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Backing up web-based free email is important. It isn't obvious how to backup Yahoo! Mail nor is it necessarily officially supported, but it's not hard.

Every message that I have sent and saved is on my Yahoo! account. I would like to download all of this material - to a CD, a memory stick, my computer, anywhere! I don't know how to do this. Could you help me on this?

This is one reason why I rarely recommend Yahoo! as an email provider. They have a nice UI and it's a reasonably good service, but they provide no officially supported way to back up your email.

So, we have to go through some slightly unofficial back doors.

It may seem a tad intimidating at first, but it's well worth it - without a backup, you're at risk of losing everything.

To backup Yahoo! Mail, you can install or use a desktop email program to access your email using IMAP to download a copy to your PC.

IMAP? Desktop email program?

Read on...

Yahoo! Mail and IMAP

It's not widely known, but Yahoo! Mail supports IMAP, apparently everywhere.

IMAP is a protocol, like POP3, that is used by email programs to access your email.

IMAP differs from POP3 in that rather that transferring your messages when you "download" your email, it acts more like a mirror of the email that's kept on your mail server. Email is copied to your PC using IMAP, but unlike POP3, it's also left on your mail server.

Then, as you read and dispose of your email, the actions that you take in your email program are reflected back up to the email server: if you delete a message on your device, it's deleted on the server; mark it as read on your device and it's marked read on the server; move a message to a folder on your device and it's moved to that folder on the server.

You get the idea. IMAP is simply a kind of locally-cached window onto your email.

The "catch" in our scenario, however, is that Yahoo!'s support of IMAP is intended for mobile devices.

You can actually see Yahoo! Mail IMAP settings in Yahoo!'s own help center.

So, why do we care so much about IMAP?

When supported, IMAP on a PC-based email program can download a copy of all mail in all folders.

Which sounds suspiciously like a backup.

Yahoo! Mail and IMAP ... and Thunderbird

Because Yahoo!'s support of IMAP is intended to support mobile devices, it's not guaranteed to work everywhere or with every program.

But then again, it's actually not all that easy for a service provider like Yahoo! to tell whether mail is being requested by a desktop or a mobile device. As a result, it works in more places than just mobile.

Like Thunderbird.

In researching this article, I set up Thunderbird to access my Yahoo! Mail account via IMAP and it just worked.

Configuring Thunderbird for Yahoo!

In the Tools menu, click Account Settings.... At the bottom of the account list, click the Account Actions drop-down and click Add Mail Account...:

Thunderbird's Mail Account Setup

Enter your name (the name that you want displayed in the From: address of the email you send), your email address and your password, and click Continue.

Thunderbird's Mail Account Setup for Yahoo!

Make sure IMAP is selected. It likely will not be by default.

Click Create Account.

Thunderbird is now configured for Yahoo! Mail.

Yahoo! Mail account in Thunderbird

You may need to restart Thunderbird for all of your Yahoo! Mail folders to appear. It may also take some time to download all of your mail.

Backing up Yahoo! Mail

As I stated at the begining, to backup Yahoo! Mail, you can install or use a desktop email program to access your email using IMAP to download a copy to your PC.

In the example above, I've configured Thunderbird to access Yahoo! Mail.

What that means is that by simply running Thunderbird periodically, I'll automatically backup my Yahoo! Mail by downloading any updates. New mail will be added, deleted mail will be deleted, and changes that you make to what mail is in what folder will be updated.

Of course, you could choose to leave Thunderbird running - in fact, you could simply use it as your mail program instead of the web interface.

It's what I do, but really ... that part is up to you.

Other Email Programs.

I've used Thunderbird as an example here because it's what I use, I recommend it, and as we saw, it just worked.

You can most certainly try other email programs. Windows Live Mail, Outlook, or any of several others come to mind. All that's required is that they support IMAP and that you simply use Yahoo! Mail's IMAP settings when you configure the account.

And that Yahoo! is willing to treat them as if they were a "mobile device."

What about Contacts?

Everything that we've discussed so far is about backing up mail and does not apply to your Yahoo! Mail contacts.

And unfortunately, while backing up is fairly easy, it's not continually updated like your mail might be via IMAP.

In Yahoo! Mail's web interface, click the Contacts tab and then near the middle of the screen is the Actions drop-down menu. Click that:

Yahoo! Mail Export Contacts action

Click Export All...

Yahoo! Mail Export Contacts options

Choose the format that you would like your contacts to be downloaded in.

Because we've been using Thunderbird above, that would make sense to choose - you can then import those contacts directly into Thunderbird's own contact manager.

If you're not sure and just doing this to back up, Yahoo! CSV would make sense.

Just remember to export your contacts "every so often," so as to keep your backup current.

Article C5070 - February 7, 2012 « »

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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?

Kent Hartsoe
February 10, 2012 9:38 AM

Excellent article! I've been wanting to download all that information for a long time but couldn't figure out how to do it. Of course Yahoo Help was zero help. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

February 10, 2012 9:40 AM

This may work for those who only want to save the occasional e-mail, or any other web page, and don't want to set up Thunderbird, Leo's excellent suggestion.

I use "cute PDF Writer". It is a virtual printer and web pages are saved as a pdf file.

It works for me :-)

February 10, 2012 9:43 AM

Here is a link to Leo's article about the "cute pdf writer" I mentioned in my previous comment.

February 10, 2012 10:18 AM

Read the story 2x but still can t get my 2,000
plus yahoo emails burned to a dvd so waiting
on better/ clearer instructions - later . . .

Once you've downloaded your Yahoo! email into a desktop PC program you can then locate the files that contain those emails on your PC (the location depends on the program you use) and burn those files to CD/DVD. If you're using Thunderbird you can use this article from mozillaZine to locate the files.
February 10, 2012 10:49 AM

now. how about instructions for those of us that use one ofthe variations of OUTLOOK (not OE)? POP3 settings? once upon a time i want to say Yahoo offered that?

As the article states, POP3 isn't available for free accounts in the US. Outlook may be able to use the same IMAP settings. See the link in the article "Yahoo! Mail IMAP settings" to get those.
Michael Horowitz
February 10, 2012 10:57 AM

Great article. Only thing I would add is the suggestion to use the portable version of Thunderbird rather than a normally installed copy. No reason to restricted your backups to one specific computer.

February 10, 2012 12:34 PM

THank you for your quick response Leo! i know POP is no longer 'free' from yahoo - i guess i didn't see it in the article.

February 10, 2012 4:07 PM

OK - this may sound "simplistic" and in an "after the fact" situation it could be a rather daunting task, but ...

I use my Yahoo Mail account as a "throw away" email account primarily to subscribe to email newsletter services (such as "AskLeo." And, for online "postings" of comments to news items of interest to me.

If/whenever I receive ANY email of lasting interest (say ... an article from about financial advice for federal retirees) or online orders from Amazon or similar online retailers - I always bring up the "Print" version of the email and then save it to the appropriate folder on my computer (Online Orders/Amazon or some such).

That way I have a simple "text" version of any "important" email on/to/from my web-based email service.

If you do this as a part of your "everyday routine" it's painless, simple, and effective. To do it "after the fact" would be a rather more daunting task. But - it's a way to insure YOU have and control any "important" emails on your web-based email service.

February 11, 2012 7:48 PM

IMAP for Yahoo! Mail works great with Outlook. When setting up the account in Outlook, one will need to make sure they use the option to setup an account manually, and will need to use the More Options button, and then the Connection tab, to set correct ports for incoming and outgoing connections. Make sure you first select SSL for each type, then enter your port numbers, or Outlook will default them. Also, you need to "visit" each of your Yahoo! Mail folders in Outlook once you are set up, so as to force it to download the mail stored in them.

February 12, 2012 5:45 PM

THANK YOU! I feel so much better now that I've backed up my 5000 messages from the past 15 years! I know there are some programs out there that are supposed to download Yahoo mail, but I never fooled with them. This is the first time I ever saw that Yahoo messages could be downloaded at all(without paying Yahoo). There are still limitations, and I prefer Gmail now. Thanks again, Leo.

February 13, 2012 2:51 AM

Those who have Verizon-Yahoo internet may have the ability to download mail via a POP3 client such as Outlook Express or Mozilla. Here are the tutorial pages:

February 13, 2012 3:06 AM

Re my last post, if your Verizon-Yahoo internet service already includes AddressGuard, then Yahoo Premium and POP 3 is included as well.

George Barrowcliff
February 14, 2012 12:32 AM

Is this current as of Feb 2012? I have more than 10 years. Sorry for the English, having to use left fingers, had a stroke two months ago.

Just need a copy of: Inbox, contacts, and folders from Yahoo mail three. Separate folders is OK but one folder is nicer.

Mark J
February 14, 2012 12:54 AM

The article is definitely current. It was written Feb 7, 2012.
As explained in the article, you can download contacts by clicking on the Contacts tab in Yahoo. Next click on the Actions button and select Export All from the pulldown menu. Then select the format in which you want to save the file. The Yahoo CSV format can be opened in Excel or Open Ofice Calc.

Bruce H
February 16, 2012 11:44 PM

Recently started using Gmail instead of Yahoo! because I have had problems with missing emails, as well as a couple of security concerns. Shortly after opening my Gmail account I was asked if I wanted to import all my email from Yahoo! to Gmail. Now all my old emails are on both services. I have heard that Google tends to store things forever if you don't actively delete them. I hope this is true in this case, as it makes a convenient backup (sort of).

February 18, 2012 8:49 PM

This sounds like it works really well... just in case it helps anyone, just wanted to mention that Zimbra Desktop (sounds like exactly the same thing as Thunderbird?) worked really well for me. I finally backed up my yahoo mail a few months ago and so far there have been no glitches, and it's very easy to use for an extremely non-techy person like me. (I have a Mac.)

June 18, 2012 11:15 PM

When you say "leave your Thunderbird running", what does that mean exactly? How do I know it is running all the time? Thank you for your wonderful information that you provide

Mark J
June 19, 2012 1:26 AM

As long as you have the Thunderbird program open, in other words you don't close it, it is running.

July 13, 2012 4:15 AM

You rock!
I tried hacking my Yahoo! account all around..never dumbly though of simply boldly force IMAP ....ButOfCourse!
Thank you for taking the time writing this HowTo.

Paul S
July 31, 2012 6:41 AM

Great idea, and I did download and backup my Yahoo mail to Thunderbird. But it seems you instructions for exporting my Yahoo contacts to Thunderbird are incomplete. You say " can then import those contacts directly into Thunderbird's own contact manager." But it was not clear to me exactly how to do that, more specifically, how to get the exported file into Thunderbird. In Thunderbird itself, I did find more complete instructions. In Thunderbird's Help. I found the instructions "Importing Yahoo!'s Contact List" after typing "import contacts" in the search box and clicking on the result "Thunderbird and Yahoo."

Hope that's helpful to people. And thanks, Leo, for continuing to noodge people about backing up.

Barry M
August 7, 2012 5:52 AM

The IMAP option worked like a charm on Thunderbird. All my Yahoo mail folders and contents were copied just as suggested. Thanks so much. This saved me a real headache, as I am now switching my email from Yahoo to a new service and Thunderbird is my preferred email client.

Barry M
August 7, 2012 5:57 AM

This saved me so much trouble. I am dropping Yahoo in favour of another provider, and am using Thunderbird as my new email client. The IMAP option copied all my email Yahoo folders as predicted. Also, I was able to export my contacts. Great help! Thanks

November 1, 2012 12:14 AM

These CSV and Vcards drive me mad. I can never make any sense out of opening them or access the essential information I want. All I want is all my Yahoo contacts names and email addresses and if possible, phone numbers that I have entered too.
Thanks Tom

Garry S
November 3, 2012 4:15 AM

Leo, you are amazing. Been using Yahoo email for over ten years and am constantly annoyed by the user interface. I've been following dozens of windows and PC tech blogs off and on over the years and have never seen this tip before. I read this article and my first thought was "this won't work." I tried it and it works perfectly. Wow, I can't believe it! Thank you

Stephanie Keys
December 11, 2012 1:45 AM

Hi - I really need your help. I did the mazilla thunderbird back-up. I need all my e-mails and it looks like they are gone? I have had this account since 2008. is there somewhere i can find them? How do I do it.

Please help me.

They should be in the folders within Thunderbird.

Joe Evangelista
December 12, 2012 6:54 AM

Leo, you are great! I have looked for years - literally! - to find a way to backup my Yahoo mails and nothing has worked was well as this. And to think I have used Thunderbird since it was invented! Thank you so much!

Seven Sigma Dave
January 3, 2013 1:55 PM

The settings from the referenced Yahoo help link do not work for me, nor do the settings I looked up from my mobile phone (which does work for the mobile phone). My version of Thunderbird has fields for Server/Port/SSL/Authentication. The Authentication fields default to "Autodetect".
Working mobile phone has these settings:
Incoming server: (IMAP), port 143, None
Outgoing server: (SMTP), port 25, None

I also tried Username with and without the '' with no effect. Result is always

Thunderbird failed to find the settings for your email account.

Any other advice?

Mark J
January 4, 2013 1:09 AM

Recently, I started getting a message that my Thunderbird IMAP settings for Yahoo were invalid it turned out Yahoo was now requiring my full email address as my user name for IMAP.

Here are the IMAP settings I use
User Name: (full email address)
Server Name: Port: 993
Connection security: SSL/TLS
Authentication Method: Normal password

Server Name: Port:465
Connection security: SSL/TLS
Authentication Method: Normal password
User Name:

Let me know if that worked for you by posting a comment here.

January 11, 2013 4:25 PM

This article seems to be just what I'm looking to do, but everything is for Is there anything different to do with a account, which is what I have? Seems stupid, but I can't configure Thunderbird based on what's in the article and comments. Help?

Mark J
January 12, 2013 2:11 AM

I'm not sure this will work with, but the settings in the comment I posted above to this article on how I got it to work might help. Also, here is the yahoo help page for the settings. Just remember to use instead of
Yahoo IMAP settings

February 25, 2013 12:08 AM


Two people I know have had their emails hacked and contacts erased recently. (Scam - Stuck in the Country X --Please wire $$)

If the hackers erase contacts and emails from the yahoo account how do you prevent the IMAP from mirroring the erase of emails and effectively wiping out the backup?

Mark J
February 25, 2013 1:41 AM

That's why it's important to regularly back up your system. Then, if your emails are lost, you can recover them from your system backup.

March 25, 2013 2:57 AM

it may be work on,but i tried this way in (the yahoo japan account) it doesn't work. my account was stolen and some important mails were deleted by someone else .is there some way to backup this mails? thx.

March 26, 2013 7:03 AM

Dear Leo,

I do need to erase all the letters at Yahoo Mail after Thunderbird will make a local copy on my PC. How to prevent the corresponding erasing from the PC?

You could use POP3 instead of IMAP. POP3 will download and delete from Yahoo! at the same time.

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