdfs, you might want to do some guerilla usability testing. That is, write down a typical task that the users do, and then give it to two groups of users to go through it: one group (group A) that have complained about clicking "back", and one that are fine with the app as it is (group B).

Now, have half the people of group A use the app with the pdf on the same tab and half with the new tab. Then, half group B with the same tab and half with the new tab.

Guerilla usability is when you can have your users think aloud and take notes about what they say and figure out if the complaints you had are actually important. More scientific ways to do that would be to actually time the users or have them fill in a usability questionnaire and then statistically analyse the results.

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Good Answer @ekapros! Our page is mainly for browsing pdfs but they are contained within a large data-table containing over 1,800 pdfs with supportive details (company name, address and etc.). The guerilla usability testing may be an option in the future to see how users react to find a solution. That or if I could find a way to have Data-tables recall the pagination number where the user left off when clicking the back button. I honestly don't think that is possible though lol. –  Courtney Jordan Jul 12 '13 at 11:45

I agree that the user should decide where links open. Obviously there are people who don't know how to open links in new browser tabs. If it's feasible, have a notice that describes the process. Use JavaScript to detect the user's browser and/or operating system and then show concise instructions (eg "To open a PDF in a new browser tab, (a) Click on the PDF link with your mouse's middle button").

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