Friday, December 28, 2007

Backing up Gmail with Thunderbird

Backing up Gmail with Thunderbird
Ever since that brief but petrifying Gmail outage (and my ensuing freakout), I've been "backing up" Gmail messages via POP using Thunderbird.

Since I don't check Gmail through Thunderbird, the Minimize to Tray extension plus the Minimize to Tray Enhancer make keeping T-bird out of the way and starting up automatically with Windows easy. The bonus of local copies of your email messages is desktop search access (Vista and Spotlight don't search online Gmail like Google Desktop does) and offline access, too. How do you archive your Gmail locally? Let us know in the comments. Thanks, JamesIsIn! — Gina Trapani

8:30 AM ON THU FEB 8 2007

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Image of katana BY KATANA AT 02/08/07 08:33 AM

I do thunderbird backups now. I did a year or two ago, and after the Dec. deletion of ~60 Gmail accounts, I backed up EVERYTHING again. Lots of spam with it, but at least I have the legit. messages locally too.

No commenter image uploaded BY LEE AT 02/08/07 08:51 AM

Is it possible to back up sent email?

Image of katana BY KATANA AT 02/08/07 09:14 AM

Actually, I didn't find a way to backup sent e-mail or drafts. Anyone know how?

Image of Gideon BY GIDEON AT 02/08/07 09:23 AM

I actually did this yesterday myself... I used the redirect plugin to pull mail from two other gmail accounts I've used over the years and then just downloaded all 9000 msgs into thunderbird.

I then use SmartBackup to back the folder up to an hosted WebDav drive.

I had an old outlook pst file that used to have stuff going back to 97 somehow get corrupted on me - it's all about redundant backups.

No commenter image uploaded BY SPEEDWAY AT 02/08/07 09:31 AM

I have outlook set up to access my gmail account via POP, and have the Gmail settings to keep a copy in Gmail's inbox.

I have the backup plugin from Microsoft installed in Outlook 2003 so everything is backed up on closing Outlook.

Messages sent to and from gmail automatically appear in my Outlook inbox.

Occasionally I go to the outlook inbox and mark all as read. - Nothing is really organized, but if I ever need to find something google desktop search will be there to help me!

Image of Gina Trapani, Lifehacker Editor BY GINA TRAPANI, LIFEHACKER EDITOR AT 02/08/07 09:44 AM

@Lee: When you POP your Gmail, you get sent mail as well as received. I was surprised too! Pleasantly.

Image of Barron BY BARRON AT 02/08/07 09:47 AM

I haven't looked at the "Minimize to Tray" extensions, so maybe they offer additional functionality, but if you are running TaskSwitchXP then you already have a minimize to tray capability. Just turn it on in the "General Settings" and right-click on the minimize button of the window you want to send to the tray.

No commenter image uploaded BY DBUZEK AT 02/08/07 09:57 AM

Me to:) Downloading also sent mails by pop3 is a superb feature! Thank you, Mr. Google ;)

No commenter image uploaded BY SPOOKSTER AT 02/08/07 10:07 AM

I also started doing this after that previous LH post, but have found it annoying that thunderbird now alerts me when I get new gmail. I already use Thunderbird for my work mail, so I can't turn off the alerting altogether - anyone know how to disable it for a specific account?

Image of Gina Trapani, Lifehacker Editor BY GINA TRAPANI, LIFEHACKER EDITOR AT 02/08/07 10:13 AM

Yah, that's the one thing I hate about this system, is the little unread mail icon on the taskbar. So far I haven't figured out a way to disable that. Surely there must be an extension...?

Image of JohnnyLA BY JOHNNYLA AT 02/08/07 10:18 AM

Does Thunderbird also download email into archived label subdirectories? I can see get all of that mail and then having to redirect it again to all of my labels.

No commenter image uploaded BY STICKYSTYLE AT 02/08/07 10:19 AM

I do the same thing with 'fetchmail'. It downloads my mail and has it delivered to a mail spool file, which if needed thunderbird can open up. Much less resource intensive than running thunderbird all the time, although i don't know if there is a similar (fetchmail) way to do this in windows.

No commenter image uploaded BY ADAM SANDERG ERICSSON AT 02/08/07 10:35 AM

I just found this:
Pretty nice tools I think, but i haven't tried it yet.

No commenter image uploaded BY JMSIDHU AT 02/08/07 10:42 AM

How can you do this without causing Thunderbird to move messages from my Gmail inbox? When I am using Gmail, I like to use the GTDGmail Plugin. I'd like to rely on Thunderbird for a local backup but I need it keep my emails where they are. When Thunderbird copies the mail now, it moves my online copies to the Archive. Anyway to stop this?

Image of Gina Trapani, Lifehacker Editor BY GINA TRAPANI, LIFEHACKER EDITOR AT 02/08/07 10:45 AM

@JohnnyLA: No, it doesn't, no labels in the POP download, which sucks.

@stickystyle: I'd love to fetchmail command-line style once an evening instead of running T-bird all the time... must look into it for Windows, thanks!

No commenter image uploaded BY JMSIDHU AT 02/08/07 10:50 AM

Maybe Windows users can run Fetchmail using Cygwin.

No commenter image uploaded BY NAIKROVEK AT 02/08/07 10:52 AM

@Gina: how about this:

Image of jadedhalo BY JADEDHALO AT 02/08/07 10:54 AM

I have a gmail account for personal email and a Gmail hosted account for my work. I have a 3rd gmail account that I forward both the othe rones too. I setup to download via POP from that 3rd unused account. This gives me two backups for both my accounts, local and online.

Image of earth2marsh BY EARTH2MARSH AT 02/08/07 10:55 AM

@Gina Trapani: maybe a filter that marks everything as read? (haven't tried that yet myself)

Image of Gina Trapani, Lifehacker Editor BY GINA TRAPANI, LIFEHACKER EDITOR AT 02/08/07 10:55 AM

@Naikrovek: Now we're talkin'! I'll give that a try. I'd love to come up with an automated, non-intrusive Gmail backup that just works.

No commenter image uploaded BY TRUMPETFALCON AT 02/08/07 11:06 AM

This is probably incredibly dense, but any short explanation on how to do this with Thunderbird?

As an avid gmail user (with multiple accounts), I have no concept of tb whatsoever...

No commenter image uploaded BY JMSIDHU AT 02/08/07 11:18 AM

Sorry about replying to my own post.

Earlier I wrote with question about how to get Gmail to leave my mail where it was stored (especially stuff that is in the Gmail inbox) when backing up with Thunderbird.

I did some checking in Gmail's settings and on the 'Forwarding & POP' tab there is a config option that allows users to tell Gmail to leave copies in the inbox when accessed via POP. Going to give it a try and see how that works going forward with the GTDMail plugin I use with Gmail/Firefox.

Image of infmom BY INFMOM AT 02/08/07 11:19 AM

I check my Gmail with Eudora, which I've instructed to delete messages off the Gmail server after capturing them. I don't understand why people save every last flippin' email they ever get!

If there's information in the mail I want to save, I do a save-as from Eudora and put it in the appropriate directory on my hard drive. I don't keep stuff kicking around in my Eudora inbox either.

I sign into Gmail a couple times a week and go through the spam folder to see if it caught anything it shouldn't (it happens from time to time) and delete the rest of the spam.

Image of 5cents BY 5CENTS AT 02/08/07 11:32 AM

I use Apple's Mail to backup Gmail so I dont know about the Thunderbird specifics. Is it not possible to use rules to tag all incoming messages for a certain account as "read" and move them to an appropriate folder? This way you wont get the "unread" indicator. Another rule in Apple's Mail will let sort the sent messages from the received ones and place them in the sent box (as opposed to both sent and received messages in one box). Is anyone interested or am I way off topic?

No commenter image uploaded BY KEVIN NEELY AT 02/08/07 11:32 AM

Gmail is good, there's no doubt about it, but no matter how good they make it, I still do not find the web interface to be as efficient as an application running on my machine. I also like to make use of offline mail access, which rules web-based mail out.

So, I make use of a rather complex infrastructure relying upon Gmail as a backend. I then use my server at home running fetchmail grab off the e-mail for each account, and then make the mail available via IMAP. This gives me the reliability of Google with the good webmail (for when I have to use it) but the flexibility to access my mail how I want to.

I began documenting the process here:

Hmm, looks like I need to move onto step 2...

No commenter image uploaded BY WEBS AT 02/08/07 11:32 AM

infmom: I delete nothing because if there was something I need to get from an email I previously got, in Gmail it is really easy to search for it.

And besides I have over 2gigs of storage, so rather than delete things I just archive everything (taking gmail's advice).

Image of Pat BY PAT AT 02/08/07 11:37 AM

I use to send/receive gmail, so I do my mail offline but can also do it online when I'm away from home. Then when I get back, Pop access grabs anything I received OR sent while I was out.

Therefore, I have an archive of mail online and off, searchable in both places. Also, I have my gmail account automatically forward everything to a yahoo address for an additional online backup, and of course my folders get backed up to a disk clone at home. With 4 copies of everything, in three different physical locations, I think I'm covered! ;)

No commenter image uploaded BY SPOOKSTER AT 02/08/07 11:56 AM

@earth2marsh: thanks for the suggestion re. marking all incoming mail as read - that does the trick!

Only problem is that Thunderbird doesn't have a filter option to match all incoming mail, so I tried using 'size > 0' and that worked.

No commenter image uploaded BY SENSELESS1 AT 02/08/07 12:12 PM

Just thought you should know...the Thunderbird link at the beginning of this post is incorrect.

No commenter image uploaded BY SENSELESS1 AT 02/08/07 12:13 PM

Just thought you should know...the Thunderbird link at the top of this post is incorrect.

Image of katana BY KATANA AT 02/08/07 12:25 PM

My gmail "sent" folder didn't download into thunderbird. Any special setting here?

Whomever said they always delete off the server: some people like archived, online copies. It comes in handy when you're on vacation, when your hard drive(s) crash, etc. It's a backup "sytems" for people who don't back up to external disks (naughty naughty).

Image of Gina Trapani, Lifehacker Editor BY GINA TRAPANI, LIFEHACKER EDITOR AT 02/08/07 12:26 PM

@Spookster: Ooooh, size > 0! Brilliant, you are!

@Senseless1: D'oh, will fix.

No commenter image uploaded BY MEYERSMP AT 02/08/07 12:31 PM

I've got a gmail question that none of my gmail guru friends has been able to completely answer. My wife is a photographer and loves her gmail account. Professional etiquette says that she should have a non freebie account hosted on her own server. Something like

So the question... Can gmail go out to a pop3 account and retrieve email sent to her "professional" account? The guru friends swear it can be done. I disagree as this would put further strain on gmail servers having to constantly look for newly arrived mail. Any thoughts Gina?

No commenter image uploaded BY JWELSHJR AT 02/08/07 12:52 PM

@myeersmp: Just have her configure Google Apps for Your Domain - then she'll get the best of both worlds. (Also see Lifehacker articles such as this one:

No commenter image uploaded BY MIKE TUTTLE AT 02/08/07 12:58 PM


It is a standard option in Gmail, actually. Go to Settings->Accounts->Get mail from other accounts.

Unless I am missing something.

I often hear people express disbelief that someone would want to use a desktop client like TB for Gmail and lose the labels, etc. It all depends on your individual needs, folks. I hate Outlook but really love having a client that checks all my gmail accounts, delivers my RSS feeds (incl. Lifehacker), and has groovy extensions like Minimize to Tray, Contacts Sidebar, Signature and QuickText. I leave my old messages on the Gmail servers as a backup for a month or so at a time then delete them with ease to clean things up. If I am away from home, I can always check my Gmail via the web interface or even my phone. It all just depends on what your needs are.

No commenter image uploaded BY VRB AT 02/08/07 01:03 PM

@ meyersmp
When google when completely open a few days ago, they also added Mail Fetch to all account. Check out:<...

No commenter image uploaded BY MIKE TUTTLE AT 02/08/07 01:05 PM

@meyersmp Here is a link to Google Help which explains the Gmail "Mail Fetcher" capabillity. Up to five other non-gmail accounts can be fetched.

No commenter image uploaded BY BRADD AT 02/08/07 01:06 PM

@meyersmp: This feature is being rolled out. It was just activated on my account and is called "Mail Fetcher".


Extra bonus: it preserves the date that the original message was sent. Importing messages using other methods generally time-stamps each message the day GMail received it, instead of when it was actually sent.

Image of Irian BY IRIAN AT 02/08/07 01:15 PM

Fetching mail from other POP accounts is a recently introduced feature that is being rolled out slowly to all users.

And it seems I finally have it enabled! :)
Time to fully migrate to Gmail.

Any ideas on how to do the opposite (uploading what I have in Thunderbird to Gmail, to have it as a backup and take advantage of the extended search capabilities)? I'd like to have all my email both on Gmail and on a local copy at my PC.

No commenter image uploaded BY MEYERSMP AT 02/08/07 01:39 PM

Now don't I feel stupid for not checking the accounts tab. I skipped it thinking it had to do with gmail preferences and not outside accounts. Thanks for the help.

Image of katana BY KATANA AT 02/08/07 02:04 PM

"Fetching mail from other POP accounts is a recently introduced feature that is being rolled out slowly to all users."

STILL not there for me. STILL.

I signed up for a new account a while back. It's in there. But, it's not enabled in my old accounts.

Image of Jeff S BY JEFF S AT 02/08/07 02:53 PM

@ Mike Tuttle and bradd

Beware of using gmail to fetch It will work, but when you reply to an email, Outlook will your wife's email address as on behalf of For this reason getting gmail for your own domain is a much neater solution.

I actually use Gmail as a backup at the front end. From there, I forward all my gmail accounts and work email to where rules auto-file it into IMAP folders. I then pull it all onto my desktop with Thunderbird Portable on my PC (at work), and Thunderbird on the Mac (at home). Because Fastmail uses IMAP, the folders are replicated on my desktops and there is no mail re-sorting to do.

IMAP is not a backup of my Fastmail, but as it routes through gmail there is an online copy if fastmail ever goes down
if it ever goes down, i have it all in gmail.

Image of Gina Trapani, Lifehacker Editor BY GINA TRAPANI, LIFEHACKER EDITOR AT 02/08/07 03:05 PM

@Jeff S: Agreed. Gmail for your domain is definitely more ideal than forwarding, for the exact reason you said.

No commenter image uploaded BY JER887 AT 02/08/07 03:13 PM

I've just been using google desktop to index my gmail so I can get to my email offline. But, is that a sufficient backup solution? Where are those indexed emails stored locally?

No commenter image uploaded BY REEFLECTIONS AT 02/08/07 03:53 PM

Irian: See this article from last week.

Image of infmom BY INFMOM AT 02/08/07 04:10 PM

@webs: So, do you save every magazine you ever got, just because there's plenty of room in the living room to stack them up?

Come on, how often do you actually have to go back and find something in a previous email? If there's useful information in something you got, save it. If it's idle chit-chat, advertising, a reply that mostly quotes back what you sent and then says "You bet!" at the end... [etc etc etc] then saving it is kind of like filling your living room with gum wrappers just because you can.

Image of MTS BY MTS AT 02/08/07 04:26 PM

Through my hosting company's control panel, I've set up my email account to send to two mailboxes -- the account's own plus Gmail. I have the hosting one set up as IMAP, so I check it frequently enough to weed out the spam (this is why I switched to Gmail) but leave it be otherwise.

Instead, I use the Gmail one. Thunderbird accesses it via POP, so all my message filters are run and then I decide what to keep/delete on the web version.

A little unwieldy but if Gmail ever croaks, I've still got my email. And if my computer/Thunderbird buys the farm, I still have a backup of that.

No commenter image uploaded BY YEABIRFDAY AT 02/08/07 07:07 PM

I actually worry more that my local backup will fail than gmail's (remote to me) storage. I use thunderbird to collect email from maybe 6 accounts, but they get so much spam I make Google Desktop pause indexing before opening up Thunderbird. I can't seem to come up with an indexing filtering rule that will keep them out of my index. I'd prefer to have a way to go the opposite direction of what everyone's talking about here, and back them all up in Gmail, but those accounts are all freebies, so no POP access, and :. no mail fetching. I use the Web Mail extension to get them into Thunderbird in the first place. Any ideas?

Image of cJw BY CJW AT 02/09/07 03:55 AM

So how long before google release gmail, the desktop version - or is that called google-desktop? :p

Image of ahoier BY AHOIER AT 02/09/07 06:27 AM

I don't back it up. To me, that's the whole point of "web mail", so I don't have to use my own Hard drive space to store the messages.

But yea, I might have to look into backing who knows when Google will change their ways...heh

Image of Joe BY JOE AT 02/09/07 10:08 AM

I've been doing the same thing, backing up with Thunderbird, but I'm using the 'Thunderbird-Tray' extension to start Thunderbird and minimize it to the tray. If you come up with a simple command-line option, do let us all know. The other part of this to consider is restoring mail to G-mail. I initially started backing up when I heard about the people who lost all their mail due to a Firefox hole. If that were to happen, and you needed to restore your mail from Thunderbird to Gmail, how would you do it?

No commenter image uploaded BY PRAGMATOPIAN AT 02/25/07 08:51 AM

Just started using Gmail so the mail fetcher has been a godsend for importing old mail. It must have sucked for early adopters, who's imported mail would show the date it was forwarded via SMTP. Here's how I did it:

(1) temporarily set up a mail server with POP3 and IMAP protocols (such as Macallan Mail Solution Mail Server) on your computer, (2) drag and drop mails from archive folders into the mailbox using any mail client that supports IMAP, and (3) connect to the mailbox from GMail using the POP3 protocol to download the mails. Obviously you need to have an ISP that will allow the traffic.

Hope this helps some other Gmail virgins - a quick search didn't give me any hits along these lines - all links still point to GML! :)

No commenter image uploaded BY KLIONERG AT 04/01/07 09:41 AM

I've searched far and wide on the web for a fix to this problem. I've configured Thunderbird and Gmail perfectly to back up all my mail from Gmail...I have over 11,000 emails, but Thunderbird is saying its done at 375 and then saying 'no new mail' to download. I've gone through the trouble of marking all 11,000 email 'unread' and running a configuration troubleshooter, but still no luck...i want all my 'old' mail sucked down, but it won't let me. I've seen some other posts on the web about this problem. Is Gmail blocking this process or is there something i can change in my configurations to fix this?

Image of ahoier BY AHOIER AT 07/25/07 06:02 AM

@Lee: When I Use(d) "Freepops" to download my gmail messages, it happened to grab some "Sent" messages too...though I found it quite annoying.

No commenter image uploaded BY PR0CRAST AT 12/20/07 07:57 PM

Wow, I'm really bringing an old post back from the dead here. But what I do is keep a little encrypted safe on my external backup drive, and within that safe install "Thunderbird Portable." Once a month (or whenever I feel like it) I'll open the safe, suck down whatever new messages there are since last time, and close the safe. If I want a second online backup I can upload the whole safe to my web space via FTP, and being that it is in a safe and encrypted, I don't have to worry about my privacy.

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