Open and use Gmail in basic HTML view

This is a guide for using Gmail basic HTML view with a screen reader.

Gmail is available in two different views: basic HTML view and standard view. Basic HTML view works for older web browsers that can't display standard view. Standard view contains more features and functionality.

The instructions below are for the US English version of basic HTML view. For other languages, basic HTML view may not be as accessible as standard view. If you already have a Gmail address, you can change your Gmail language on the Settings page, as described in the "Settings" topic below.

Sign in to Gmail

If you already have a Gmail account, the following steps will take you directly to the basic HTML view:

  1. Go to http://mail.google.com/mail/h/.
  2. The next step depends on whether you've already signed in to your Google Account.
    • If you've already signed in to your Google Account, you arrive at your Inbox.
    • If you haven't already signed in, the initial focus is in the Username edit box. Press Enter to go into Forms mode, then type your username. Press Tab to go the Password edit box, then type your password and press Enter. You're taken to your Inbox in basic HTML view.

You can now set basic HTML view as your default view. The link to set basic HTML as your default view is located before a level 1 heading, "Gmail by Google" or "Google Mail by Google," depending on your country.

If you don't yet have a Gmail address, you can create a Google Account at https://accounts.google.com/SignUp. Your Gmail account is also your Google Account. When you sign up for Gmail, you can use your same Gmail username and password to use other Google products like YouTube, Google+, Google Play, and Google Drive.

Conversations

Gmail groups your messages into conversations. A conversation consists of one or more messages with the same subject. As you navigate in Gmail, you'll find lists of conversations in your Inbox and other folders. Conversations reduce the number of items in your folders and make it easier to find messages.

The following examples illustrate how conversations form:

  • Example 1: You send your friend Paul an email with the subject "Elton John Concert." A conversation with the subject "Elton John Concert" and your message text now appears in your Sent Mail folder. Paul replies to your message without changing the subject. The "Elton John Concert" conversation now contains your original message and Paul's reply. The conversation appears in both your Sent Mail and Inbox folders.
  • Example 2: You've subscribed to the JAWS For Windows mailing list. Someone on the list posts a message with the subject "JAWS Beta," and 10 people reply to this message. Your Inbox now has one conversation called "JAWS Beta" that contains 11 messages. When you reply to the message, your reply is added to the conversation, and the conversation also appears in your Sent Mail folder.

After you sign in to Gmail, you're automatically taken to your Inbox. Your Inbox lists your conversations in a table, and the subject of each conversation is a link. To read the messages in a conversation, move to the subject and open the link.

Page structure

Almost all pages in Gmail basic HTML view use the same structure. Each page contains the following elements:

  • A link to switch to Standard view.
  • A level 1 heading, "Google Mail by Google" or "Gmail by Google," depending on your country.
  • A level 2 heading, "Account options," followed by your Gmail address and links for Settings, Help, and Sign out.
  • Search controls, including an edit box, Search Mail button, Search the Web button, and Show search options link.
  • Navigation section, described below.
  • Main content section: The content of this section varies from page to page, and normally contains a level 2 heading.

The navigation section contains the following elements:

  • A Compose Mail link, with the access key C.
  • A level 2 heading, "Folders," followed by links for the following folders:
    • Inbox: Conversations that contain incoming messages. The Inbox access key is I.
    • Starred: Conversations that you've marked with a star.
    • Sent Mail: Conversations that contain messages you've sent.
    • Drafts: Conversations that include a message you started to compose and haven't yet sent.
    • All Mail: All the messages that you've received, sent, or archived, and haven't deleted.
    • Spam: Incoming messages that Gmail has determined to be spam or the messages that you've marked as spam. After 30 days in this folder, a message is automatically deleted completely.
    • Trash: When you delete a conversation or a message (except from this folder), it's moved here. After 30 days in this folder, it's automatically deleted completely.
  • A level 3 heading and link, "Contacts."
  • A level 2 heading, "Labels," followed by links for any labels that you've created.

As you use Gmail basic HTML view, you can use the heading structure and access keys to navigate quickly:

  • Use the quick navigation key 2 to move through the following headings: "Account options," "Folders," "Labels," and the heading of the main content section.
  • Use access keys for the Compose Mail link (C) and Inbox link (I). The keystrokes to open a link with an access key depend on the web browser:
    • In Internet Explorer, press Alt + Access key, then Enter.
    • In Firefox 1.5, press Alt + Access key.
    • In Firefox 2 or later versions, press Shift + Alt + Access key.

Some of the folder and label links might include a number in parentheses, such as Inbox (2). The number indicates how many conversations include unread messages. If the folder or label includes unread messages, it also becomes a level 3 heading. The exception to this rule is the Drafts folder: A number after Drafts simply indicates the number of conversations in the Drafts folder.

Conversation list page

When you open a folder or label, you arrive on a page with a list of the conversations in that folder or label.

Here's what you'll find in the main content section on a conversation list page:

  • A level 2 heading for the list of conversations, such as "Sent Mail."
  • A table containing the conversations, described in the "Conversation table" topic below.
  • A series of action buttons, described in the "Action buttons and menu" topic below.
  • "Refresh" link.
  • The range of conversations shown in the table, such as "1 – 50 of 402." If there are more conversations than can fit in the table, there are links to view the other conversations, such as: Newest, Newer, Older, and Oldest.

Conversation table

Each row in the conversation table contains the details of a conversation. The table has four columns:

  • A checkbox, unchecked by default. This checkbox selects the conversation so that you can take action on it using the Action buttons described in the "Action buttons and menu" topic below.
  • The senders of the messages in the conversation, followed by the number of messages.
  • The subject of the conversation. Follow this link to open the conversation.
  • The time or date when the latest message in the conversation was sent.

Screen readers don't announce if a conversation contains unread messages. However, you can find unread messages with a simple search. To search for unread messages, follow these steps:

  1. Move to the search edit box on the page.
  2. Press Enter to go into Forms mode.
  3. Type is: unread, then press Enter. You're taken to a page that lists all conversations with unread messages.

For more information about search, refer to the "Search your mail" topic below.

Action buttons and menu

Each conversation list page has one or more action buttons, along with a "More actions" combo box with a Go button. These controls let you take action on the conversations in the conversation table.

For example, to delete conversations from the conversation table, follow these steps:

  1. In the conversation table, check the checkboxes of the conversations that you want to delete.
  2. Move to the Delete button and press the button. You can use the quick navigation key B to move to the buttons.

To apply an action with the "More actions" combo box, follow these steps:

  1. In the conversation table, check the checkboxes of one or more conversations.
  2. Move to the "More actions" combo box. You can use the quick navigation key C.
  3. Press Enter to go into Forms mode.
  4. Select an action.
  5. Tab to the Go button and press the button.

The action buttons and menu options depend on which page you're viewing. For example, the buttons on the Inbox page are Archive, Report Spam, and Delete. The buttons on the Starred conversations page are Remove Star and Report Spam.

Conversation table navigation

To move to the beginning of the conversation table, press Ctrl + Home, then X. The checkbox in the first row of the table is the first checkbox on the page.

Note: If there's only one conversation in the list, there's only one row in the table. As a result, using the quick navigation key T might not always work. JAWS doesn't recognize one-row tables as tables and says that there are no tables on the page. (This behavior works well for web pages that use tables both for layout and for presenting data, since tables with one row are usually used for layout.)

To navigate in a conversation table that contains more than one row, you can use the keystrokes below.

  • To move to the next checkbox, press X. This action also reads the senders of the messages in the conversation.
  • To move up or down, press Ctrl + Alt + Up arrow or Ctrl + Alt + Down arrow.
  • To move to the first cell, press Ctrl + Alt + Home.
  • To move along rows, use the up arrow and down arrow. (Note that if you use Ctrl + Alt + Left arrow or Ctrl + Alt + Right arrow or Ctrl + Alt + Numpad 5 to read the cell to the left or right or the current cell, JAWS uses the cells in the first row of the table as column headings. However, these cells aren't headings.)
  • To read the next row, current row, or previous row, press Windows key + Down arrow, or Windows key + Numpad 5, or Windows key + Up arrow, respectively.

Conversation page

When you open a subject link in a conversation table, you're taken to a conversation page. The title of the page is the subject of the conversation.

On a conversation page, you can read all the messages in the conversation and take action on the conversation or individual messages.

Here's what you'll find in the main content section on a conversation page:

  • A link back to the conversation list page, such as "Back to Inbox."
  • Action buttons that apply to the whole conversation.
  • The number of the conversation in the list, such as "4 of 20."
  • "Newer" and "Older" links that take you to the previous or next conversation in the list.
  • Action links that apply to the whole conversation, including:
    • Expand all and Collapse all: These links appear if there's more than one message in the conversation. You can find more information about these links in the "Conversation page navigation" topic below.
    • Print: This link prints the conversation.
    • New window: This link opens the conversation in a new window.
  • A level 2 heading that's the subject of the conversation.
  • Links to any labels or folders that apply to the conversation. For example, if a conversation is in the Inbox, a link to the Inbox appears after the level 2 heading.
  • The messages in the conversation.

Conversation page navigation

The subject of the conversation is the fourth level 2 heading on the page. Immediately before this heading are links and action buttons that apply to the whole conversation.

Messages on the page can appear in two formats: expanded and collapsed. In the expanded format, the message text is displayed. In the collapsed format, the message text is hidden.

In expanded messages, the name of the sender is a level 3 heading, so you can use these headings to browse through the expanded messages.

If any of the messages are collapsed, an Expand all link is present before the subject level 2 heading. If all the messages are expanded, a Collapse all link is present.

If you need to read a collapsed message, open the Expand all link, then use the level 3 headings of the expanded messages to find the message that you want to read.

If there's a large number of collapsed messages, the messages are collapsed further to save space on the screen. These collapsed messages have a label, such as "17 hidden messages," followed by a Show link. If you open this link, the messages are shown as individual collapsed messages.

Expanded message

When you first open a conversation page, the last message and all unread messages are expanded, and the rest of the messages are collapsed.

An expanded message has the following elements:

  • A graphic link to add or remove a star.
  • The name and email address of the sender. The name is a level 3 heading and a link. Use this link to collapse the message.
  • An attachment graphic, present only if the message has one or more attachments.
  • The date and time when the message was sent.
  • To: followed by the email address of the recipient. If there are multiple recipients in the To field, the list is separated by commas.
  • Cc: followed by any email addresses that are copied on the message. This field isn't displayed if no one is copied.
  • A series of links: Reply, Reply to all, Forward, Print, Delete, and Show original.
  • The text of the message.
  • If the message has one or more attachments, there are links to view and download attachments.
  • For the last message of the conversation, there's a set of controls for a quick reply, described in the "Quick Reply" topic below.

Collapsed message

A collapsed message has the following elements:

  • A star graphic, either starred or unstarred. To add or remove a star, the message must be expanded.
  • The name of the sender. This name is a link. Use this link to expand the message.
  • If the message has one or more attachments, there's an attachment graphic. To view or download attachments, the message must be expanded.
  • The date and time when the message was sent.

Download attachments

If a message has an attachment, an attachment graphic is present before the date and time when the message was sent. In an expanded message, the links to view and download the attachment appear after the contents of the message.

Each attachment has the following information:

  • Name of the file.
  • Size of the file.
  • View link: This link depends on the file type.
    • HTML and TXT files: A View link opens a new window with the attachment.
    • DOC and PDF files: A View as HTML link opens a new window, converts the file to HTML, and displays the attachment.
    • MP3 and ZIP files: There is no View link.
  • Scan and download or Download link.

If the message has more than one attachment, a summary line appears before the attachments, including the number of attachments and a link to Scan and download or Download.

If you're viewing an expanded message that has attachments, you can move to the view or download links with the the links list dialog (Insert + F7). Find the next link beginning with "Scan" or "Download," then move to that link.

Send messages

To compose and send a message, you can use the Quick Reply area on a conversation page or the Compose Mail page. Both options are described below.

Quick Reply

The last message on a conversation page includes a Quick Reply section. This section lets you quickly compose and send a reply, without opening the Compose Mail page.

The Quick Reply section includes the following controls:

  • More Reply Options: This button opens the Compose Mail page.
  • Edit field for your message.
  • Send and Save Draft buttons.
  • An "Include quoted text with reply" checkbox, which is checked by default.

To use the Quick Reply section, follow these steps:

  1. In the last message on the conversation page, read down to the edit box, or press E.
  2. Press Enter to go into Forms mode.
  3. Compose your message.
  4. Tab to the Send button and press the button.

Note that this method doesn't allow you to change any fields of the message (such as CC or BCC fields), or attach any files. To use these options, open the Compose Mail page.

Compose Mail page

There are several ways to get to the Compose Mail page:

  • Open the Compose Mail link. This link has the access key C. In Internet Explorer, press Alt + C, then Enter. In Firefox 2 or later, press Shift + Alt + C.
  • Compose a new message from your contacts. Open the Contacts link in the navigation section. Check the checkboxes of one or more contacts, then press the Compose Mail button. You're taken to the Compose Mail page, where the "To" field already includes the selected contacts.
  • Reply to a message. Any expanded message on a conversation page has a series of links just above the message text. Open the Reply link in this series to go to the Compose Mail page. The "To" and "Subject" fields automatically include the information from the original message, and the message edit box contains a copy of the message to which you're replying.
  • Forward a message. This option is similar to replying to a message. Opening the Forward link takes you to the Compose Mail page. The "Subject" field includes the original subject, and the message edit box contains a copy of the forwarded message.

Here's what you'll find in the main content section on the Compose Mail page:

  • Send, Save Draft, and Discard buttons.
  • A level 2 heading, "Compose Form."
  • To, Cc, Bcc, and Subject edit boxes.
  • Controls for adding attachments: Choose File and Attach More Files buttons.
  • Message edit box.

When you open the Compose Mail page, the initial focus is in the To edit box. Press Enter to go into Forms mode, then enter the recipient's email address. Press Tab to move between controls, and compose your message in the message edit box. You can then add attachments (described below) or tab to the Send button.

Add attachments

You can add attachments to a message on the Compose Mail page.

To attach a single file, follow these steps:

  1. Press the Choose File button.
  2. A Choose File dialog opens. Select a file, then press Enter.
  3. You're returned to the Compose Mail page, with the focus on the Choose File button.

To attach multiple files, follow these steps:

  1. Press the Attach More Files button.
  2. You're taken to a page entitled "Select Files." The main content section of the page contains the following:
    • Done and Cancel buttons at the top and bottom.
    • A table with 2 columns and 10 rows. Each row contains a Choose File button.
    • Attach More Files button. Use this button if you want to attach more than 10 files.
  3. Move to the first Choose File button using the quick navigation key B. Select a file, then press Enter.
  4. To attach the next file, move to the next Choose File button.
  5. After attaching your last file, move to the Done button, and press the button.
  6. You're returned to the Compose Mail page. The page now includes checkboxes for the attached files.

Drafts

A draft is a message that you started to compose, but didn't yet send. Drafts are automatically saved in the Drafts folder. When you open a conversation in the Drafts folder, you're taken to a page where you can continue your draft message.

  • If your draft message is the only message in the conversation, you're taken to a Compose Mail page.
  • If the conversation contains one or more messages in addition to your draft message, you're taken to a conversation page. The message to which you were replying is expanded, with a Quick Reply section following it. Your draft is the first Quick Reply section on the page. You can either continue your draft in the Quick Reply section, or you can press the More Reply Options button to open the message in a Compose Mail page.

To discard the draft message, press the Discard Draft button.

Contact list

To open a list of your contacts, use the Contacts link. The Contacts link is a level 3 heading in the navigation section of every page.

Here's what you'll find in the main content section on the Contact List page:

  • Compose and Delete buttons. These buttons appear at the top and bottom of the page. To use these buttons, first check the checkboxes of the contacts, then press the button. Pressing the Compose button starts a new message to the contact, and pressing the Delete button deletes the contact.
  • The two phrases "Frequently Mailed" and "All Contacts." These controls let you switch between your frequently mailed contacts and a list of all contacts. When you first enter the contacts page, the frequently mailed contacts are displayed, and the "All Contacts" text is linked.
  • An edit box and a Search Contacts button for searching your contacts.
  • A table containing a list of contacts. The columns of the table are:
    • A checkbox. Use this checkbox with the Compose or Delete buttons.
    • Name of the contact. This link takes you to the Edit Contact page.
    • Details. This column includes the email address or other contact details.

Edit a contact

To edit your contacts, use the Contacts link to open your list of contacts. Open the linked name of the contact that you'd like to edit. The "Edit Contact" page has the following elements:

  • Back to Contacts. This link returns you to the Contact List. It appears at the top and bottom of the page.
  • Compose and Delete buttons. These buttons appear at the top and bottom of the page.
  • A level 2 heading, "Edit Contact."
  • A table containing editable information about the contact.
  • Save and Cancel buttons.

Search your mail

To perform a simple search, follow these steps:

  1. Move to the Search edit box. This is the first form control on the page.
  2. Press Enter to go into Forms mode. Type one or more words to search, then press Enter.

The search results page displays a list of the conversations that contain messages matching your search. The title of the page is "Search results for:" followed by your search terms. This phrase also appears as a level 2 heading of the main content section.

Here's how a basic search works:

  • Gmail searches for matches within the message text, along with the subject, To, and From fields.
  • Matches are case insensitive.
  • Gmail searches for matches in the All Mail folder, which includes messages that you've sent or received, but haven't deleted. The Spam and Trash folders aren't searched.

To search more specifically, you can use search operators or the Search Options form. These methods are described in the next two topics.

Search operators

Search operators help you to perform specific searches. The table below lists sample searches that use operators.

Sample search Meaning
is:unread Search for messages that are unread.
from:David Search for messages whose From field includes the name David.
from:pluto@disney.com Search for messages from the email address pluto@disney.com.
from:David subject:concert Search for messages whose From field includes the word David, and whose subject includes the word concert.
rock OR concert Search for messages that contain either rock or concert. Note that OR must be in all capital letters.
"rock concert" Search for messages containing the exact phrase "rock concert."

You can use parentheses to group words in your search query. The table below lists sample searches with parentheses.

Sample search Meaning
subject:(rock concert) Search for messages whose subject contains both rock and concert. Without parentheses, this query would match messages where the subject contains rock, and where concert occurred anywhere in the message.
subject:"rock concert" Search for messages whose subject contains the exact phrase "rock concert." Parentheses are not needed here, because the phrase acts as a single unit.
(rock concert) OR bananas Search for messages that contain the words rock and concert, or that contain the word bananas. Without parentheses, this search would match messages that either contain the words rock and concert, or contain the words rock and bananas.

You can review a list of all search operators in the Advanced Search article.

Search Options form

The Search Options form lets you enter specific criteria for your search. To use the Search Options form, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Show search options link, after the Search edit box.
  2. On the Search Options page, the main content section contains form controls for your search, beginning with a From edit box. Complete one or more fields.
  3. Tab to the Search Mail button and press the button.

Archive conversations

In Gmail, archiving is an alternative to deleting conversations or messages. If you archive a conversation, the conversation is removed from your Inbox, but not from the All Mail folder.

Here's what happens when you archive a conversation:

  • You can still find the messages in the conversation by searching.
  • If the conversation contains messages sent by you, it still appears in the Sent Mail folder.
  • If the conversation has a label applied to it, then it still appears when you view the conversations which have that label.

To archive a conversation from a conversation list page, select the checkbox next to the conversation, then press the Archive button. To archive a conversation from a conversation page, press the Archive button.

Settings

Gmail settings are divided into categories, and each category has its own page. The settings pages are listed below:

  • General: This page includes a combo box for setting your display language. The language must be set to English (US) to get the accessible basic HTML view.
  • Accounts: This page includes information about your Gmail address and Google Account.
  • Labels and Filters: These two pages are described in detail later in this guide.
  • Forwarding and POP/IMAP: This page includes settings that allow you to connect an email client, such as Outlook Express, to your Gmail address.

Each settings page has the title "Settings."

Here's what you'll find in the main content section on a Settings page:

  • A level 2 heading, "Settings."
  • Links to the other settings pages.
  • A list of settings with editing controls.

Labels

Labels help you organize your messages into categories, such as work, family, jokes, recipes, or any category you want. Labels do all the work that folders do, but with an added bonus: you can add more than one label to a message.

Labels that you've created appear immediately after the level 2 heading "Labels" in the navigation section.

Manage labels

On the Labels settings page, you can view, rename, remove, and create labels.

To go to the Labels settings page, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings link, which comes shortly after the Account Settings level 2 heading.
  2. Move to the level 2 heading "Settings."
  3. Read through the categories until you get to the Labels link, and open the link.

Here's what you'll find in the main content section on the Labels settings page:

  • A level 2 heading, "Settings."
  • Links to the other settings pages.
  • A table containing your labels. Each row has the following information:
    • The label. Follow this link to go to a conversation list page for all conversations with this label.
    • The number of conversations with this label.
    • An edit box.
    • Rename and Remove buttons.
  • "Create a new label" edit box, followed by a Create button.

To rename a label, enter text in the edit box for that row in the table, then press the Rename button.

To remove a label, press the Remove button.

To create a new label, move to the "Create a new label" edit box. Press Enter to go into Forms mode, type the new label, then press Enter. The page refreshes, and the new label appears in the table of labels.

Add labels to conversations

You can add or remove labels on any conversation page or conversation list page using the "More actions" combo box.

On a conversation page, the subject of the conversation is a level 2 heading. Any labels applied to the conversation appear after the subject. On a conversation list page, labels appear before the subject of the conversation in the Conversation table.

To add or remove labels on a conversation page, follow these steps:

  1. Move to the "More actions" combo box. You can press C to move to the combo box.
  2. Press Enter to go into Forms mode.
  3. The list of actions in the combo box includes an "Apply labels" section and a "Remove labels" section.
  4. Select a label in the appropriate section. Tab to the Go button, then press the button.

To add or remove labels on a conversation list page, follow these steps:

  1. Check the checkboxes of the conversations for which you want to add or remove a label.
  2. Move to the "More actions" combo box. You can press C to move to the combo box.
  3. Press Enter to move into Forms mode.
  4. The list of actions in the combo box includes an "Apply label" section and a "Remove label" section.
  5. Select a label to add or remove. Tab to the Go button, then press the button.

Find conversations with a label

There are several ways to find conversations with a particular label:

  • On any Gmail page, follow the label link below the level 2 heading, "Labels."
  • On the Labels settings page, follow the label link in the main content section.
  • Use the label search operator. Move to the search edit box, which is the first control on the page. Press Enter to go into Forms mode, type label:name, where "name" is your label, then press Enter.

You're taken to a page with a list of the conversations with this label. The title of the page and the level 2 heading for the main content section include the word Label followed by the label name.

Filters

Filters help you to organize incoming messages. A filter automatically applies an action to incoming messages that match certain criteria that you specify. For example, you can automatically archive all messages from a particular sender.

On the Filters settings page, you can view, edit, delete, and create filters.

To go to the Filters settings page, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings link, which comes shortly after the Account Settings level 2 heading.
  2. Move to the level 2 heading, "Settings."
  3. Read through the categories until you get to the Filters link, and open the link.

Here's what you'll find in the main content section on the Filters settings page:

  • A level 2 heading, "Settings."
  • Links to the other settings pages.
  • A list of your filters, with the following information:
    • "Matches" followed by the criteria for the filter.
    • "Do this" followed by one or more actions.
    • Edit and Delete buttons.
  • Create a new Filter button.

To edit or delete a filter, press the Edit or Delete button for that filter.

To create a new filter, follow these steps:

  1. On the Filters settings page, press the Create a new Filter button.
  2. A new section is now on the page with a level 2 heading, "Create a filter." Enter your criteria for the filter in this section.
  3. Optional: Press the Test Search button to check which existing messages match your criteria. The page now includes a level 2 heading, "Search results for," with your search criteria. A conversation table lists the conversations that match your criteria.
  4. When you're satisfied with the criteria in the "Create a filter" section, press the Next Step button. You're taken to a page where you can specify the action to take on the messages.
  5. Under the level 2 heading, "Create a filter," choose one or more actions to take on the messages. The options include:
    • 5 checkboxes for selecting actions, such as Skip the Inbox or Delete.
    • A checkbox to apply the new filter to any existing messages that match the criteria.
  6. Press the Create Filter button. You're returned to the Filters page, which now includes the new filter.

Vivian is a Gmail expert and the author of this help page. Leave her feedback about this help page.

Was this article helpful?