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Configuring a PC based email program to use IMAP and have it constantly downloading email as a backup is a reasonable way to go.

I have many times deleted some of my important emails from my inbox. I was even locked out of my account when some hacker tried hacking my email. So I was looking for a backup solution that I can view my emails even when my email provider is down. Do you think that Dropmyemail is the way to go? I do not want an offline backup since it's a pain to load them all the time in case I want to get my emails back.

In this excerpt from Answercast #66, I look at two good ways to backup your email so it can be accessed in case of a mistake or disaster.

Backing up emails

I'm not at all familiar with Dropmyemail so I cannot give you a yes or a no - or any kind of a sense for whether that would be a good solution or not. But I definitely have thoughts on backing up your email!

There are two approaches to backing your email that I strongly recommend.

Backup locally

One is that you do what you've asked not to do. And that is to install an email program on a PC; configure that email program to use something like POP3 to download or IMAP to access the mail on your email server - and then let the email program download all of the email to your PC.

I realize that's not what you want and I understand why you don't want it but I'll explain why, in a sense, that's not gonna matter.

Backup with Gmail

The other solution is to use a different email service (like say, Google's Gmail) and have it fetch the email from your native email provider, your native email service.

Now I don't know if Google will do IMAP; but I know they'll do POP 3; and they may even do POP 3 and "leave the email on the server."

What it boils down to is that: whenever you get email... then when you go to Gmail, you can fetch the email from your regular email service and place it into your Gmail account.


Now, there's two problems with these approaches.

One is that the email service has to be working in order for your backups to be able to back up. What that means is, whether it's an online service or not, whether it's a PC based email service or not, you need to be able to access your email account in order for the backup programs to backup your email.

If you don't have access, they won't have access. They need to be running.

  • Now in Gmail's case I honestly don't know if they will pick up your remote email if you're not actually logged into Gmail.

  • In the case of a desktop email program, you need to leave that desktop email program running, or at least run it periodically, so that it's constantly pulling for email and downloading new email as it arrives.

That doesn't necessarily have to interfere with your ability to access your email the way you're used to accessing it. In fact it's what I do here.

Here at home, I'm currently using Google's Gmail for my day-to-day email activity. I'm doing everything via the web interface; and so is my wife. She's using the Gmail web interface for her email.

But, in my basement, on a computer, I have a copy of Thunderbird running. That copy of Thunderbird is periodically downloading the email from our services, from all of our accounts, and squirreling it away on the PC that's in the basement.

That gives me a backup; it gives me a backup that I can get to even if I don't have internet. I can walk downstairs and take a look at what's on that machine.

Putting email back

Now, the concern you raised was your ability to put email back.

If that PC email program is configured to use IMAP, putting email back into your account is simply a drag and drop operation. In fact, I've done that. I've used that approach to actually push some email back in to my wife's Google email account. It works fine.

In a larger scale disaster, I really don't know of any good solution to pushing email back into an online email account. Yes, you can do it with IMAP: it's going to take an awful long time; it's going to be difficult to do because you're going to end up having to do it from a PC - but there isn't really a good way to recreate an email account from a backup.

Saving your data

The point of the backup is not so much to be able to recreate the email account, as it is to have the data so that you can potentially use that data: maybe in an email program; maybe some other way; and not have lost everything.

So, I really don't think that what you're looking for, the ability to more easily push data back into the account, is a reasonable expectation.

With that out of the way, then, I'd really think about either of these other two alternatives.

Configuring a PC based email program to use IMAP, and have it constantly downloading email as a backup, is actually a pretty reasonable way to go. Like I said, it's the approach that I'm taking here at home. Not just for my email, but for that of my wife as well.

Article C5983 - November 1, 2012 « »

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?

November 1, 2012 3:08 PM

After our experience on the East coast with Hurricane Sandy, you may want to move the computers in your basement to higher ground.

Amar N. Singh
November 2, 2012 8:28 AM

Mailstore Home Setup ( is a good free software for backing up emails.

November 2, 2012 9:40 AM

"I don't know if Google will do IMAP; but I know they'll do POP 3"...
Well Google, a search engine, certainly doesn't do either.
A trivial Google search provides an answer: yes, Gmail does support IMAP, but you have to enable it:

November 3, 2012 11:49 AM

I'm not sure I understand this backing up email via IMAP. If the PC is constantly on with Thunderbird (for example) running, then how is that a backup? Wouldn't Thunderbird simply delete the email once the poster deletes the email from his email provider? Isn't that the purpose of IMAP, to keep the email program in sync with the server?

Sure, it would work for the situation that he can still access his email when the service is down, but I can't see how it would be any good at letting him retrieve emails he has deleted.

Wouldn't you also need to run a backup program periodically, so the emails are copied somewhere else, so that when the email program syncs with the email provider, the emails are still somewhere else?

Mark J
November 3, 2012 3:15 PM

In that sense, your right. If you delete your emails in the email program and empty the trash, they will also be deleted on the mail server. But with IMAP, you won't lose your emails if the server goes down or if you somehow get locked out of your email account. On top of that, you should still be backing up your computer. Nothing replaces a good backup system, which will allow you to recover from disk damage and you can go back and retrieve the emails you may have accidentally deleted.

Mark J
November 4, 2012 4:14 AM

"Now in GMail's case I honestly don't know if they will pick up your remote email if you're not actually logged into GMail."
I can personally vouch for the fact that GMail does fetch remote email when you are not logged into to GMail. I rarely log in to GMail, but GMail gets all of the email from my other accounts which I'm then able to retrieve through Thunderbird and on my phone.
And yes, GMail also gives you the option to leave mail on the server.
These 2 things being the case, make Gmail the perfect candidate for backing up emails and also retrieving accidentally deleted emails. And with 10GB and growing every second, it can probably hold all of the emails the average user would get over a very long period.

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