Tutorial Thursday

There have been plenty of occasions where I have been left wondering if I had lost everything in my Gmail account. If you don’t know about any of those situations that I’m talking about, just view all of the past occurrences that we have written about. People have lost every email in their account numerous times, and how do you know that you’re not going to be next?

Honestly, I don’t think people ever really see the value in backing up their data. In the last few months we’ve had two hard drives completely crash leaving the data unrecoverable. One of the drives was for our website, and it could have been really devastating if we didn’t make nightly backups.

I really do hope you realize that in the blink of an eye your data could be gone, and you should take every precaution available to protect it. That’s why we’re presenting you with several different ways to backup your Gmail account, and some are easy while others can be a little more time consuming.

–Configuring POP Access–

A few of the solutions we reference below require that POP access is enabled in your Gmail account. This is a simple process, but I thought that I would mention it before we dive into anything. Here’s what you need to do to enable POP:

  1. Click Settings at the top of any Gmail page.
  2. Open the Forwarding and POP tab.
  3. Select Enable POP for all mail (even mail that’s already been downloaded).
  4. Click Save Changes.

Gmail Backup

–Backup Gmail by Forwarding (only future emails)–

This is going to be the easiest thing that you can do, and could actually prove to be very useful. All this entails is forwarding all of your email messages from your current account to another one. I recommend forwarding to a Hotmail or Yahoo! account so that it is completely separate from Google, and then if Gmail isn’t accessible for some reason, you’ll be able to access your old mail.

Gmail Backup

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Click Settings at the top of any Gmail page.
  2. Click Forwarding and POP along the top of the Settings box.
  3. Enter the email address to which you’d like your messages forwarded.
  4. Select the action you’d like your messages to take from the drop-down menu. You can choose to keep Gmail’s copy of the message in your inbox, or you can send it automatically to All Mail or Trash.
  5. Click Save Changes.

If you only want to backup emails from a certain person, or mail that contains a certain word, you can try setting up some filters (video demo) to do the dirty work for you. That way the important stuff will get backed up.

–Backup Gmail with an Offline Application (past emails and future emails)–

The first solution that I’m going to talk about is probably the most common. All you have to do is setup Outlook, Thunderbird, or another email application to download the emails from your account. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Enable POP access on your Gmail account using the steps outlined in the beginning of this article.
  2. Now all you need to do is follow Google’s instructions on setting up your specific application. If you’re using Outlook 2003 there is a video tutorial available, or if you really know what you’re doing, all you’ll probably need is the port and server information found here.

Now once you get that all setup, your email application will begin downloading all of the email from Gmail. If you have a lot of email in your Gmail account, the process might take a short while. This is because Gmail only allows the download of messages in batches, and from my experience it will download a few hundred at a time.

–Backup Gmail to Another Gmail Account (past emails and future emails)–

This is an idea that you probably haven’t heard about before, but it is something that I’ve recommended to other people who don’t want to use a desktop application for backing up all of their emails. All you have to do is setup another Gmail account, and you’ll use Gmail’s new Mail Fetcher to retrieve all of the messages from your main account.

First enable the POP access for your main Gmail account that you want backed up by following the instructions earlier. Then from your secondary Gmail account configure the Mail Fetcher:

  1. Click Settings at the top of any Gmail page.
  2. Click Accounts along the top of the Settings box.
  3. In the Get mail from other accounts section, click Add another mail account.
  4. Enter the full email address of the account you’d like to access, then click Next Step.
  5. Enter the email address to which you’d like your messages forwarded.
  6. Now on this page you’ll need to enter the following information (screenshot below):
    • Username is your email address including the at the end. You can also use a Google Apps account, and if that’s the case you still need to enter in your full email address.
    • The POP server needs to be for this to work.
    • Set the port number to 995, and then make sure the SSL box is checked below.
  7. Click Add Account.
  8. Choose the option you desire for being able to send mail as that address.

Here is a screenshot of what step 6 looks like (we’re using a Google Apps account that manages our site’s email):

Gmail Backup

After everything is setup, Gmail will go and retrieve all of your past emails. For some reason, a majority of mine were sent to the spam or trash folders, but I easily moved them around after they were finished downloading. Remember, Gmail allows bulk POP access requests in smaller batches so it might take a little while for all of your emails to get retrieved. I do recommend setting up some filters to organize the mail as it comes in though.

Gmail Backup

–Other Gmail Backup Solutions–

You may have thought that those are the only ways possible to backup your Gmail account, but that isn’t the case. Where there is a will, there is a way, and with the millions of Gmail users, people are bound to come up with some pretty unique stuff. Here are a few other solutions that I found which you might see being useful:

  1. Backup Gmail using Fetchmail
    This guide is brought to you by Lifehacker, and uses the POP access that we gave instructions for above. I wouldn’t exactly say it is for the faint of heart because it involves some command line work!
  2. Backup Gmail using Google Groups
    This is kinda like the mail forwarding that we walked you through above, but it’s using Google Groups. You are able to make your group private, so you don’t have to worry about others seeing your mail, and it might be good to have this on another service other than Gmail.


There are a lot of solutions available for backing up your Gmail account, but unfortunately the best one is still not an option. By that I mean Google offering some sort of backup solution. If you would like that to be an option in the future, head on over to the Gmail survey and pick the “Export message to a CD for storage” option.

The bad thing about all of these solutions is that they make it extremely difficult to replicate the label structure that you have given your emails. The best thing that you can probably do is either forward your emails to another Gmail account, or use the Gmail-to-Gmail POP access I discussed. That way you can at least setup filters to be applied to the incoming messages. They may not catch everything perfectly, but it’s better than nothing.