In the past five years more and more people have been advocating abolishing the use of target="_blank". They reason that when people want to open a link in a separate instance they will do so manually (using the keyboard or right-clicking a link) and that doing this automatically will break their flow and get them lost.

I think this is sound advice, but mostly for more advanced users. In my experience novice users often don't know how to manually open a tab in a new browser and get annoyed by losing the context of the previous website by clicking a link (this especially applies to 'link hubs' such as articles and e-mail clients.

Of course there are various way to improve this situation, for example by informing the user with a tooltip ("This link will open in this window, press ctrl on your keyboard and click the link to open it in a new window") or making it a setting in your app/site.

How are you generally solving this?

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    The main issue I find intolerable is when sites block the Ctrl+Click/Right Click Open in a new tab option by using links of the form "JavaScript:Onclick('bla bla')" instead of normal links (with optional client side routing). Nov 10, 2013 at 11:29

2 Answers 2


If you are opening a new tab then informing the user is a good idea but it's more important to follow the conventions.

Cases where a new tab is the right process (because you might lose the user and traffic)

  • If you are showing the user a reference to another site

  • If they are "liking an article" and the twitter screen pops up so the user just clicks "Tweet" and then goes back to your site

  • If they want to see a PDF so they can leave it there to read it or save it

Cases where the new tab is not the right process:

  • Links to other parts on your site

You're right that you can't assume that all users will know how to open links in a new tab. And there are still times where you should open links in a new tab (external references, opening PDF). So the best thing to do would be to notify the user that a link on your site will open in a new tab without being so verbose as to put off your advanced users.

The best solution I've found to do this is to use a consistent icon throughout the site that signals that a link will take users off your site and into a new tab, and place it next to each external link. You can also place a tooltip on the icon that will provide additional help to desktop users.

Icon style

External link icon

How the icon is used next to links

Example of how to use external link icon

The drawback of just using an icon is that some users may still not understand that the link will take them off site in a new tab. The benefit of using an icon would be that you don't have to place text next to each link notifying users of what will happen if they click the link.

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