How Yahoo Mail Works

­Yahoo mail is one of the most popular free e-mail services.
­Yahoo mail is one of the most popular free e-mail services.
© David Paul Morris/Getty Images

A world without the convenience of e-mail is hard to imagine -- which may explain, in part, why millions of us have turned to Yahoo Mail and other free Web-based e-mail services for fast communications. While AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe came earlier, Yahoo Inc. entered the field with Yahoo Mail in 1997 and has become a leader with an estimated 250 million users worldwide [sources: Computerworld and Search Engine Journal].

No matter which e-mail service we use, many of us use it frequently. A March 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicated that 71 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet. Among those users, 91 percent send or read e-mail online, and 56 percent use e-mail every day. Looking at e-mails sent worldwide, technology research firm IDC estimated that nearly 97 billion e-mails would be sent daily in 2007 [source: IDC].


Check Yahoo Mail and what it offers, and you'll see a lot more than simply being able to send and receive e-mail messages. For starters, you can do that in 21 languages. A Yahoo Mail account also provides unlimited message storage, e-mail search, contact lists, personalization, spam blockers and virus scanning.

Launched in August 2007, the new version of Yahoo Mail allows users to choose how they want to communicate, switching among e-mail, chat and text-messaging options. This version also adds keyboard shortcuts, direct access through RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds to changing Web content and mobile access from Internet-equipped smartphones and PDAs.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at these and other features of Yahoo Mail and how to use them. First, let's see how easy setting up a Yahoo Mail account is.

Setting up a Yahoo Mail Account

Setting up a Yahoo Mail account is easy.
Setting up a Yahoo Mail account is easy.
­Image courtesy of Yahoo

Setting up a free Yahoo Mail account is easy, starting with a visit to the Yahoo Web site. Before you can sign into Yahoo Mail, though, you need to register by choosing a Yahoo ID for your e-mail account and providing the required information. Once you've done that, you're ready to complete the Yahoo Mail login and send your first e-mail. Here are some steps to getting started.

  1. Go to and click on the "Sign up now" box.
  2. If you don't already have a Yahoo account, sign up for a Yahoo ID. You'll be asked for your name, gender, country, ZIP code and e-mail address.
  3. After that, you select an ID -- a name to use when you e-mail or send instant messages -- and a password to use when signing in. You'll also be asked to select a security question (like your pet's name) to be used for identification if you forget your password. Click acceptance of the service terms and privacy policy, and your account will be set up.
  4. Now, you're ready to sign in. Go to from most browsers to connect to the sign-in screen page. Just enter your Yahoo ID name and password, hit the "Sign In" button, and you'll be signed in at your mail home page.
  5. Below the "Sign In" area is a box you can click to remain signed in for two weeks. This reduces the number of times you need to sign in, but for security purposes, don't check this if you're working on a shared computer.
  6. Forgot your ID or password? If so, click on the statement below the "Sign In" button. After you answer some questions to verify your identity, you'll be sent your ID by e-mail or given the option of selecting a new password.
  7. To sign out when you're done, just click on the words "sign out" near the upper right of the screen page.

Getting to Know the Home Page


Before you send your first e-mail, let's look around the Mail home page for Yahoo Mail. (This is the version that rolled out in August 2007. The older version, now called Mail Classic, had a slightly different setup and fewer features.)

You'll see two boxes on the left side of the home page. The smaller, top box has a "Check Mail" button (to see your new mail), a "New" button with drop-down menus (to compose and send e-mails and text messages, and to chat with friends) and "Search Mail" (to hunt through folders for messages or specific text in them).

The bigger, lower box contains various icons that let you access mail folders, your contacts, a personal calendar and a notepad, as well as add and view RSS feeds (to see the latest content from blogs, online news sources and other Web sites you visit regularly) [source: What is RSS?].

At the top and middle of the page near your Yahoo ID, you can select your status for instant messaging with Yahoo Messenger, switch to Mail Classic, view or change your account settings at the Member Center, or sign out.

The strip below that shows the number of your new, unread e-mails and your local weather. Below that is a panel with updated news and other information, and events from your calendar appear at the bottom of the page. Above the weather at the far right, you'll find drop-down menus to access mobile mail, mail options and help.

Next, let's see how you can send and receive e-mails.

Basics of Using Yahoo Mail

­Yahoo Mail allows users to select their screen view so they can preview messages.
­Yahoo Mail allows users to select their screen view so they can preview messages.
Image courtesy of Yahoo

The basics of using Yahoo Mail include, of course, sending and receiving messages. But Yahoo Mail basics also include formatting e-mail messages, handling attachments, and saving, storing and deleting e-mail messages. You'll see that's all fairly easy to do.

Formatting and Sending a Message


To send a message, start by clicking "New" in the upper left of your home page. Then click "E-mail Message," and a new screen will open. Here's how to compose your message.

  1. Type your contact's e-mail address after "To:" If you're sending the e-mail to more than one person, put a comma and space after each name except the last one.
  2. Use the "CC:" line to add the addresses of anyone who should receive a copy of the e-mail. Click on the letters "Show BCC" at the end of the "To" line to add for names of people who will receive the message without the rest knowing or seeing their e-mail addresses.
  3. After "Subject," write a few words that describe your e-mail topic. To reach someone you don't know well, be very specific ("Agenda for HR meeting 2-21," "Thursday's U-12 soccer game") so that the e-mail doesn't look like spam.
  4. Type your message in the large Compose window. You can use elements from the bar below the subject line to format the message with choices such typeface, size and color, or adding links or emoticons (faces made of type that show emotions).
  5. Check the spelling by clicking "Spelling" on the bar above "To:," and hit "Send" to send your message. You'll get confirmation that the message was sent, and it'll automatically be saved in your Sent folder. By clicking "Save Draft," you can save a partially written message in your Draft folder to finish and send later. Clicking "Attach" allows you to add an attachment. We'll look at that process more closely on the next page.

Receiving, Responding and Saving

Yahoo Mail automatically checks for new mail every 10 minutes. You can tell you've received a message by the number in parentheses after your inbox icon. You also can set an alert in Yahoo Messenger to make a sound whenever a new e-mail arrives in Yahoo Mail. (Yahoo Messenger is free, but you need to download software and register. For more information, see "How Yahoo Messenger Works.")

Open the inbox, and you'll see your messages listed to the right with the most recent at the top. Unread messages will be in bold type. Above the list is a control bar you can use to take action on each e-mail. You can click on:

  • The message subject or sender to open and read the message. The message will appear in the reading pane below your message list.
  • "Reply" to respond, choosing to respond to just the sender or to all.
  • "Forward" to send a copy of the message and any attachments to someone else.
  • "Spam" to send the message to your folder of unwanted messages. (We'll talk more about spam and security later in this article.)
  • "Move" to save the message to another folder you've set up.
  • "Print" to print out the message.
  • "Delete" to move the message to your Trash folder. You can retrieve messages from the Trash if you haven't emptied this folder yet.

Now that you've mastered the basics, let's take a look at Yahoo Mail's more advanced features, such as sending and receiving attachments, storing and searching messages and accessing your e-mail away remotely.

More Features of Yahoo Mail

­Users of Yahoo Mail can reach their mailboxes from the main Yahoo page.
­Users of Yahoo Mail can reach their mailboxes from the main Yahoo page.
© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Moving beyond the e-mail basics, let's take a look at more features of Yahoo Mail, such as e-mail attachments, message archiving and searches and remote access to Yahoo Mail. We'll also see why some Yahoo users may prefer to stick with the older version, Mail Classic, although it lacks some Yahoo Mail features.

Managing Attachments


Attachments are documents or images that you send with a message. You can attach up to 10MB (megabytes) of files to each message. These can be word-processing or spreadsheet documents, audio files, images and Web pages as HTML files. Here's how to add an attachment:

  1. Click "Attach" next to the paperclip above the Compose window.
  2. Using the file-locating window, find the file you want to attach and click "Open" or "OK."
  3. The file name will appear above the Compose window. To add more attachments, repeat this process. Yahoo Mail scans each outgoing attachment for viruses.

When you open a message with a paperclip above it, you've received an attachment. Here's how to download it:

  1. Switch to "Full Message View" to see the name, type and size of the attached file.
  2. Click on the name of the file, and a virus scan will check the document. A window will open telling you if a threat was detected in the document.
  3. Click "Cancel" if you don't want to open the attachment or "Download Attachment" if you do.
  4. Another window will let you choose to save the file to your computer's hard drive, to just open and view it, or to cancel.

Message Archiving and Searches

Yahoo Mail allows you to set up folders to store and manage your messages. Several folders exist automatically at the left of the home screen -- Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Spam, Trash, Contacts and All Feeds. Below that is a section for the folders you create. To create a folder, click on "Add" next to the My Folders icon. A new untitled folder will appear below. Click twice on "untitled" to open a box where you can rename the folder. To add messages to the folder, drop and drag them from your inbox or other folders.

You'll probably want to search at some point for information like an address, a document or a name you need. Here's how.

  1. Find the search window, upper left with a magnifying glass icon and the words "Find Messages."
  2. Type what you need to find -- a name, a word in a message or attachment, or a subject.
  3. Click "Go," or press "Enter."
  4. A tab will open listing all the messages that contain what you want, including in attachments.
  5. Click on the message you want to open.

Remote Access

You can access Yahoo Mail by going to and signing on from any PC running Windows 2000 or later that has Web access via Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher, Firefox 1.0 and newer, or Mozilla Suite 1.7. With a Mac running Mac OSX 10.0 or newer, you need Web access via Firefox 1.0 or newer, or Mozilla Suite 1.7. (We'll talk about mobile access later.)

Yahoo Mail vs. Yahoo Classic

Not all features of Yahoo Mail are available for some browsers or for Macintosh computers. You can switch back to Mail Classic at any time by hitting the "Switch Back" link at the upper left of your home page.

Yahoo Mail offers plenty of tools to make e-mailing easier. Next, let's take a closer look at some of them.

Convenient Tools for Yahoo Mail

Signing into your Yahoo Mail account lets you access other Yahoo services including Yahoo Messenger.
Signing into your Yahoo Mail account lets you access other Yahoo services including Yahoo Messenger.
Image courtesy of Yahoo

Convenient tools for Yahoo Mail like keyboard shortcuts can save time and make this e-mail system easier to use. Yahoo Contacts update contact information quickly, and spam screening and mail filters help with security. Other Yahoo Mail tools let you add a personalized signature to messages or send a vacation response when you're away.

Keyboard Shortcuts

With keyboard shortcuts, you can do what you want more quickly. To create a new message, for instance, press the "n" key. To print, press "p." For a list of keyboard shortcuts, go to Yahoo Help.


Yahoo Contacts

Yahoo Contacts work like an address book Save Changes­with more functions. You can store all of your contact information about people and companies -- and access it anywhere via the Web or print it out. You can also access that information to send single or group e-mails or to add to contacts from e-mails.

To add contacts and their information, click on "Add" next to the Contacts icon. Enter the information, and click "Save." To add information later, click twice on the contact's name or click "Edit." Once you've added a name, you can use Address AutoComplete in sending messages. When you're composing a message, type just the first couple of letters of the person's name after "To:" to access possible names. Click the one you want, and the correct address will be filled in.

To add a contact from e-mail, click "Add Contact" next to the sender's name in an open e-mail message. A window will show the person's name and e-mail address. Add whatever information you want, click "Save" and the person is added to your contacts.

Spam and Security

Yahoo Mail defines spam as any message sent to more than one person who didn't specifically request it. Usually spam advertises unwanted goods or services. Yahoo Mail automatically places questionable incoming e-mails in your Spam folder. Some of these may be legitimate but not from a recognized contact. You can review the folder to make sure none of the e-mails are ones you want. If they are, you can move them to your Inbox or other folders. If they're not, you can delete them or wait for them to be deleted automatically.

You also can use mail filters to block images or specific addresses. To do either, go to "Options," then "Mail Options" and then the Spam option. You can choose to show images except in the Spam folder, show only those from contacts and certified senders, or block all images. You can block an individual address or all from a specific domain.

Personalized Signature and Vacation Response

Mail options let you personalize your messages. With this option, you can create a signature with a saying or contact information to appear at the bottom of each message you send. You also can send a vacation response automatically to anyone who e-mails you while you're away.

For either option, start by clicking "Options" at the upper right of the home page and then selecting "Mail Options." You'll see a menu to the left.

  • Click on "Signature" to open a space where you can write your signature for outgoing messages. Type it in, and click "Save Changes."
  • Click on "Vacation Response" for auto-response while you're gone. Check "Enable auto-response," and select the start and stop dates for the service. Type your message in the box, and click "Save Changes."

Innovations for Yahoo Mail go beyond e-mailing to add chat, text messaging and mobile access. Go to the next page to learn more about these options.

New Innovations for Yahoo Mail

­Yahoo Mail users can conduct instant messaging with contacts.
­Yahoo Mail users can conduct instant messaging with contacts.
Image courtesy of Yahoo

Innovations for Yahoo Mail take you beyond e-mail. You can choose how you want to communicate a message -- by e-mail, chat or text message -- or have mobile access to messages, your contact list and other folders. You can use RSS feeds to receive content from Web sites with constantly changing information. Let's take a closer look at these Yahoo Mail innovations.

Chat and Text Messaging


When you send an e-mail, you have to wait for the person to receive it, read it and respond. Chat lets you exchange messages in real time for instant response. If you see a friend is online, for example, you can convert an e-mail message to chat and get an immediate answer. Your contact will need to have a Yahoo ID or Windows Live Messenger ID and be signed into Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger or a compatible instant-messaging program.

Your chat status is shown in the header to your mail page. Change your status to "Available," and you'll see which of your contacts are also available online. They'll have an orange circle in front of their names on your contact list. To chat with someone, click on his name, and a chat window will open.

Text messaging lets you talk to Yahoo contacts on their mobile devices. To send a text message, choose "Text Message (SMS)" from the "New" menu. A message window will open where you can type the person's name or mobile number and a message of up to 158 characters. Then click "Enter" or "Send." Their response will appear in the same area.

Mobile Access

With Yahoo Mail for Mobile, you can send and receive e-mail, as well as access your e-mail messages, attachments and contact list. You also can be notified instantly when a new e-mail message arrives. For more about mobile services, go to

RSS Feeds

RSS technology lets you subscribe to content from Web sites -- such as news, weather, sports or stock reports -- through RSS feeds. The content comes automatically as a series of article summaries.

You'll see an "All RSS" folder at the left of your mail page. Click this to see the list of feeds to which you're subscribed. Some came automatically with Yahoo Mail. Click on a feed to see its summaries in the window to the right. You can click on any summary to read the full article. An orange icon next to the feed indicates that you have new, unread information in the feed.

To add a feed, you can click the "Add" link next to All Feeds and then click the "Add" button next to one of the RSS feeds on the list. Or you can search for feeds and add them, using the search feature in "Add Content." Click a feed's "Add" button to add it to your list. To unsubscribe, select a feed on the list and click "Remove."

There's plenty more to Yahoo Mail -- and Yahoo continues to add features as new technology evolves. For more than we've provided here, the Yahoo Mail Help section offers tutorials, answers to frequently asked questions and other advice to make Yahoo Mail easier to use. For lots more information about Yahoo Mail and related topics, follow the links on the next page.