Chapter 3: Gmail Power Tips

Now you’ve integrated Gmail into your desktop and moved all of your mail over into it, but before you start to rip the application apart, you should look at the ways to use Gmail to its limits. This chapter does just that. This book is not just about using Gmail itself but rather hacking the application to do other things. Nevertheless, you’ll need the techniques you are about to discover in later chapters. They are also all very useful in their own right.

Chapter 3: Gmail Power Tips

Keyboard Shortcuts

The keyboard shortcuts available within Gmail are, without any
doubt, the quickest route to speedy productivity within the application. The time investment in learning the keyboard shortcuts of
all of your computer’s applications always pays off, as you are able
to navigate your system much more quickly than before. Instead
of reaching off the keyboard, grasping the mouse, moving it to
the right place and clicking, keyboard shortcuts allow you to press
just one button. You don’t lift your hands off the keyboard, and
when you’re really good at typing, you don’t even need to look at
the screen.
Activating the keyboard shortcuts is simple. Go to the Settings
page and turn them on there, as shown in Figure 3-1.
˛ Keyboard shortcuts
˛ Plus addressing
˛ Filters
˛ Advanced searching
in this chapter
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16 Part I — Starting to Use Gmail
FIGURE 3-1: The keyboard shortcuts checkbox
Save the settings, and you will find that the bottom of your Inbox screen has
changed to show some of the keyboard shortcut commands, as shown in Figure 3-2.
FIGURE 3-2: The bottom of the Inbox with keyboard 
shortcuts turned on
To see what keyboard shortcuts are about, press the c key now. Immediately, the
page changes to the Compose Message window, with your cursor in the To:
addressing area. Type an e-mail address, and then press Tab. Your cursor moves to
the Subject line. Type something, and hit Tab again, and you’re in the message
box. So far so good. Now a snag. Hit Tab again, and then Enter, and in Internet
Explorer your message is sent. In any other browser — Firefox, say — the final tab
puts your cursor up into the search box. Hitting Enter brings up a warning box
(shown in Figure 3-3) asking if you are willing to lose the newly typed, and
unsaved, message.
FIGURE 3-3: You’re about to lose your work. Eek!
You most likely don’t want to do that.
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If you’re not using Internet Explorer — and for the sake of this book, at least, I recommend you do not, and employ Firefox (as I am in this chapter’s screenshots) or
Mozilla instead — this is a drawback to the keyboard shortcuts. Grasp your mouse,
and click the Send button instead.
The keyboard shortcuts come into their own when dealing with spam. Figure 3-4
shows my Inbox full of the stuff.
FIGURE 3-4: An Inbox full of spam
(I have to be honest here — Gmail’s spam filters caught all of this before it hit my
Inbox. I just moved it out there for the sake of this demonstration.)
If you wake to find an Inbox full of such nastiness, it’s easy to get rid of. Press o to
open a message, and when it has opened, press the exclamation point (!) to mark it
as spam. By using my left hand to press the Shift+1 to make the exclamation point,
and my right hand to press o, I find I can get quite a satisfying rhythm going and
my Inbox clear in little to no time. Making “Pow!” noises is also recommended.
You can, of course, use the mouse to select the ones you want and then hit an
exclamation point.
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18 Part I — Starting to Use Gmail
The keyboard shortcuts are many and various, and are all good to know about.
But they’re also very simple. By now you should have the hang of their power.
Here then, before moving on, in Table 3-1 is a complete rundown of the keyboard
shortcuts available at the time of this writing.
Table 3-1 Gmail’s Keyboard Shortcuts
Key Definition Action
c Compose Allows you to compose a new message. Shift+c
allows you to compose a message in a new
/ Search Puts your cursor in the search box.
k Move to newer conversation Opens or moves your cursor to a more recent
conversation. You can hit Enter to expand a
j Move to older conversation Opens or moves your cursor to the next oldest
conversation. You can hit Enter to expand a
n Next message Moves your cursor to the next message. You
can hit Enter to expand or collapse a message.
(Applicable only in Conversation View.)
p Previous message Moves your cursor to the previous message.
You can hit Enter to expand or collapse a
message. (Applicable only in Conversation
Enter Open Opens your conversation. Also expands or
collapses a message if you are in Conversation
u Return to conversation list Refreshes your page and returns you to the
Inbox, or list of conversations.
y Archive (Remove from current view) Automatically removes the message or 
conversation from your current view.
From Inbox, y means Archive.
From Starred, y means Unstar.
From Spam, y means Unmark as spam and 
move to Inbox.
From Trash, y means move to Inbox.
From any label, y means Remove the label.
Pressing y has no effect if you’re in Sent or 
All Mail.
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Key Definition Action
x Select conversation Automatically checks and selects a
conversation so you can archive, apply a label,
or choose an action from the drop-down menu
to apply to that conversation.
s Star a message or conversation Adds a star to or removes a star from a
message or conversation. Stars allow you to
give a message or conversation a special status.
! Report spam Marks a message as spam and removes it from
your conversation list.
r Reply Reply to the message sender. Shift+r allows
you to reply to a message in a new window.
(Applicable only in Conversation View.)
a Reply all Reply to all message recipients. Shift+a allows
you to reply to all message recipients in a new
window. (Applicable only in Conversation View.)
f Forward Forward a message. Shift+f allows you to
forward a message in a new window.
(Applicable only in Conversation View.)
esc Escape from input field Removes the cursor from your current input
Now that you’re familiar with Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts, Table 3-2 outlines the
combo-key shortcuts.
Table 3-2 Combo-Keys Shortcuts
Shortcut Key Definition Action
Tab then Enter Send message After composing your message, use this combination to
automatically send it. (Supported in Internet Explorer
y then o Archive and next Archive your conversation and move to the next one.
g then a Go to All Mail Takes you to All Mail, the storage place for all the mail
you’ve ever sent or received, but haven’t deleted.
g then s Go to Starred Takes you to all of the conversations that you’ve starred.
g then c Go to Contacts Takes you to your Contacts list.
g then d Go to Drafts Takes you to all the drafts that you’ve saved.
g then i Go to Inbox Takes you back to the Inbox.
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20 Part I — Starting to Use Gmail
Moving on from the keyboard shortcuts, the next section shows you how you can
avoid them altogether by using filters.

Plus Addressing and Filtering

One little-known feature of the more old school e-mail systems is the one called
plus addressing. It can be exceptionally useful both in Gmail and in your other
e-mail systems, and I use it extensively for things such as mailing lists and weblog
In a nutshell, Gmail ignores anything in the first half of an e-mail address after a
plus sign. So [email protected] is treated
in exactly the same way as [email protected]. It is not, as you might
expect, a different address. You can put anything after the plus sign except for a
space or an at (@) sign, and it always gets delivered to your real Inbox. Figure 3-5
should prove that it works.
FIGURE 3-5: Plus addressing in action
Plus addressing is remarkably useful, as it enables you to set up filters for your
incoming mail. In order to do set up filters, click the “Create a filter” link to the
right of the search bar. You will be presented with a screen containing something
very much like Figure 3-6.
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Chapter 3 — Gmail Power Tips 21
FIGURE 3-6: The first stage in setting up a filter
Copy, as shown, the address into the To: box, and click the Next Step button. Of
course, this is how you create filters for any other part of the message as well. I’ll
leave it to the reader’s intelligence to see how this works. Figure 3-7 shows the
next stage.
FIGURE 3-7: Selecting the action you want Gmail to take when a 
message arrives
A filter can move, star, directly archive, label, forward, trash, or a combination of
the five, any message that triggers it. Select the actions you want, and click the
Create Filter button. Figure 3-8 shows the final result.
Because plus addressing effectively gives you an unlimited number of e-mail
addresses to the same Gmail inbox, it allows you to assign one to each mailing list,
website, and so on that you subscribe to. You can also use it to track which e-mail
addresses have been sold to spammers, and send those to Trash automatically.

Other Addressing Tips

Gmail has a few other features to its addressing. First, the dot in the middle
of most people’s Gmail addresses is entirely optional. As Figure 3-9 shows,
benhamme[email protected] is exactly the same as [email protected].
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22 Part I — Starting to Use Gmail
FIGURE 3-8: A filter, set up
FIGURE 3-9: Receiving mail from anti-dot fanatic
Indeed, as Figure 3-10 shows, the dot is basically ignored. Put it anywhere you
like or leave it out entirely: yet another way to produce filterable e-mail addresses
inside Gmail.
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FIGURE 3-10: The blessing of the 
wandering dot
One final thing about addressing: If you are sending a mail to someone else’s
Gmail account, you needn’t add the section of the address. Just type
the first half and it is delivered perfectly well

Quickly Mark a Group of E-Mails

Like most desktop applications, Gmail actually allows you to mark a group of
items without having to select each one individually (by mark, I mean to put a
check in the checkbox next to an e-mail when you are presented with a list of
e-mails). With Gmail, if you’d like to select a group of consecutive messages without marking each one separately, you simply need to check the first one in the list,
and then hold down the Shift key and check the last one you want to include in
the group of marked messages — the two e-mails you checked and all of the
e-mails between them will now be marked. You can use the same method to unmark e-mails and to star or unstar them. Note, however, that this might not work
in all browsers.

Send Executables as Attachments

When you receive an e-mail from an address that doesn’t end in,
Gmail looks at attachments for file extensions known to be executable (such as
.dll, .exe, .vbs, and so forth), so if someone sends you one of these file types, their
message will bounce back. This goes for files within ZIP archives as well — Gmail
looks inside these for executable extensions and the e-mail bounces back to the
sender if it contains any. Gmail doesn’t look inside other archive formats, such as
RAR or ACE, so you might want to use one of these formats instead of going
through the hassle of the following workaround.
To get around this annoyance, you can use the same trick that has been used for
years. Simply tell the sender to rename the extension of the file to something
Gmail will allow (such as .jpg), and when you receive the file, rename it back to
the type it really is (for example, change file.jpg to file.exe).
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It seems that Gmail will allow you to send and receive executable attachments
between Gmail accounts and from Gmail to outside accounts

Advanced Searching

Gmail is run by Google, so it’s obvious that its built-in search engine is going to
be extremely powerful indeed. Everyone is used to the ordinary search technique
of putting keywords into the box and pressing Enter, but not everyone is aware of
the additional operators you can use. Table 3-3 gives a rundown.
Table 3-3 Gmail’s Search Operators
Operator Definition Example(s)
from: Used to specify the sender. Example: from:amy
Meaning: Messages from Amy.
to: Used to specify a recipient. Example: to:david
Meaning: All messages that were sent to 
David (by you or someone else).
subject: Search for words in the Example: subject:dinner
subject line. Meaning: Messages that have the word 
“dinner” in the subject.
OR Search for messages matching Example: from:amy OR from:david
term A or term B. Meaning: Messages from Amy or from 
OR must be in all caps. David.
- Used to exclude messages Example: dinner-movie
(hyphen) from your search. Meaning: Messages that contain the word 
“dinner” but do not contain the word 
label: Search for messages by label. Example: from:amy label:friends
There isn’t a search operator Meaning: Messages from Amy that have the 
for unlabeled messages. label “friends”.
Example: from:david label:my-family
Meaning: Messages from David that have 
the label My Family.
has:attachment Search for messages with Example: from:david has:attachment 
an attachment. Meaning: Messages from David that have 
an attachment.
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Operator Definition Example(s)
filename: Search for an attachment Example: filename:physicshomework.txt
by name or type. Meaning: Messages with an attachment 
named physicshomework.txt.
Example: label:work filename:pdf
Meaning: Messages labeled work that also 
have a PDF file as an attachment.
“ “(quotes) Used to search for an exact Example: “i’m feeling lucky”
phrase. Meaning: Messages containing the phrase 
Capitalization isn’t taken into “i’m feeling lucky” or “I’m feeling lucky”.
consideration. Example: subject:”dinner and a movie”
Meaning: Messages containing the phrase 
“dinner and a movie” in the subject.
( ) Used to group words. Example: from:amy(dinner OR movie)
Used to specify terms that Meaning: Messages from Amy that contain 
shouldn’t be excluded. either the word “dinner” or the word 
Example: subject:(dinner movie)
Meaning: Messages in which the subject 
contains both the word “dinner” and the 
word “movie”.
in:anywhere Search for messages Example: in:anywhere subject:movie 
anywhere in your account. Meaning: Messages in All Mail, Spam, and 
Messages in Spam and Trash Trash that contain the word “movie”.
are excluded from searches 
by default.
in:inbox Search for messages in Inbox, Example: in:trash from:amy
in:trash Trash, or Spam. Meaning: Messages from Amy that are in 
in:spam the trash.
is:starred Search for messages that are Example: is:read is:starred from:David
is:unread starred, unread, or read. Meaning: Messages from David that have 
is:read been read and are marked with a star.
cc: Used to specify recipients Example: cc:david 
bcc: in the cc: or bcc: fields. Meaning: Messages that were cc-ed to 
Search on bcc: cannot retrieve David.
messages on which you were 
blind carbon copied.
after: Search for messages after or Example: after:2004/04/17 
before: before a certain date. before:2004/04/18 
Date must be in yyyy/mm/dd Meaning: Messages sent on April 17, 2004.
format. More precisely: Messages sent on or after 
April 17, 2004, but before April 18, 2004.
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The operators detailed in Table 3-3 are all self-explanatory and can be combined.
For example, consider the following search parameters:
in:inbox from:BenHammersley “fancy a pint?” 
This search would result in any message from my Gmail account, in your Inbox,
suggesting a visit to the pub. In order to bring any unread mail sent before New
Year’s Eve 2004, with an attachment, and the subject line New Year’s Eve
Invitation, you would conduct the following search:
is:unread before:2004/12/31has:attachment subject:”New Years Eve
Very simple indeed.
For more information on advanced searching with Google, a good place to start is
Google For Dummies.

And Now . . .

You’ve reached the end of Chapter 3. You should feel confident using Gmail itself,
in getting your mail into and out of the system, and in using the system with some
sort of flair. From the next chapter onward, you’re going to delve into Gmail’s
inner workings. Things get much more technical from now on. Let’s go.

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