I Can't Open Email Attachments

Introduction

An email attachment is a computer file sent along with an email message. Similar to folding up a newspaper clipping to put in an envelope alongside a letter, one or more files can be attached to any email message to be sent to the recipient. This is typically used as a simple method to share documents and images of a smaller size. Messages that contain attachments are usually indicated using a paper clip icon.

Opening email attachments is generally fairly simple. However, depending on what type of file was sent, how and from what device you access or view your email, and whether or not your device has the appropriate program or software installed to be able to handle the attachment that was sent over - opening certain attachments can be a challenge. This guide will help you identify the attachment that was sent and help determine how to get it opened up.

Attachment with a paperclip.

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  1. Using my Windows email client
  2. Using my macOS email client
  3. Using my Android email client
  4. Using my iOS email client
  5. Using a web browser

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An email attachment is a computer file sent along with an email message. Similar to folding up a newspaper clipping to put in an envelope alongside a letter, one or more files can be attached to any email message to be sent to the recipient. This is typically used as a simple method to share documents and images of a smaller size. Messages that contain attachments are usually indicated using a paper clip icon.

Opening email attachments is generally fairly simple. However, depending on what type of file was sent, how and from what device you access or view your email, and whether or not your device has the appropriate program or software installed to be able to handle the attachment that was sent over - opening certain attachments can be a challenge. This guide will help you identify the attachment that was sent and help determine how to get it opened up.

Attachment with a paperclip.

Windows Mail is included in Windows 8 and Windows 10.

Windows 8

  1. Click on the Start menu.
    Start Menu
  2. Click the search icon.
    Search button highlighted
  3. Type Mail in the search bar and click on the Mail app.
    Search bar with Mail entered and Mail app highlighted below the search bar

Windows 10

  1. Click on the Start menu.
    Start Menu
  2. Type Mail in the search bar and click on the Mail app.
    Search bar with Mail entered highlighted and Mail app highlighted

How to identify an attachment

  1. Click on a message that has an attachment.

    Attachments can be identified with a paperclip.

    Message with an attachment
  2. Click the attachment to open it.

    You will find the attachment located above the message.

    Attachment highlighted

    The type of file attachment will follow the final period in the file name. In this example we have a .txt file which is a text file.

    File extension highlighted

Attachments can come in a variety of formats. If an attachment was sent from a 3rd party program, you may need to install that program on your computer in order to view the attachment.

Here are some common file formats.

Extension File Type
PDF Adobe Acrobat

DOC
XLS
PPT

Microsoft Office

AVI
MKV
WMV
MP4
M4V
MOV

Video Files

WAV
MP3
WMA
M3U
PCM
FLAC
AIFF
AAC

Audio Files

ZIP
RAR
7Z

File Compression

Beware of email attachments that come from senders you are not familiar with. Opening unsafe files from unknown senders can have extremely adverse affects on your computer and/or your personal files. If you are unsure about an attachment that was sent, check with the sender to make sure it is safe before opening only if you are familiar with the sender and are comfortable contacting them.

Phishing email

Phishing emails are designed to look like an e-mail from an official site but are designed to fool you into opening an attachment or clicking a link that could steal your personal data or infect your computer with malware or a virus. Most phishing emails can be identified by looking at the email address. In the example phishing email below the email address is not actually from American Express.

Phishing email

Blocked emails

Some e-mail providers or clients may block e-mails that they feel might harm your computer. This typically happens when you receive an attachment that is in the form of a script, or an executable file. When this happens you will typically get a message that says that your client or provider has blocked an attachment.

Blocked Attachment

Some Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware software offers email scanning to help protect you against viruses and malware. It is possible that these programs may block or remove the attachment in question completely.

Common file types that may be blocked.

BAT Windows Batch File
COM Command File
EXE Windows Executable
JS Javascript
MSI Microsoft Installer


Corrupt email attachments

Sometimes some files were created with 3rd party programs that don't save the file correctly. 3rd party utilities that create files may be corrupt and not allow you to open the file on your computer even though it works on the senders computer. When this happens suggest the sender use another program if possible to save the file or install the same program they used to create it.

Some files may be created for a different version of software that may not be compatible with the current available version or vice versa.

Corrupt email attachment

Can My Device Open the Attachment?

Although email can be checked from virtually any device with internet access these days, opening email attachments on certain types of devices can be impossible. Certain devices and their operating platforms are limited, and may not come equipped with or be able to run the type of software necessary to handle certain types of files. In some cases, it's a matter of simply installing a program that can handle the file that was sent. However, in other cases, the necessary software may not exist at all for the type of device you're using.

These types of compatibility issues can be resolved by using the right device to open an email attachment - such as using a PC or Mac computer instead of a smartphone or tablet. Compatibility issues can also arise when the sender of an email attachment does not take into account the recipient of that message.

For Example:

  • A Mac user sends a Windows user an email with a file attached that can only be opened by Apple Mac computers.

Does My Device Need A Certain Program?

Depending on the type of file that was sent, there may not be software available for your device that can open it. In some cases, if the software necessary to open a particular file exists for your device, it may need to be purchased. If the sender created the file that was sent using a software program you do not own, purchasing that software or having the sender re-send the file in a more widely-available format may be necessary.

For Example:

  • Person A edits a photograph using Adobe Photoshop. When Person A saves his work, this creates a Photoshop-only type of file by default, called a PSD file. So when Person A attempts to send that file to Person B as an email attachment, if Person B does not own Adobe Photoshop, they will not be able to open that file. Person B would have to purchase and install Adobe Photoshop in order to open that PSD file. Adobe Photoshop is also only available to PC and Mac computer users, so opening from a mobile device would also not be possible. To get around this type of frustrating issue, Person A could save their work in Photoshop using a more widely-available file type such as a JPG. This will ensure that when Person A sends a message with this JPG file attached, just about every device will be able to open and view this common type of file without a problem.

How Do I Know What Program I Need?

This will always vary depending on what type of file was sent to you. If you have been unable to identify the email attachment in question by following our guide, your best bet will be to contact the sender of the attachment to determine what type of file it is, and what program your device will need in order to open the file. This is a good time to explore the possibility of having the sender re-send the file in a more widely-available format. In this case, your device may not need any additional software at all.

Windows unable to open a file.

If you are unable to open the attachment you received, then you will want to contact the person that sent the email attachment to get more information. It is possible the sender may be able to send the attachment in another format that your device will recognize.

If you are a PST, follow the Escalation Process to PTE.
It Can't Happen Here
  1. Open the Mail app.
    Mail icon
  2. Click on an email with an attachment.
    Message with attachment
  3. Hover over the attachment icon until you see the attachment icon with a number next to it.
    Attachment icon highlighted
  4. Click on the attachment icon with the number of attachments next to it..
    Attachment icon with number of attachments highlighted
  5. The attachment will show in a drop down menu.
    Attachment file highlighted

    The type of file attachment will follow the final period in the file name. In this example we have a .txt file which is a text file.

    Attachment file extension highlighted

Attachments can come in a variety of formats. If an attachment was sent from a 3rd party program, you may need to install that program on your computer in order to view the attachment.

Here are some common file formats.

Extension File Type
PDF Adobe Acrobat

DOC
XLS
PPT

Microsoft Office

AVI
MKV
WMV
MP4
M4V
MOV

Video Files

WAV
MP3
WMA
M3U
PCM
FLAC
AIFF
AAC

Audio Files

ZIP
RAR
7Z

File Compression
  1. From the home screen, open the Mail app.
    Mail app
  2. Tap on a message that has an attachment.

    Attachments can be identified with a paperclip.

    Email with an attachment

  3. Tap on the attachment to download and view it.

    Attachments show up at the bottom of the message.

    Attachment

    The type of file attachment will follow the final period in the file name. In this example we have a .txt file which is a text file.

    Attcahment file extension highlighted

Attachments can come in a variety of formats. If an attachment was sent from a 3rd party program, you may need to install that program on your computer in order to view the attachment.

Here are some common file formats.

Extension File Type
PDF Adobe Acrobat

DOC
XLS
PPT

Microsoft Office

AVI
MKV
WMV
MP4
M4V
MOV

Video Files

WAV
MP3
WMA
M3U
PCM
FLAC
AIFF
AAC

Audio Files

ZIP
RAR
7Z

File Compression
  1. From the home screen, open the Mail app.
    Mail app
  2. Tap on a message that has an attachment.

    Attachments can be identified with a paperclip.

    Message with attachment

  3. Tap on the attachment to download and view it.

    Attachments show up at the bottom of the message.

    Attachment

    The type of file attachment will follow the final period in the file name. In this example we have a .mp4 file which is a video file.

    File extension highlighted

Attachments can come in a variety of formats. If an attachment was sent from a 3rd party program, you may need to install that program on your computer in order to view the attachment.

Here are some common file formats.

Extension File Type
PDF Adobe Acrobat

DOC
XLS
PPT

Microsoft Office

AVI
MKV
WMV
MP4
M4V
MOV

Video Files

WAV
MP3
WMA
M3U
PCM
FLAC
AIFF
AAC

Audio Files

ZIP
RAR
7Z

File Compression

The email provider used in this example uses an outlook.com address. There are may other email providers and their appearance may very.

  1. Login to your email via the link provided to you by your email provider.
    Browser with web address
  2. Click on an email with an attachment.

    An attachment can be identified with a paperclip.

    Email with attachment
  3. Click on the attachment to open it.

    The attachment is located above the email message.


    Attachment

    The type of file attachment will follow the final period in the file name. In this example we have a .txt file which is a text file.

    File extension highlighted

Attachments can come in a variety of formats. If an attachment was sent from a 3rd party program, you may need to install that program on your computer in order to view the attachment.

Here are some common file formats.

Extension File Type
PDF Adobe Acrobat

DOC
XLS
PPT

Microsoft Office

AVI
MKV
WMV
MP4
M4V
MOV

Video Files

WAV
MP3
WMA
M3U
PCM
FLAC
AIFF
AAC

Audio Files

ZIP
RAR
7Z

File Compression
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