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Relying on free email services - even GMail - can be an unnecessary risk. Fortunately GMail makes it possible, even easy, to backup your email.

You've mentioned backing up GMail to somewhere on your own computer; how do you do that?

Of all the current free email services, GMail is my favorite. I know I've railed against free email services as your only email service, but they definitely have their place. And GMail is the service I recommend.

In part, I recommend it because I can answer this question. GMail is easy to backup.

In a nutshell, the way to backup GMail to your own machine is to use a "traditional" email client, like Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird or others, and configure them to use GMail's POP3 access to download your mail.

Now, depending on how you use GMail there are a couple of approaches to doing this.

First let's set you up with POP3 access.

POP3 is the way traditional email programs that run on your PC get your email from your ISP. One of the reasons I recommend GMail is that they support using POP3 to download mail from your GMail account.

To start, you'll need an email program. Chances are you already have Outlook Express on your machine, and while that's better than nothing I actually recommend Thunderbird, also free, as good, reliable and feature rich email program. Perhaps most importantly for our backup purposes, your email in Thunderbird is stored as text files rather than Outlook Express's proprietary and somewhat error prone DBX files.

"Once configured, when you go do download or 'check for new mail' using your email program you'll get your GMail."

Once you have an email program, GMail's online help has instructions for configuring POP3 access in many popular email programs. Here are instructions for configuring Thunderbird.

Once configured, when you go do download or "check for new mail" using your email program you'll get your GMail. The first time it could be a lot, depending on how long you've been using GMail and how much email you have.

Do that periodically, and the mail that's store on your machine is your backup should you ever lose anything from GMail. You might even consider backing up those files along with your regular PC backups.

And of course, you could consider simply using your email program instead of the GMail web interface, since you now have that as an option.

If at any time you want to re-download all the mail in your GMail account, you can. GMail help includes instructions to backup all mail by forcing GMail to download all email, even that which might have been downloaded before. That's a good way to create a snapshot at any point in time.

Article C2999 - April 19, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

April 21, 2007 12:07 AM

If you`re using Hotmail and Thunderbird, a useful extension is (strangely enough) WebMail.
Although Hotmail is not supposed to be a POP service, this extension works fine and downloads my and accounts to Thunderbird seamlessly. Also claims to be able to deal with five other web mail domains as well, but I can`t vouch for those!

Eli Coten
April 21, 2007 4:33 PM

Thunderbird 2 makes it even easier to download GMail messages since they have a special option for setting up Google Mail access. I think all you need to give Thunderbird now is your username and password and Thunderbird handles all the server settings and port settings for you. (Although since I upgraded from Thunderbird 1.5 where I already have Gmail setup I haven't actually setup a Google Mail account on Thunderbirds 2 yet - I have seen the new option)


PG Wolfe
April 23, 2007 7:25 AM

I backup my Gmail account in a different, yet easier method. I created another email account (yahoo), and using the Gmail rules, all incoming GMail emails are automatically forwarded to the yahoo email account. I also use this backup method for files I want to keep. I email the file to Gmail, which automatically forwards to yahoo. I then have the file located on three different places: my own PC, Gmail & Yahoo. I do not use this method for proprietary files.

May 7, 2007 2:11 PM

Not sure what it does you're trying to show? But I want to access a gmail account which I forgot password. Will your method work? and how? thanks

May 9, 2007 12:00 PM

What does this backup backup? Only mails, that are in inbox? What about mails that are in send folder?!? Or mails that are in archive folder? Drafts?

February 5, 2008 10:48 AM

I am frustrated with the fact that I only have list of e-mails that I have send out in my inbox not recieved ones. It is always me, someone. I want to see recieved e-mails not just the one I have send out. could you please help.

May 21, 2008 3:45 AM

We have developed a simple tool ( ) to back up your emails from Gmail. It is written in Python but it is compiled into an EXE file for windows. As a result, you do not have to install anything. It is still only command line tool but very soon it will have GUI. You can also use it for migration or restoration of your Gmail Account. We hape that very soon it will be "one click solution". ;-)

June 4, 2008 6:18 AM

can i read my inbox even if im offline?

July 2, 2008 4:20 AM

Having been a fan of firefox and seen you post, I was greatly encouraged and used Thunderbird2.0 to backup my gmail. My gmail is fairly large (2GB) and, in more than 1 day, I downloaded 60% of it, and the program crashed. I tried to resume the backup, the program re-started by repeating the download right from the first email again. Tried all kinds of solutions suggested in the internet including uninstalling and wipe the program from the system and re-installing. It kept making the mistake as far as the program is interrupted while downloading the emails from gmail. After wasting 2 days, I gave up and used outlook from Microsoft, which worked perfectly. Although I really do not like Microsoft, I could not afford to waste time to just playing around with a problematic software.

August 11, 2008 7:29 PM

You could also just set up Thunderbird to check Gmail through IMAP. It keeps it synced for you and I have had no problems with it.

November 4, 2008 8:04 AM

You could also back it up using Gmail Backup.

Here is a quick how-to:

November 4, 2008 3:31 PM

How do I back up archived files; i.e., 500+ saved recipes that I've g-mailed to myself?

February 10, 2009 6:54 PM

I found this what interests me is that it can schedule the backup jobs and supports multiple gmail accounts.

April 9, 2009 6:16 AM

regarding gmail, it is my understanding that gmail does not have a "folder" system, therefore if you transfer all of your hotmail will get a very long list of email and not individual folders.....havent looked at this recently, but this was my last understanding.

May 20, 2009 10:32 AM

You can get a free one-time Gmail backup from

May 24, 2009 8:05 AM

for those who couldn't re-download, do this:

Enable POP for all mail in the 'Forwarding and POP/IMAP' section of your Gmail settings

then re-run email pop3 download.

Backup Gmail
August 22, 2009 10:18 AM

I also wrote a tutorial on how to backup Gmail using Mozilla Thunderbird:


December 22, 2009 11:23 AM

I use a free back up email program called MailStore. I use it to back up Hotmail, Thunderbird, etc. The site is : to check it out.

January 18, 2010 4:07 AM

thunderbird 3 does everything possible automatic :)

February 4, 2010 1:36 AM

Yahoo's mail, Flickr and IM interface are superior to the Google counterparts. Especially the tabbed interface in Mail Plus that allows you to switch between mails without closing them. In addition Gmail makes e-mails spontaneously disappear (it is all over the web, do a Google search). When you do business you do not want these kinds of things to happen. Yahoo's mail data-integrity is more reliable than Gmail's.

Jagdish bhimrao more
February 4, 2010 9:17 PM

My inbox download

March 18, 2010 4:50 PM
A new best service

April 2, 2010 6:44 AM

gmail is still the best by far. all my site emails are directed to my gmail for reading and pricessing and reply.
with google talk and the simplest interface no email service comes close and not to mention the lightning speed.

April 20, 2010 9:18 PM

What I don't understand is, if you delete an email on your gmail, wont it also delete that same email on Thunderbird? So how does that backup your gmail emails?

If you're using POP3 to download your email, then no, deleting in GMail does NOT delete the same message in Thunderbird.


May 6, 2010 7:52 AM

I already use thunderbird to access my gmail through IMAP. But I would also like to use this technique to backup gmail through POP3. It doesn't seem that Thunderbird will let me -- it keeps saying that I already have an email account set up for this email address, my IMAP one, and it won't let me create another one for POP. Can I still use your POP method for backup?

May 18, 2010 11:25 PM

ok good tip about backing up your email.
HOWEVER i used Thunderbird and i can see that it only downloaded last years mail .
so i did it on 15 may and the first mail I have on my disk is the one of 7may 2009...but i started using Gmail in 2006 all that mail still is at google's and not in my thunderbird
Question ? how do I download the earlier mail?
I cannot find any settings or options who forces thunderbird to go back at the very beginning...
Outlook has the same preset limit...

July 26, 2010 4:41 AM


July 31, 2010 8:59 AM

thnkzzzzzz ur article was really helpful!!!!!!!!

November 22, 2010 6:26 AM

is there a way of bcking up gmail to a fingernail file?
(please keep it stupid simple) :)

No idea what you mean by "fingernail file". Sorry.

February 2, 2011 3:04 PM

How do you go about backing up your sent mail?

February 4, 2011 3:58 AM

Thank you for the directions, I found this to be quite helpful and to the point. My Gmail account is a 97% full and I don't want to buy more space, I would rather back it up, now I know an easy way. I in fact do use gmail as my primary account, I find it better and more reliable than any other e-mail service I have used. I travel internationally and gmail seems to have fast connectivity no matter what country I am in, and what device I am using to access it.

Thanks again.

February 8, 2011 1:20 PM

is the perfect solution for 1 click backup


Cathy T
June 8, 2011 8:45 AM

Leo, why POP and not IMAP? I installed Thunderbird and downloaded all my gmail (lots!), but I'm beginning to understand that if I delete it in gmail, it doesn't delete it in POP, so the file in Thunderbird (I suppose) grows ever larger? Or is the idea that you delete it in TB as well? Have you ever used Gmail Backup or MailStore to backup gmail?

IMAP's a valid solution if you understand how IMAP works (I'm using it these days as well). Most people are more familiar with POP, and since a delete in a POP-downloaded installation doesn't delete the original on the server it's somewhat safer, IMO.

August 2, 2011 4:51 PM

I need some urgent help - How can I backup the chats and mails from and to a particular mail ID in my gmail account? I need to keep a copy in some CD/ hard disk and delete these chats/ mails from gmail once i have a backup. Please suggest the easiest and safest way possible.

October 5, 2011 11:22 PM

If we backup, and if we create another account (with different name), will we be able to import the old email back?


Mark J
October 6, 2011 12:26 AM

One way to export emails from one account to another is to forward them to the new account. It'd not perfect and the date sorting won't work, but at least they will be in the new account's folders.

November 21, 2012 11:02 PM

in which archiver i can archive 27gb Email form my gmail account. Thunderbird support 15gb archive eamil. please suggest me any good archiver.

You're not looking for an "archiver", you're just looking for an email program that can download the email. I would expect Thunderbird to work just fine (I'm NOT suggesting you use Thunderbird's archive feature, just download the mail). If not any good email program should do. Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 or better would probably be my next choice.

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