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I believe the only reasonable way to transfer a large bulk of email from one email service to another is to use IMAP and a desktop program as the middle man.

I will have to move my Gmail files before it discontinues. The questions are where, how, when, where? I want to store thousands of old emails on the web and not on a computer. How? I'd like to have a simple method. When? Should I wait for better options than are now available? Or make a choice and proceed soon?

In this excerpt from Answercast #57, I walk through a method for moving email from one online service to another.

Gmail is staying around

Unfortunately, your question actually confuses me greatly. It implies that Gmail is discontinuing and it's not. You don't have to move out of Gmail if you don't want to.

There's nothing pushing you out of Gmail and I'm not really sure why you are attempting to move to a different online service. So with that (simply questioning what you're doing to begin with), let's take a look at what some of the options are.

Moving Gmail

The options actually aren't very good. The problem is that moving a large body of existing email from one online web email service to another is almost impossible. It's certainly not easy.

The systems simply aren't set up to make it easy for you to transfer email from one system to another.

First download

The only approach that I can think of (and this is a stretch; you're going to want to be careful about how you do this) is to:

  1. Get an email program like Thunderbird.

Yes, you'll need to use a program on a PC for this approach to work. You won't have to use it long-term, but you will need to use it to transfer your email.

  1. Connect it up to Gmail using the IMAP protocol.

The IMAP protocol will actually download all of the email from Gmail to your machine. That's gonna take a little while if you've got a lot of email. But it's important that you allow it to complete and that you get all of the email down from Gmail. It won't affect anything on Gmail. (That's the nice thing about IMAP. It's really sort of a window to the master repository of your email up on Gmail.)

  1. Once it's done downloading, you would create a new account on some other service. (I'll pick Yahoo at random, since I know we can do this there.)
  1. In Yahoo, you would set up your email address.

  2. Now in Thunderbird, you would set up another IMAP connection to Yahoo's email services.

So, that means that your Thunderbird (your email program on your desktop) would actually be sending and receiving email from Yahoo's servers; using IMAP to receive the email and POP3 to send it out.

  1. Now, what you would do is: on your PC, move (or drag and drop, or copy) all of the email from the folders that represent your Gmail account to the folders that represent your Yahoo account.

That will cause the email to be copied from one to the other. Because it's IMAP, when you put something into a folder, it will get uploaded to the email service that folder is connected to.

I did a lot of this when I moved a bunch of my mail to Gmail; I moved a bunch of my sent mail up on to the Gmail servers in this fashion.

So, that's the best I can offer you. Once you've finished the transfer, if you need to do that, you can stop using the desktop email program.

Downloading backs up

I strongly recommend you continue using the desktop email program if for no other reason than to backup your email. But, it is a technique that could allow you to transfer the bulk of your email from one service to another as long as both services support IMAP.

Transferring contacts

The one thing that it will not do, and the one thing that I simply have no easy way of transferring, is your contacts or your address book.

The best you can come up with in a situation like that is to export your contacts from Gmail (probably in a CSV file) and then use that file to import your contacts into either your desktop email program or your new email account on another web service, like Yahoo.

That automation that we have for email (that allows your desktop program to synchronize with what's going on on the web service) ...that kind of automation just doesn't exist in any clean form (or certainly not in any standard form) across all of the email services and desktop email programs.

So you have to get kind of tricky with that.

Gmail is not closing

Like I said, I don't know why you want to move from Gmail. Certainly, it's not going to be discontinued any time soon. Millions of people are using it every day!

I believe the only reasonable way to transfer a large bulk of email from one email service to another is to use IMAP and a desktop program as the middle man.

Article C5865 - September 29, 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.

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7 Comments
PC Resolver
September 30, 2012 2:08 AM

I wonder if the concern about Gmail closing is from Google's own message on its google.com/ig page?
On that pays it says very clearly that Google IG is being discontinued in November 2013.
I made the 'mistake' of mentioning this in my newsletter : I expressly stated that it did NOT affect Gmail. I still received emails asking for alternative email providers for when Gmail stops.
As for IG: I'm on the look out for an alternative because I think it's very good and I'll miss it.

Good point. And to be clear "ig" is "iGoogle", the custom home page you could set up using Google. As you point out this is completely unrelated to Gmail.
Leo
02-Oct-2012

Tony
October 2, 2012 11:46 AM

It has always been my understanding that Gmail is the best and most stable. Never thought of them shutting down.

Yahoo only does POP3 as far as I know, so I wonder if this IMAP solution is going to work??

Yahoo supports IMAP: How do I backup my Yahoo! Mail?
Leo
04-Oct-2012
Drew
October 2, 2012 1:29 PM

With free Yahoo email you can set up your account as IMAP even though Yahoo does not advertise it. I have done it using Thunderbird, but much prefer POP but you must use the paid Yahoo email for POP.

Theo Deed
October 2, 2012 7:01 PM

First thing to mention is that I am very happy with your newsletter. Thanks a lot.
In your answer to this question you tell us that it is rather complicated, but it is really very easy. Just be patient if you have a lot to transfer. I do this whenever necessary (using different Yahoo accounts). Just remember when setting up Yahoo, they use ports 993 sending and 587 for receiving.

Tom
October 4, 2012 2:41 AM

Secondary question:

I've never fely happy about leaving all my e-mails on a provider's server as I often need to refer to them.

Is there any way that those e-mails can be transferred to a folder on my computer's hard drive?

connie
October 4, 2012 6:06 AM

@Tom,
Yes you can do that. Leo has an article on it here:
How can I read my email on more than one machine?

Tom
October 5, 2012 5:56 AM

Thank you Connie, I will check it out now.

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