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Prevent Apple Mail from Auto-Completing the Wrong Address

I just received a note from Adam Engst informing me that my Address Book "has gotten whacked and is sending messages to instead of" That seemed like an odd mistake to make, since the "sponsors" address (which he uses to prioritize communication with our sponsors and potential advertisers) doesn't even appear in my Address Book database.

The actual culprit is Apple Mail's Previous Recipients list, which stores recent email addresses for later auto-completion when you start typing someone's name or address in a recipient field. In this case, I'd recently received a message from Adam when he was using, which was added to the list. When I typed "Adam" in the To field of an outgoing message, Mail auto-completed the entry as "Adam Engst,". I was typing quickly and didn't notice the address before moving on to the next name - hence the puzzled reply from Adam.

To work around the problem, you can remove the address from the Previous Recipients list in one of two ways:

  • Choose Window > Previous Recipients to display the list, then scroll or search the list to find the address you want to remove. Select the entry and click the Remove From List button.

  • If you've already typed the address, click the down-facing triangle that appears in the name's container to reveal a contextual menu. Select Remove from Previous Recipients List from that menu.

This removal feature is designed so that if you mistyped someone's information at one point, you can remove that erroneous address so you don't trip over it again.

However, those steps fix the problem only temporarily; the next time Adam includes me on a message from the sponsors address, it will again be added to my Previous Recipients list.

Also, there was another oddity: I would have thought that Adam's regular address would appear first in any list, since I use it far more than the other address, but that wasn't the case. Instead, the sponsors address appeared first because the name associated with it was "Adam Engst", while the entry in my Address Book database is "Adam C. Engst". Apparently, a name with no middle name is alphabetized higher than one with a middle name, which also gave me the clue as to how to fix the problem permanently.

Instead of removing the sponsors address, I chose Add to Address Book (available in either of the two methods mentioned above) and changed the name to "TidBITS Sponsorship Program" (to make sure I really don't stumble on it later). Now, Adam's main address appears first in the list. I can press the comma, right-arrow, or Tab keys to lock in the correct address and move on to the next field without wondering if I've misdirected the mail.


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Comments about Prevent Apple Mail from Auto-Completing the Wrong Address
(Comments are closed.)

Peter N Lewis  2010-02-22 19:55
Great article, I never knew about the Previous Recipients window, fantastically helpful!

However, Remove Address does not appear to affect the Previous Recipients, at least not in my testing, all it does is remove the address from the To field.

The Address Book tip is a great idea too. Thanks!
Mark D. McKean  2010-02-23 17:16
You would actually want to select "Remove from Previous Recipients List", seen in the menu in the referenced screen shot.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-25 10:50
Thanks for pointing that out, I've updated and fixed the screenshot.
Scott Goldman  2010-02-23 06:55
I find this to be one of the most horrifying "features" of Mail. The inability to turn off this automated addition of every address to which mail is sent or from which it is received is annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst.

That Apple has not made this an option which can be toggled is an indication of their "we know best" attitude.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea here, I'm a rapid Mac fan and advocate - 25 years and a dozen Macs, multiple iPods and iPhones - but that doesn't mean that certain applications couldn't use a little improvement. This one certainly could, particularly in this one area.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-23 07:49
I do like it when email programs make it easy to send mail to people who have sent you mail recently, but I think Apple is making it too opaque.

Gmail also tracks all the recent addresses you've used and suggests them when you start typing someone's name, but it displays the actual address both in the auto-completion list and in the To/Cc/Bcc field once completed, thus giving you a chance to make sure you're sending to the right address. Plus, it even has some add-ons (Got the right Bob?) that checks to make sure you don't include the wrong person in a group mailing. Very handy on occasion.
The problem is not so much adding addresses I send mail to, it's adding all the random addresses I GET mail from. If this part of the equation was removed, I'd have a lot less issues with it.
Mulder  2010-03-01 16:19
You're ranting about something that isn't true. This feature can be turned off, it's just that Apple hasn't disclosed that fact, or how to do it.

I've done it myself years ago, and it works through all OS X version from at least 10.2 to present.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-01 16:32
And how is that done? It's possible to disable auto-completion, but I like that feature.

And saying "it's possible, but Apple hasn't disclosed that fact or how to do it" is bogus. And don't say the answer is editing a preferences file or turning to the command-line -- I wrote the article for general users in mind.
Linda Peting  2010-03-01 16:50
There may be other programs that do this, but MacPilot allows you to set "Suppress address history" in Mail. That should cause auto-complete to only use address book entries.
Now if only you could edit this on the mail app on iphone OS. Unless I've missed something in the latest updates, you're basically stuck with mistaken addresses autocompleting there.
Chuck Boeheim  2010-02-24 10:09
The biggest hint: turn off "Smart Addresses" in the Viewing pane of Preferences. Then you'll see the email address that it's going to send to. The biggest mistake that all mail clients are making these days is hiding the real email address from the users in an attempt to be "friendly".
Christian Völker  2010-03-01 17:58
> And don't say the answer is editing a preferences file or turning to the command-line

Cmon, pasting a line like 2defaults write xyz" to the Terminal can be done by every noob.

Something else. I would avoid adding a dummy person to my collection of addresses, just to block an Email address. However, I would assign another address to that very person.
Addressbook assigns one email adress for each person the status of being the preferred address. You can see this when exporting as a vcard and opening it with a text editor.
However, I dont know, whether this is the first address entered or always the work address or work address if company is checked. These rules should be disclosed and documented somewhere.
Addressbook also sometimes shuffles around labels, so the private and work label of two email addresses or phone numbers are interchanged. So you probably cant rely on that feature that much, but I would still prefer that over having fake persons in my Addressbook.
Geoff Grant  2010-03-02 03:19
This is common to most mailing systems? A worse scenario is that when malware gets into a machine or a webmail site is hacked, it may access not only Address Book, but all the addresses in Inbox, Sent, etc etc. That includes all those folk in 'cc' you don't even know! Using bcc (blind copy) helps; how many times have you had a joke or a virus spoof with dozens of addresses on it? And how many people do you know who still have their systems set to auto-add everyone to their WAB? (well, none, but who knows?)
Christopher Schmidt  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2010-03-03 01:16
Great article!

I found 2 more related tips by Dan Moren:

The first notes that Address Book group names rise to the front of the autocomplete list, making "favorite nicknames" possible.

The second lets you designate which of a contact's email addresses will be used when expanding that nickname (i.e. group).

I found the Terminal command for suppressing address history at the related thread below, but I haven't tried it.

"defaults write SuppressAddressHistory -bool true"

Finally, using sqlite3, I see there are fields in the Address Book DB (ZORDERINGINDEX,ZISPRIMARY) for setting the order of email addresses, but I fear to manipulate them, and the Moren tips are better anyway.
Christopher Schmidt  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2010-03-06 22:44
GUI tool for editing SQLite databases (like Address Book) here:

Use at your own risk!
Christopher Schmidt  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2010-03-06 22:54
Regarding Moren's first tip, I just realized that the group name rises to the front of the autocomplete suggestions in Snow Leopard, but not in Leopard.