How Do I Open an Email Attachment?

By Irene A. Blake

Email offers a convenient delivery method for sharing different types of electronic files, such as documents, photos and videos, in their saved formats. Although various email services have different user interface designs, they treat attachments in similar ways. You can review an attachment’s content within an email program or on a Webmail screen or download the file and open it with compatible software.

Recognizing an Attachment

When an email has an attachment, an email service usually displays a paperclip icon in the Inbox on the message line between the subject title and the time or date. When you open the email, the attachment might appear as a file name and icon or a thumbnail image in the message body or as a one-line file name below the message body. Depending on the message format and the interface design, you might also find it in a special attachment box.

Previewing the Attachment

Email services usually have a preview feature that allows you to quickly review an attachment's contents if you don’t have time to download and open it. To use this feature, click once on the attachment file icon, thumbnail image or name, or select a "View" option, which is sometimes found on a drop-down menu next to the file name or thumbnail image. Typically, the preview opens on a black background so it appears more clearly on the screen for easier reading. Keep in mind that the preview feature doesn't always work. For example, you might not be able to view an attachment located in the body of an email message.

Downloading an Attachment

To download an attachment, double-click it to open the file automatically with compatible software or click “Download,” “Download Attachment” or the down arrow icon and then manually open it. Some services also provide a “Download All” option for dealing with more than one attachment at a time. If your email account is linked to an online office suite or storage service, you might also see options to save and share the file to the cloud so you can open it online. With thumbnail images, you might have to roll your cursor over the image to locate these options.

Checking for Malware

Criminals often use attachments to spread malicious software. Although a lot of email services scan attachments for you, a bad file can easily slip through to your system. Before downloading, always check the sender’s address and the message for signs that you’ve been targeted, such as an unknown sender address, a bad domain name in the sender address, spelling or grammar errors in the message or a lone link in a blank message area. If you’re uncertain about an attachment, save the file to your computer or an external hard drive without opening it and scan it with your anti-virus program. When you’re finished, scan it a second time with a different program, such as Avast, AVG or McAfee, or use an online scanner offered by a service like Trend, Kaspersky or VirusTotal.