When people post links in their questions and answers when clicking the links they direct you away from the site rather than the link opening a new tab or window.

Personally I find this very irritating and was wondering why external links are not auto using target='_blank'? If its been something that has been overlooked can we start setting external links to open in a new window/tab?

2 Answers 2


Forcing links to open in new tab is evil. How to open link should be user's choice, not site's. Any and all decent browsers make easy to open link in new tab if needed (middle click, etc).

Nothing prevents you from opening regular link in new tab, but forcing to open it in new tab will take away option of opening it as usual from all those people who prefer that.

PS http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990530.html (note the date)

  • Edit: (I forgot that we're on meta, so no downvote). I remember clients that wanted me to put "print" buttons on pages - and (nearly) every programm has somewhere a print link, like it has to have a close link. Imho it's up to the designer/answerer - as long as she/he has the choice with a target attribute - to decide upon this behavoir. And a lot of our users come for really basic Qs, therefore I'd say it makes enough sense.
    – kaiser
    Jun 24, 2011 at 13:28
  • @kaiser it is also designer's choice to make use of hideous fonts, brain eating color schemes and <blink>. The capability does not equal necessity. Forcing this on users is long, long, long considered evil, dixi. PS talking about generic links, utility stuff like print and download links have their specifics and might need this
    – Rarst
    Jun 24, 2011 at 13:41
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    I don't think its evil in this case. Any links in an answer or question a visitor is going to click with the intention of coming back to WPSE. Because the link opens in the same window a user has to click the back button and then end up with a page refresh on WPSE and then try and find where there are.
    – Scott
    Jun 24, 2011 at 13:49
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    Plus middle click on links doesnt open a new window/tab for me. For me to open a link in a new tab I have to carefully right click the link and then scroll down to the option open in new tab. Not exactly easy when. I personally think it should be enabled or atleast and setting within WPSE to enable external links to open in a new window
    – Scott
    Jun 24, 2011 at 13:51
  • @Brady what browser you use?..
    – Rarst
    Jun 24, 2011 at 14:00
  • Sorry I take that back yes middle button does open new tab along with ctrl+click. But when opening like this it doesnt set the focus to the new tab. I have to manually click or keyboard shortcut to the new opened tab. whereas target='blank' sets focus on new tab
    – Scott
    Jun 24, 2011 at 14:11
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    @Brady still don't know which browser you use, but all of that should be very configurable in modern browser. Point is - it is easy to open regular link in new tab, but it's huge pain not to open forced new tab. :(
    – Rarst
    Jun 24, 2011 at 14:41
  • Chrome sometimes IE9 sometimes FF4/5
    – Scott
    Jun 24, 2011 at 14:52
  • @Rarst - I'll just go on record saying that I don't agree that forcing new links is evil. I agree with @EAMann's take on this. But I know this is an emotional topic and reasonable people can disagree on it, so I won't push my view beyond stating it. Jun 30, 2011 at 17:45

I can see the merits of both arguments - for opening external links in new tabs and for not. The problem we're faced with, though, is one of technology and one I face every day.

Personally, I use Chrome for just about everything. It's easy to right-click a link and select "Open in a new tab." It's also just as easy to ctrl+click a link to do the same thing. But not everyone uses Chrome ... and some systems are set up differently.

Middle Mouse Button

On my home machine, the middle mouse button, by default closes whatever application has focus. So encouraging users to click a link with the middle mouse button is a very bad idea. On my work machine, I reconfigured this setting to prevent accidentally forcing unsaved documents to close ... but not everyone will do that.

Tab Focus

Every browser does things differently when you open new tabs.

In Chrome, my new tabs open at the end of the window (to the very far right) and the current screen maintains focus. I prefer it this way.

In Firefox, they open immediately to the right of the active tab, regardless of how many tabs I have open. I find this mildly annoying when I'm multitasking because I have to hunt down the tab later.

In Opera (according to my co-workers who use it anyway), when you open a link in a new tab, the new tab gains focus immediately. They prefer this, I hate it ... so they use Opera, and I just keep it around for testing.

Internet Explorer ... I have no idea what that browser does because I'm smart enough to avoid it :-) But keep in mind that, as much as we hate to admit it, a lot of people are still using IE6 and will continue to until Microsoft finally kills it according to their proposed 2014 schedule ... and IE6 does not support tabbed browsing!

Should We Open New Tabs?

Kudos to @Rarst for the article, but I did note the date ... the article was in reference to design flaws from back in the 90s before we had tabbed browsing. In the world of IE6, forcing all links to open in a new window is an evil, terrible, unforgivable thing to do. For those of us using modern, tab-friendly browsers, it's not nearly as negative.

There have been several times where I've accidentally clicked a link in a question while I've been writing an answer and, for one reason or another, I didn't get the "you have entered text" warning and was shuffled off to another page. Other times, I've clicked a link to read for context and accidentally closed the tab when I was done ... losing the ability to hit "back" to return to the question.

Personally, I would prefer that externally-facing links opened in a new tab by default so I don't lose my place on the SE when I come back. I know not everyone agrees with this, and that's the reason why every major browser treats tabs differently.

My vote, though, would be that internal links open in the same tab. External links should open a new tab if users are in a modern browser. If users are in a clunky dinosaur like IE6, clicking a link should set off alarms and sirens and make their eyes bleed until they upgrade.

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    +1 for "internal links open in the same tab. External links should open a new tab"
    – kaiser
    Jun 24, 2011 at 15:26
  • @EAMann What you have written there is exactly how I feel about this. You couldn't have worded that better. But I think a possible solution to suite both worlds is a setting for your WPSE account that enables or disables external links to open in a new window/tab. I think this could apply to all SE sites not just WPSE.
    – Scott
    Jun 24, 2011 at 15:49
  • The point of the link was that it was evil decade ago and no less evil now.
    – Rarst
    Jun 24, 2011 at 16:26
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    Opening internal links in the same tab and external links in a different tab is a HORRIBLE idea. Now the user needs to add an understanding of whether the link is internal or external to his or her mental model. ALso, the behaviours described are incorrect (eg Chrome opening tabs at the end), or they are particular to one user's setup and are thus useless for generalising from. Opera also can open in a new background tab.
    – anu
    Jun 24, 2011 at 16:36
  • Making an UI more complex is never a solution.
    – fuxia Mod
    Jun 24, 2011 at 22:52
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    @EAMann - It seems you and I are in the minority but I definitely agree with you on this: "Personally, I would prefer that externally-facing links opened in a new tab by default so I don't lose my place on the SE when I come back." What would be even better IMO is to use the Wikipedia approach of having an icon next to the link for external links. Those icons could even appear on hover. And it would be a great addition to browsers if they could have different on-hover behavior for internal vs. external links. Jun 30, 2011 at 17:46

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