How to Set up an Autoresponder in Mac OS X Mail

Reply to incoming mail automatically

email flying out of a laptop

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You can set up OS X Mail to respond automatically to incoming messages with a text you have pre-composed.

The Same Message Every Time?

I keep typing the same replies again and again. Maybe I should make use of an auto-responder that replies with a standard text automatically? Setting one up in Apple's Mac OS X Mail is quite easy, fortunately.

Using email rules and their criteria, you can employ OS X Mail auto-responders with great flexibility. Not only can you set one up to send a vacation message to all messages you receive, but you can also respond automatically to something like status reports.

Set up an Autoresponder in Mac OS X Mail

To have Mac OS X Mail send automatic replies on your behalf:

  1. Select Mail > Preferences… from the menu in Mac OS X Mail.

  2. Go to the Rules category.

  3. Click Add Rule.

  4. Give your autoresponder a descriptive name under Description:.

  5. Enter any criteria you wish to use to limit the auto-responder to specific messages under If any [or all] of the following conditions are met:

    • The criteria lay down to which messages Mail will send a reply automatically.
    • To have OS X Mail reply only to emails you received at a specific address, for instance, make the criterion read To contains
    • To auto-respond only to senders in your Contacts, to people you have emailed before or VIPs, make the criterion read Sender is in my contactsSender is in my previous recipients or Sender is VIP respectively.
    • To have the auto-reply sent to all incoming emails, make the criterion Every Message.
  6. Select Reply to Message under Perform the following actions:

  7. Now click on Reply message text…

  8. Type the text to be used for the auto-responder.

    For a vacation or out of office auto-reply, do include information when people emailing you can expect a personal answer. If you plan not to go through your old mail when you return, do let people know when to re-send their message if it is still relevant.

    It is best not to be too detailed in your reply for security reasons, especially if you have the auto-response go to more than a specified set of recipients (say, senders in Contacts).

  9. Click OK.

  10. If prompted Do you want to apply your rules to messages in selected mailboxes?, click Don't Apply.​

    If you click Apply, OS X Mail will send the auto-reply to existing messages, generating possibly thousands of messages and multiple identical responses to the same recipient.

  11. Close the Rules dialog.

Auto-Reply Without Quoting

Note that replies generated using this auto-responder method will include not only the original message text but also original file attachments. You can use an AppleScript auto-responder to avoid this.

Disable Any OS X Mail Auto-Responder

To turn off any auto-responding rule you have set up in OS X Mail and stop automatic replies from going out—possibly temporarily:

  1. Select Mail > Preferences… from the menu in OS X Mail.

  2. Go to the Rules category.

  3. Make sure the rule corresponding to the auto-responder you would like to disable is not checked in the Active column.

  4. Close the Rules preferences window.