Getting started with ProtonMail

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 24, 2017

ProtonMail is a secure email service based in Switzerland featuring end-to-end encryption, and a strong focus on privacy and security.

The service is available as a web version, and as applications for Android and iOS devices. The three core pillars of ProtonMail from a security and privacy point of view are support for end to end encryption, the service's zero access architecture, and use of open source cryptography.

Tip: Read our initial ProtonMail review which we published in 2014 as well.

End to end encryption means that data is stored in encrypted format on ProtonMail's servers, and that it is also encrypted when it is transferred. Messages between ProtonMail users are fully encrypted, a stark contrast to how regular email transmissions are handled (unless PGP or similar encryption is used).

Data is encrypted on the client side so that ProtonMail cannot access emails and other content. Since data is encrypted and decrypted on the user device, ProtonMail and any third-party cannot access these emails because of that.

Setting up a ProtonMail account

ProtonMail supports a free limited account, and several paid accounts. All plans support the same security features which makes the free account an ideal plan to start with as you can use it to test the service ProtonMail offers. Upgrades to paid accounts are always an option.

You get 500 Megabytes of storage with a free account, and a message limit of 150 messages per day. While storage may become an issue quickly, the number of messages should not.

ProtonMail does not display ads or uses other forms of monetization to make money off of free users. The service does add a "Sent with ProtonMail Secure Email" to messages sent using free accounts however.

The first paid account, Plus, raises the storage to 5 Gigabytes, adds four additional email addresses to the account, and enables email filters and autoresponder functionality. You do get  support for one custom address on top of that. It is available for $48 per year.

Extras can be purchased by paid subscribers: Extra storage is available for $9 per year and Gigabyte, extra domains for $18 per year, and extra addresses for $9 per 5 addresses.


Setup is straightforward. I suggest you start by creating a free account, but you may select one of the paid plans during setup already.

All you have to do then is to set the username and password that you want to use, and you are ready to go. You may add an alternative email as well, but that is optional.

ProtonMail requires no verification whatsoever (email, mobile phone), and can be used right after you have set up the account.

Using ProtonMail

The web interface of the email service supports two layouts that use three or two columns respectively. The three column layout displays mail folders, mails of the selected folder, and the active conversation in columns; the two column layout only the folders and either the active folder or the active conversation.

You may want to do the following things during the initial setup:

  • Open the Settings, and change the display name and add a signature.
  • Disable daily email notifications.
  • Decide whether you want to allow password resets. (this restores access to the account, but will make any email that is in the account up to that point unreadable).
  • Enable Two-Password mode. This is a legacy mode which uses different passwords for login and mailbox encryption.
  • Set "load embedded images" to manual.
  • Check out the keyboard shortcuts, e.g. c to open compose, Ctrl-Enter to send messages, or / to focus the search field.
  • Enable or disable email subscriptions (three out of four are enabled by default for free accounts).
  • Enable Two-Factor Authentication under Settings > Security.
  • Change the composer size and other layout related settings under Settings > Appearance.

You can download the PGP key to your system under Settings > Keys. This key can then be imported into programs that support PGP so that you may access your emails on these devices as well.

Closing words

ProtonMail is a secure email service that focuses on privacy and security. No one but the user has access to emails thanks to the service's implementation of end to end encryption. The service does not display ads to you, and does not read emails either.

The free version is good to take the service for a test ride, but it is somewhat limited. The inability to remove the "ad for Protonmail" when sending emails, and the limit to one address, no filters and no custom addresses need to be mentioned in this regard. The 500 Megabyte limit may also be reached quickly depending on how you use the service.

The cheapest paid subscription is available for $48 per year; quite a bit of money especially since email is seen as something that is available for free by many Internet users. Still, if you don't want someone else snooping on your emails, or that your emails are read online by robots or even human beings, you need end to end encryption for that.

While you can set up PGP on your device and start using it, doing so may be too technical (still) for many users.

Now You: Which email provider do you use, and why?

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  1. JMGG said on January 19, 2012 at 8:25 am

    You said that Outlook isn’t your main email client, so which is your main one?

    1. BalaC said on January 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

      I think its thunderbird

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on January 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

      It is Mozilla Thunderbird.

  2. Salaam said on September 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Awesome! This actually solved my problem… what a stupid bug.

  3. Claud said on December 19, 2012 at 2:08 am

    If this is the same bug that I’ve encountered, there may be another fix: (1) hover over open Outlook item in Taskbar, cursor up to hover over Outlook window item, and right-click; (2) this should give you Restore / Move / Size / Minimize / Maximize — choose Move or Size; (3) use your cursor keys, going arbitrarily N/S/E/W, to try to move or size the Outlook window back into view. Basically, the app behaves as though it were open in a 0x0 window, or at a location that’s offscreen, and this will frequently work to resize and/or move the window. Don’t forget to close while resized/moved, so that Outlook remembers the size/position for next time.

    1. Lynda said on February 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      THANK YOU Claude!!! I could get the main window to launch but could not get any other message window to show on the desktop. You are my hero!!!!

    2. Chad said on November 20, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      Solved my issue! 6 years later and this is still problem…

    3. Ivan X said on January 21, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Fantastic. Thank you. Size did the trick.

  4. Andrew said on October 26, 2013 at 7:06 am

    This solved my Outlook problem, too. Thank you. :)

  5. Charles said on December 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you so much, this started happening to me today and was causing big problems. You are a life saver, I hope I can help you in some way some day.

  6. garth said on November 7, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    You are a god – thank you!

  7. Faisal said on February 9, 2015 at 10:09 am

    thanks a lot…. work like charm.. :-)

  8. Simon said on March 24, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Yah…thanks Claude. I’ve been having the same problem and tried all the suggestions…your solution was the answer. It had resized itself to a 0/0 box. Cheers

  9. Olu said on April 14, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Excellent post. This had me baffled even trying to accurately describe the problem. This fixed it for me.
    Thank you

  10. Coenig said on July 23, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Thanks a lot for the article. Don’t know why it happenend, don’t know how it got fixed, but it was really annoying and now it works :-)

  11. Fali said on January 20, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks a lot. I was facing this issue from past 3 week. I tried everything but no resolution. The issue was happening intermittently and mainly when I was changing the display of screen ( as i use 2 monitors). The only option i had was to do system restore. But thanks to you.

    1. MIki said on January 10, 2019 at 11:54 am

      I’ve been tried to sole this problem for 12hours. Your comment about changing the display of screen helped me a lot!! Thanks!!

  12. Christina said on January 20, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you…don’t know why this happened but your instructions helped me fix it. Running Windows 10 and office pro 2007

  13. Oz said on July 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Great tip! Thanks!

  14. Tracy said on September 1, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Worked for me, too – thank you!!!

  15. shawn said on September 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

    It’s Worked for me, too
    thank you very much!

  16. Jari said on October 31, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I had a similar issue with Outlook 2013 on Windows 10 and this helped me to fix it. Thank you very much!

  17. Michel H said on November 30, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you so much. Solved!
    Considering you published this in 2012, incredible not been debugged by Microsoft.
    Thank you again. M

  18. Ziad Bitar said on January 9, 2017 at 2:00 am

    This problem was faced by only one user logging to TS 2008 r2 using outlook 2010.The issue was resolved.


  19. Anonymous said on February 15, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Great tip. Thank you!!!! If it helps, I had to use the Control Key and the arrow keys at the same time to bring my window back into view. Worked like a charm.

  20. Rochelle said on March 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Thank you, this worked !!!!

  21. anom1234 said on May 20, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Man, you are a fucking god. Thanks a lot, what an annoying bug!!

  22. JC said on October 12, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Awesome, this post solved the issue. Many thanks!

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