How and why to redirect email instead of forwarding it

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redirect email
This photo is not email, nor is it even regular mail, but it has to do with directions.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

We all know about forwarding email. It’s the electronic equivalent of putting a received letter in a new envelope and sending it on to someone else. But did you know that you can also redirect emails so that it seems like they arrived from the original sender? You could, for instance:

  • Redirect instructions from your boss to a co-worker.
  • Pass an email to someone else without getting caught in an inevitable and endless Reply All mess.
  • Send a customer enquiry to the correct person, with their reply going direct to the customer.

Unless the final recipient is really brain-dead, then this will never work as a scam to trick them into doing all the work your boss assigned to you, but it’s a very practical alternative to just forwarding emails.

What is redirecting, exactly?

When you redirect an email, it has the following properties:

  • The From field shows the original sender.
  • The To field shows your email address — the one the mail was originally sent to.
  • When the final recipient replies to the email, that reply goes to the original sender.

In summary, it looks like the mail comes from some kind of bulk mailing where other recipients are BCCed. If the final recipient (you coworker, say) isn’t paying attention, or if they don’t have their mail client set to show the To address, then they may believe that the mail was meant for them all along. But don’t count on it. In Gmail, the original From address is shown, along with a Via address, which will be your address.

Redirecting mail doesn't look much different to forwarding it.
Redirecting mail doesn’t look much different to forwarding it.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The big advantage of redirecting is that replies go to the original sender, without you getting caught up in the middle. The above example of redirecting a client query is a good one. If you forward the email to your support team, then the reply may come to you, not the client. The best case is that you and the client will both be included in the Reply All answer.

If you redirect the email, then the reply will go direct to the client instead, without any further involvement for you.

How to redirect email in Mail app on macOS

Redirecting an email in Mail on macOS is as easy as forwarding one. Just hit the Command-Shift-E keyboard shortcut, instead of the usual Command-Shift-F for forwarding. Then, continue as normal. You can even add more info to the email, just like you were replying or forwarding, and it will behave the same way.

If you’re not into using keyboard shortcuts, you can redirect a message by clicking Message > Redirect in the Mac menubar.

Redirecting email on iOS

The built-in Mail app on your iPhone and iPad can’t do redirects. Even if you plug in a keyboard and hit the Command-Shift-E shortcut, it doesn’t work. And that a shame, as this kind of email triage is perfect on the iPhone, letting you clean out your inbox on the move, leaving important stuff to deal with back at the office. Or, you may use an iPad for all your work, and not even own a Mac.

I’ve also checked commons services like Gmail, and I can’t find a way to redirect even in the web interface. If you do know of a way to redirect email in iOS, perhaps in a third-party app, then get in touch.