RAW Computing

Take control of Mail attachments on the Mac

Mail on the Apple Mac looks very straightforward and it is easy to send and receive messages. Even dealing with email attachments looks simple. However, there is more than meets the eye and there are some features related to attachments that you may not be aware of. Here is a guide to enable you to take control of Mail attachments.

Any file can be attached to an email and you might receive messages with documents, photographs, PDFs and more. View the inbox in Mail and the messages that have paperclip icons indicate that they have an attachment. If a message has photos attached to it, you will see them in the email. Just select the message in the inbox and you can view the photos.

They may be shrunk to fit the Mail window and if you want to see a larger version you must double click them. Then they open in Preview. A document or text file attached to an email would open in TextEdit.

OS X MailWhat happens is that the application associated with the file type is used to open it. So JPG files open in Preview, text files in TextEdit and so on. It is similar to double clicking a file in a Finder window. If you don't have an application associated with a certain type of file attached to an email then you can't open it.

Save email attachments

Fortunately, you can save attachments to disk. Right click (Ctrl+click) an email attachment and select Save to Downloads Folder or Save Attachment if you want to save it elsewhere.

You might prefer to save it rather than leave it in the email. There is always the chance that an application you already have installed can open the file attachment and that it simply isn't registered with the system as being able to do so.

If you do get a strange file type as an email attachment, run your photo editor, word processor and any other apps you have and try to open the file or import it. An app might not be set to open a file, but it might be possible to import it.

How Mail handles attachments

An email attachment like a photo or some other file, is stored within the email message. If you double click it to open it, Mail saves it to disk in a temporary storage folder called Mail Downloads. This means that the attachment is stored twice on the disk drive. If you then right click an attachment and save it to disk you will end up with a third copy of the file on disk.

Now just think how many email attachments tou have viewed and saved over the last year or two. Each file could be stored up to three times and may be a megabyte or more. There could be hundreds of megabytes of triplicated files on the disk drive! What a waste of space! No wonder you're running short of disk space!

Remove email attachments

If you have saved an email attachment to disk, you may no longer need it in an email. To strip it out and save disk space, select the email in the inbox and click Message, Remove Attachments. It might still contain the file icon, but the attachment has gone, as you will discover if you try to open it.

If you reply to an email message that contains an attachment, it will be stripped out automatically. Normally this is exactly what you want, but you can change this behaviour and reply with attachments. Click Edit, Attachments, Include Original Attachments in Reply.

If you forward an email to someone, the attachment is kept. Normally, this is what you want, but if you don't want to send the attachment, click the Forward button and then select Message, Remove attachments.

Clear out Mail Downloads

As mentioned earlier, when you view an email attachment, Mail saves it to disk making a second copy. It saves it in the following folder in OS X Mountain Lion: home /Library /Containers /com.apple.mail /Data /Library /Mail Downloads. (It was in home /Library /Mail Downloads in older versions of Mail and OS X. Hold down Command when clicking the Go menu in Finder to go to the Library folder.)

Every attachment you have ever looked at is stored there. There is no need though and it just wastes disk space. In Mail, go to Preferences, General and look for Remove unedited downloads. The default is After Message is Deleted, which means if you delete the email then then saved attachment is also deleted. Click this setting and change it to When Mail Quits. This clears out the Mail Downloads folder when you quit Mail.

This folder only contains copies of the attachments remember, not the originals in the email message. If you remove an attachment from an email (Message, Remove Attachments) and then clear the Mail Downloads folder too, then the attachment is gone forever. Take care not to do this if the attachment is valuable. Save it to disk by right clicking it first.

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