I have seen a lot of questions with hyperlinks posted in them and even more answers with links in them. Since the user's (at least my) objective in these cases usually is to view the rest of the question or the other answers would it not make sense to have the links open in new tabs?

Sorry if this seems like a noob question. I tried to find if someone had answered this question already but I couldn't find anything.


Sorry for the confusion. I dont want the actual question or any of the answers themselves to open in new tabs, just the links that the users provide.

  • 1
    With the advent of the "middle click" standard to open new windows/tabs I think it's become mostly bad practice to open new windows/tabs. Experienced users can do so at will as long as you leave the default to open in same tab, and less experienced users always know how to use the back arrow; they don't necessarily know how to navigate tabs well. Here at UX we probably all know how to do both, but would probably all prefer to chose as most advanced users do
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 21:36
  • What about when you are on a laptop?
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 23:43
  • @Viraj - Ctrl+Click does the same thing. Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 21:45
  • Of course it does. But if you know that the user wants to see a link emanating from an answer, there's a very high probability that they would also like to see the rest of the answer.
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 11, 2011 at 6:57
  • 1
    @Viraj - what does that have to do with SirTapTap's comment or your response (which is what I was responding to)? Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 13:02
  • @ Charles - What I'm trying to say is that the default behavior is often not to go to a link but to open it in a new tab and ctrl + click or right click + open in new tab is not the default. The default action should match the intended intent.
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 17:48
  • @Viraj - The intention of clicking on a link is to open that link. Not in a new tab, just to open it. The intention of Ctrl+Click or Middle-Click is to open a link in a new tab. That's the reason that these alternatives exist - to let a user easily perform that alternative function. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 20:09
  • @Viraj - also, if you don't put the space between the @ and the username, people will get notified when you reply to them. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 20:11
  • @Charles - Thanks didnt know about the space between @ and the name :)
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 21:41

3 Answers 3


I accept all of the points about "you can do this if you want" and "let the user choose". But it still irritates me that the links open in the same tab, because I always want to see the new location in a new tab, because it is information backing up the question. I never want to go there instead of SO:UX, I wlways want to open it up separately, look and explore it, re-read the question, and then possibly respond. The fact that I ALWAYS want to open it separately - and I cannot see any reason for anyone not to - means that I would prefer it to do this as a default.

I take Rahuls point about forcing that decision, and allowing the user to use the tools, but at the same time when there is an obvious option, I think this should be taken. IMO, it is good usability to do what users expect in context - which in my case is to open in a new tab. This may be partly because another discussion board I use does open in a new tab, because they are a sideline to the discussion.

I would not push for a change, because I accept that others disagree, and if it did open in another tab, there would be discussions about why they force a new tab. I have expressed my view on what it should do, but I am not everyone. I think this is one case where there is no answer that everyone will agree on.

  • You make a good point about how a system should do what users expect it to do. However, your problem is that you for some reason think that users would expect a normal link on a website to open in a new window, which is most definitely not what users would expect to happen. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 13:05
  • 2
    I was trying to make the point that it should do something sensible, and opening on a new tab is something sensible. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 13:08
  • Not opening a new tab is just as sensible, so why do something different than what is expected? Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 14:51
  • As I said - this is not something that everyone is going to agree on. Ever. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 15:40
  • And as I said, if you think that both are sensible options, then the logical choice would be to do the one that users expect. Users do not expect links in general to open in a new tab, no matter what. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 15:44
  • @ Charles - Expectations can change with the right design. If we are slaves to what the users expect or want then why are we even in UX? Lets go to marketing. I think sometimes design needs to change expectations and behaviors. The only reason people expect something today is because they are used to it. If popular sites like stackexchange do something else which seems equally sensible then people will come to expect that after a while.
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 17:53
  • @ Schroedingers Cat - Perhaps you are right about pushing for a change. Thanks for letting me know I'm not totally wrong. :)
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 17:55
  • @Charles, the point is that I expect these sort of links to open in another tab. This is why I don't think that there is a clear answer. And why I don't think it is worth changing. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 18:49
  • @Viraj - Actually, the only reason people expect links to not open up automatically in new tabs is because it really pisses them off when a site does that. A good site does not force that sort of thing on their users for that exact reason. Bad sites have links open new windows all the time, so the argument that "they are used to it" doesn't hold water. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 20:04
  • @Viraj - and the reason we are in UX is to make sure that users get what they expect or want when they do something. Getting an unexpected result when you click on something is what happens when you don't have a UX person involved. Links popping up in a new tab/window is the exact sort of thing sites with poor UX do. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 20:05
  • @Schroedingers Cat - I still don't see why you expect that. That expectation makes absolutely no sense if you use the internet in general. The expectation for a user on a site is when you click on a link, it opens the target of that link, nothing more. Anything beyond that is not the normal situation, and as such, should not be expected. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 20:07
  • @Charles - 1) I didnt make the 'they are used to it so lets do that' argument. You did, in comment 1 and 3 as a reply to Schroedingers Cat's post. I whole heartedly support change if the change is going to be better. How to make the change backward compatible can be a different discussion. 2) I asked about links opening in new tabs, not windows. Opening in new windows is very different and definitely a big no no. :) I am sorry if it came across that I am suggesting that links should open in new windows. 3)Also look at my reply to your comment on Rahul's post.
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 21:51
  • @Viraj - Exactly how are new windows and new tabs different? Both actions take control away from the user and both change the focus from the window you are on (or open in the background, which is even worse). And you can't actually force a browser to open in a new tab, that's user-driven settings at best, and completely uncontrollable at worst. The only option is to tell the browser to open the link in a new window (target=blank) and hope that the user's personal settings are set to open popups in tabs instead of new windows. Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 0:45
  • @Viraj - oh, and as for your statement that you didn't make that argument - "The only reason people expect something today is because they are used to it." - from your comment 8 above this one. Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 0:46
  • "As I said - this is not something that everyone is going to agree on. Ever." <-- and that is why it's best left as an end-user's choice. If you feel links should open in new tabs, then you, as the user, can open them in new tabs if you want to.
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 16:11

Because opening questions in tabs should be at the user's discretion. It's a bad usability practice to force that decision in code. You can decide to open them in a new tab yourself using the tools the browser makes available to you.

  • Sorry for the confusion question edited.
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 20:32
  • 1
    @Viraj - Rahul's answer still holds true. Doesn't matter where the link goes; opening it in a new tab should be the decision of the user. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 20:12
  • @Charles - I this this is the main point of disagreement. I dont think all links are the same. I think how they should behave can depend on the context. Like links in gmail opening in new tabs. Because you dont want your mail tab to close or change.
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 21:43
  • 2
    I think we can agree that it's about context. In things like email, people expect links to open in a new window or tab because that was the behaviour they got when they used native email clients. Also maybe websites such as news aggregators. And on mobile devices where long presses are required to open a link in a new tab. It would be interesting to see how many people use middle-click in normal browsing, versus left click, or right-click and "Open in New Tab". Is StackExchange amenable to a study like that?
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 22:18
  • @Jayraj Thanks :)
    – Viraj
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 23:24
  • 1
    @Viraj - Web applications (which is what GMail is) are completely different than web sites. They have completely different expectations. SE is not a web application, however, it is a web site. Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 0:40
  • 1
    @Charles -I think you're making a distinction (web applications versus web sites) that normal users may not really be aware of. And possibly useful changes shouldn't be held back simply because of what something is understood to be. Lastly, there's no reason why SE can't be called a web application (yeah, it's open to the web, but look at all the cool things it does. And it's interactive. And they license independent internal installs of it for large enterprises)
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 7:33
  • @Jayraj - Lots of sites are interactive; that doesn't make them web applications. And SE doe not license itself internally for large enterprises. I have no idea where you got that from. And even if it did, that has exactly what to do with it being a web application vs. a web site? Oh yeah, absolutely nothing. Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 12:46
  • @Charles - They used to. This is where I go it from: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/55240/… And why isn't it a web application?
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 18:27
  • @Jayraj - would you ever have a desktop version of Stack Exchange? That's a pretty good indicator of whether or not something would be considered an application or a website. A desktop version really wouldn't make much sense. Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 19:16
  • @Charles - What about a mobile version? I don't know if there is a Stack Exchange app, but I can see one existing.
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 21:17
  • @Jayraj Hi guys, why not take this to chat? Comments aren't really the place for extended discussion about something unrelated to the answer.
    – Rahul
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 11:26
  • ie "take it outside guys" haha
    – colmcq
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 12:31
  • This doesn't really apply, it must be something else. I base this on the fact that the Chat for SE sites open links in a new tab, rather than in the same tab. If opening the links in the same tab was an active choice due to greater usability then it would (IMO) have been consistent throughout SE. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 10:41

Hugely interesting question and from my experience very context dependent. I think the metric to bear in mind is "what is the more usable solution". One would have to consider the user actions around the various windows and if workflow within one window or between windows is more usable and you would have to test. Adopting an entrenched position one way or the other is not helpful.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .