Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Most email services will delete your email if you don't login for a while or if too much email accumulates. We'll look at what you might do.

I just moved and was not able to check my email for 3-4 weeks. Will I still receive emails sent in that time period?

Probably.

I can't say for sure, because it really depends on what service you get for your email. Three to four weeks is probably ok, but any longer than that and you could be in for a very rude surprise. If you get a lot of email, you could also run into trouble.

It's an issue I hear about a lot, but there are steps you can take beforehand to avoid it.

There are two issues to consider here:

  • Long periods of inactivity

  • Space Quotas

Almost all email services have some concept of your account being inactive for "too long". The definition of how long is too long differs from provider to provider, and also depends on whether or not it's a free or paid service.

A paid service will typically keep your account active as long as you keep paying. Ignoring the quota issues that we'll talk about in a second, when you finally do get around to checking email you should simply get all the email that accumulated while you were gone.

Free email services are a little dicier. The most common story I hear of involves Hotmail. Apparently Hotmail considers an account inactive if you don't login and check email for as little as 30 days. After that they permanently delete all the email and contacts. Though the email name remains your for a longer period of time but when you do log in after that month of inactivity you'll find it's empty. Yikes.

Other free services measure inactivity differently, so be certain to check out their terms of service if you anticipate being away from your account for an extended period of time. GMail's terms of service currently calls out nine months at which point it completely deletes your account, and Yahoo mail gives you 4 months.

So the best answer is to get a paid email account, and keep paying it. The next best would be an account that tolerates a very long period of inactivity, like GMail does today.

Quotas are a different issue, and actually present an opposite twist on the whole free versus paid account debate.

You've probably seen by now that GMail, Hotmail and Yahoo mail are all advertising that you can retain gigabytes of email in your account. In fact Yahoo recently lifted the restriction completely - you can retain unlimited amounts of email.

"Of course the best solution of all is to simply make arrangements of some sort to access your email periodically ..."

Paid email providers often have much smaller limits. If you're using a paid email service, you should definitely inquire as to what that limit, referred to as a quota, might be. If it's too small you'll often be able to get it increased for a small fee.

Once your email account accumulates too much email, perhaps because you haven't deleted messages or you haven't downloaded your email to your own PC, messages sent to you will typically bounce back to the sender. Everything you'd received up until that point will remain in your account, but you won't get any new mail thereafter until you lift the quota, or delete/download some mail from the account to make room.

So how much space is enough?

I can't tell you. It depends on how much email you usually get, and how large those emails are. Do you get lots of attachments? Then you'll need more space than someone who doesn't.

It also depends on whether your email service counts spam that's filtered out.

My advice is to keep an eye on your usage for a while. Perhaps let a day's worth of email accumulate without removing it and see how large that result is. Multiply that number by at least 30 to get a very rough idea of how much email you get each month. Now multiply that by at least 2 for some breathing room, and that's how big I'd guess your quota should be to survive a month without access.

Of course the best solution of all is to simply make arrangements of some sort to access your email periodically to reset the inactivity clock, and clean out some of the email that's accumulating.

Article C2978 - March 29, 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.

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3 Comments
David
March 31, 2007 11:56 AM

I had an enforced break of about six weeks due to a "misunderstanding", shall we say, between my phone service supplier and my ISP, here in the UK, after I moved house about six hundred yards(!) and found about 2000 mails spread between all my accounts still available (mostly newsletters I`d signed up for plus goodness how much spam on one particular account) when I finally got back on line again. Probably depends on the mail provider/ISP policies. Read the small print!

sadmake
April 1, 2007 4:52 PM

thanks for this nice article, this helps me alot ...
and good bye

Zap Coffey-Brittain
April 1, 2007 5:12 PM

I also had a break of almost 4 weeks when I moved house, also in the UK, also about 600 yards, caused by "misunderstanding" between the disconnection dept & the reconnection dept of the same company.

We had no phone, internet, cable TV & of course we were unable to check email. Our ISP had a 10MB quota at the time and unfortunately my quota was filled after only about 2 weeks downtime, mostly by a single message over 8MB.

My advice - do stick with a subscribed service & download your email to your own machine instead of leaving it at the ISP server. But make sure your ISP also supplies webmail on the same account (and you know how to use it), so if you ever lose your home internet for an extended period you can still access & manage your email - and delete huge messages that fill up your quota!

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