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Five Things You Need to Know About Gmail

Scott Granneman explains the five things you absolutely need to know about Gmail to use it more effectively.
This chapter is from the book

Gmail is fantastic, maybe the best aspect of Google Apps. On the one hand, I've found that it's remarkably easy to use, so much so that almost anyone can just sit in front of it and start using it. On the other hand, some aspects of it could use some elucidation, and that's what I intend to provide in this chapter.

Keep in mind that in this chapter, I'm focusing entirely on using Gmail in a web browser. In the next chapter, I look at accessing Gmail using a desktop email client such as Outlook, Apple Mail, or Thunderbird. With that in mind, let's look at five things you absolutely need to know about Gmail to use it more effectively.

Searching for the Exact Message You Need

Gmail is a product of Google, after all, so it's no shocker that it has excellent search capabilities. Unfortunately, many Google Search users just type a word or two into the search box and get good results, when they could get great results if they knew some advanced search operators. A similar situation exists with Gmail—most users simply search for a word or two, and they probably get good results, but if they learned a few advanced search operators, they could get great results.

So what's a search operator? Basically, it's just a word or symbol that modifies your search queries. There are oodles of search operators. Some of them are in your email headers, as shown in Table 8.1.

Table 8.1. Search Operators for Email Headers

to:me to:jans@websanity.com
Search Operator Meaning Examples
to: Messages sent to you or someone else
cc: Messages CC'd to you or someone else cc:me
cc:Jans Carton

Messages you sent via BCC to someone else (not those BCC'd to you)



Words in the Subject

subject:Project A
subject:"Chapter 8"
from: Messages sent to you by someone else from:Jans Carton

Other search operators are based on searching for attachments or even the types of files that make up the attachments. Table 8.2 shows some of those search operators.

Table 8.2. Search Operators for Attachments

Search Operator



Messages that have attachments


Messages with PDF attachments


Messages with Word attachments


Messages with MP3 attachments

Other filenames you can search for include (this is by no means an exhaustive list):

  • Movies—avi, mov, mp4, mpg, wmv
  • Sound—wav, wmv
  • Images—bmp, gif, jpg, png, tiff
  • Documents—csv, odt, ppt, rtf, txt, xls

Google relies heavily on labels (which we look at in the next section), and you can use search operators that target specific labels, as demonstrated in Table 8.3.

Table 8.3. Search Operators for Labels

Search Operator









Messages in the Inbox






Starred messages






Archived chats






Sent messages






Draft messages






Junk messages






Messages in the Trash






Unread messages





Read messages






Anywhere in Gmail, including Spam and Trash (which are normally ignored)

You can also search by time, as you can see in Table 8.4. However, dates must always be expressed in yyyy/mm/dd format.

Table 8.4. Search Operators for Time

Search Operator




After, but not including, the specified date



Before, but not including, the specified date


Things get really interesting, however, when you learn to construct more complex queries. Let's start with Boolean search terms and the various symbols you can use to build powerful queries, as displayed in Table 8.5.

Table 8.5. Boolean Search Terms and Symbols You Can Use to Devise Complex Queries

Search Operator

Symbol Equivalent





Jans AND Carton

Jans Carton

Word must be in all caps; AND is the default because spaces are its symbol.



Jans OR Carton

Jans | Carton

Word must be in all caps.



Jans NOT Carton


Word must be in all caps; no space after the hyphen.


"Gmail address book"

subject: "Saint Louis Zoo"

Search for exact phrase; capitalization ignored.


subject:(Zoo PRSA)

from:(Jans | Jerry)

Groups different terms together.


{from:jerry from:jans}

Group ORs together.

Now that you know all the information contained in the previous tables, let's combine the various operators in Table 8.6 for some complex queries.

Table 8.6. Some Complex Queries and Their Meanings

Look for any old messages with any of several kinds of large attachments, so I can delete them to free up space.
Search Query Meaning
to:me l:^u in:inbox Messages in the Inbox to me that are unread.
to:me l:(unread inbox)
from:jans subject:(zoo | prsa) Messages from Jans with a subject of zoo or prsa.
l:unread from:jans after:2008/06/10 Unread messages from Jans sent after 6/10/2008.
from:jans filename:pdf -subject:zoo Messages from Jans with PDF attachments that do not have zoo in the subject.
in:chat from:jans flickr Chats with Jans in which Flickr is discussed.
l:^k from:jans before:2008/06/10 subject:zoo Messages from Jans sent before 6/10/2008 with zoo in the subject, but now in the trash.
subject:zoo in:anywhere A message with zoo in the subject that could be anywhere, including Trash and Spam.
filename:{mov wmv pdf tiff}
Messages not in the Inbox.

Really, the best way to learn about searching Gmail is to practice and record the ones that work for you the best. If you use the Quick Links features from Gmail Labs (discussed in Chapter 7's "Quick Links" section), you can save those searches and easily return to them later.

In fact, if you often search for a particular label, you can use your browser's bookmarks to quickly return to it later. For instance, if I created a label named "Todo" and I wanted to quickly see all the messages to which I've given that label, I can just bookmark https://mail.google.com/a/heavymetalmassage.com/#label/todo (of course, change the domain name and label to fit your particular case).

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