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When changing email providers, email stored on their servers can be difficult to move. We'll look at some of the options.

For years, my wife & I have used an email service with an annual fee. It has always met our needs, but there is probably no good reason to continue paying fees for what is available free elsewhere. However, even after pruning, we have hundreds of old emails stored on servers at our current service. Is there any way we can transfer the old emails to a new email provider in bulk? We would probably transfer to gmail or yahoo.


This outlines one of the drawbacks of working with an web-based email service.

I'll describe why, and what I recommend you do instead.

The fundamental problem is this: you have hundreds or in some cases thousands of emails sitting in you folders on a web-based service like Hotmail, Gmail or any of several others - either free and paid. When it comes time to change to a different service, there really is no consistent way to bulk move those messages.

"... there really is no consistent way to bulk move those messages."

You could forward them all, one by one, sending them from your old account to your new account's email address. Not only is this a lot of time and work, but it also alters the emails slightly, adding a "Forwarded", header for example.

If the old service supports "pop3" access, and the new service supports remote account retrieval via "pop3", you can at least move the contents of the inbox this way. For example, Hotmail added the ability to access your inbox via POP3. While that's typically intended for downloading to a desktop email program, it can be used to copy mail as well. GMail has a "Check mail using POP3: (Get your mail from other accounts in Gmail using POP3.)" as an option. Simply configure that to access your Hotmail account, and in theory the contents of your Hotmail inbox should show up in GMail.

Using Hotmail and GMail is just an example; any two services would do, as long as they both support the appropriate part of the POP3 protocol.

The other approach, and the one that I actually prefer, is not to use webmail unless I'm actually traveling and away from my computer. I prefer a desktop email program like Outlook or Thunderbird or any of dozens of others. This way not only do you continue to use the same email program constantly, but all of your email, regardless of where it comes from, is stored on your machine and is under your control. Naturally, you need to make sure you're backing up, but when time comes to change email providers, there's nothing to move. It's all in the same place. A few account configuration additions or changes, and your email continues to arrive at, and be stored on, your PC.

If your old web based service provides POP3 access, you can actually download your inbox into a desktop program at any time. (It's actually my recommended approach to backing up webmail, if even if you rely on that for your primary access.) Then, just make sure that your new service also provides POP3 and SMTP access (you mentioned GMail, which does), and use that to access the service.

Big Fat Caveat!

Sadly, nowhere above did I mention folders or contacts.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any way to move or preserve folders of emails across services, or even downloading them into email clients. Similarly, contacts are another point of pain, as there's no standard way across all these services to share or migrate your address book or contact list.

Again, this is another reason I prefer my desktop email program.

Article C3813 - July 18, 2009 « »

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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?

Mark Jacobs
July 18, 2009 2:53 PM

Much has changed since this article has been published. Nowadays, I would configure an email program like Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail or Outlook to access both the old and the new accounts via IMAP, then copy or move the contents of the folders in the old account to the corresponding folders in the new account. If you copy a whole folder, the folder should be created in the new account. I would choose the copy option as this would keep a backup of your emails on the old account.

Date of comment 14 Nov 2014

July 19, 2009 5:10 PM

There is a program called MailStore (has a freeware version). I use it to backup Outlook Express. Very handy. I see it does POP3. Would that let one at least KEEP all of the old e-mails when changing provider?

Philip Spohn
July 19, 2009 5:19 PM

I use MailStore to back up GMail. Gmail offers IMAP (as well as POP3), so folders are preserved. It's very easy to find and read messages in MailStore.

July 20, 2009 11:01 AM

I notice a lot of general questions about email providers such as gmail, hotmail, etc... Each time, the discussion invariably leads to issues like this one or the questionable reliability of free email services. In my business, I've run across many new clients with similar issues and most times they are unaware or have forgotten that they have email services available via their ISP. Especially if they're using a broadband (high speed) ISP and today most are. They've just gotten used to using whatever email provider they had when they were still using dial-up service to access the internet.

I always suggest they use their ISP's email service. It supports POP3 access and most also have a web interface for when you're traveling. After all, they're already paying for it.

July 21, 2009 1:13 PM

Microsoft provides a free Hotmail/Outlook connector, and they also provide a free email client in Windows Live Mail. Both allow the synchronizing of email folders, contancts, and calendars to the local PC. And you still have HTTP access from any internet connected pc on the planet.

Joe Bob
July 21, 2009 1:27 PM

IMAP does this. I don't know of any mail providers out there that don't offer IMAP.

Contacts export to CSV from almost all servers. Problem solved.

Sadly there is little, very little, consistency in how contacts are exported to CSV and how all they additional and optional fields are treated. Problem definitely not solved - just replaced with another problem and confusion. (I've tried, and given up, on this approach several times.)
- Leo
July 21, 2009 5:13 PM

In Gmail you can export your contacts as CSV. Not sure if other providers offer the same thing..?? Then you could import into outlook.

Bernard Winchester
July 22, 2009 2:02 AM

As Leo says, provided the old account supports a desk-top program, that program can be used to transfer messages easily from one account to another. I use Outlook Express to move messages from a little used account to Hotmail from time to time: I simply select all of the messages in that account's inbox and drag them into Hotmail's inbox.

However, if these messages simply need archiving "just in case" then like John I would download them and then use a back-up program. I use Genie Backup with Outlook Express and archive the mesages on to a CD or DVD every year. They should then be safe from a failure of the account provider or of the computer hard drive.

George Jensen
July 22, 2009 11:26 AM

I use Eudora and download messages from Comcast and gmail. I get all the messages from gmail from all the folders as well as the inbox. I have the 'leave mail on server' option checked so that I am able to download to more than one PC, laptop, etc.

July 22, 2009 3:38 PM

Solution to moving all old mail to Gmail:

Install email client.
Download all old email via POP3 or IMAP.
Configure Gmail account with mail client. [IMAP]
Create new folder in Gmail named Old Mails.
Copy old downloaded emails to Old Mails.
Synch ..
Voila - your old email is on Gmail servers ..
you may not kiss me for helping out ..
I used this method with the Windows Live Mail client. Worked like a charm

Carl R. Goodwin
July 22, 2009 9:28 PM

Thunderbird - everything is stored locally.

Ahamed Bauani
July 23, 2009 9:38 AM

I totally Agree with the method describe by 'Amin Shah Gilani'. Most of time I do the same for changing provider of email service. And yes Thunderbird is my choice to do it.

Ahamed Bauani
Bauani's Tech Blog

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