Backing Up Your Gmail Emails and Folders Is Easy and Important

Save your Gmail emails and folders by making a full backup

GMail. Google

Gmail's service is robust and well-supported by Google. However, Gmail—as a primarily web-based email solution—is not available when you've lost connectivity. Furthermore, some people use their Gmail account (or a paid G Suite account) for business purposes that require some form of document retention and recovery capability beyond what the free Gmail environment offers.

Use one of several different archiving solutions to guarantee you'll never be without important messages, no matter the circumstances.

Use Outlook or Thunderbird or another desktop email client to download your Gmail emails as POP3, which will actually store the messages locally in your email client. Keep the messages in the email software or, better yet, copy the important emails to a folder on your hard drive. You'll need to enable POP3 access in your Google account settings, under Forwarding and POP/IMAP. You'll also find configuration instructions there for setting up POP for Gmail in your email client.

The only downside to POP3 retrieval is that if your PC breaks or your local folders become corrupt, you've lost your archive.

You can also set up Gmail in your email program as IMAP. This approach syncs your email from the cloud to your computer, so in case all your emails disappear from Google's servers (or another webmail provider), your email client might actually sync to the empty server and delete the local copies. If you do access Gmail via IMAP, you can drag or save the messages locally to your hard drive as a backup. Of course, you'd need to do this regularly—before any problems on the server arise. More »

Download an Archive from Google Takeout

Visit the Google Takeout site to download a one-time archive of your entire Gmail account.

  1. Visit Takeout and log in with the credentials of the account you're interested in archiving. You can only use Takeout with a logged-in account.
  2. Select Gmail, and optionally include any other Google-related data you wish to export. The drop-down menu for Gmail lets you pick specific labels to export, in case you do not need all of your old emails.
  3. Click Next. Google offers three options you must customize before you can continue:
    • File type. Pick the type of file your computer can handle. By default, it'll give you a ZIP file, but it supports extract to a Gzipped tarball as well.
    • Archive size. Select the largest file size your computer can handle for individual segments of a larger archive. In most cases, a 2 GB limit is appropriate.
    • Delivery method. Tell Takeout where to put the completed archive file. Select from a direct download link or (after you supply permissions) transfer directly to Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.
  4. Google emails you when the archive is complete.

The Gmail archive files appear in MBOX format, which is a very large text file. Email programs like Thunderbird can read MBOX files natively. For very large archive files, you should use an MBOX-compatible email program instead of trying to parse the text file.

Google Takeout offers a snapshot-in-time view of your Gmail account; it does not support incremental archiving, so you'll get everything unless you limit yourself to specific labels. Although you can request Takeout archives whenever you wish, using Takeout for repeated data extracts is not efficient. If you need to pull data more frequently than once a calendar quarter or so, find an alternative method of archiving.

Backupify backs up personal information from Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Google Calendar and Contacts, LinkedIn, Twitter, Picasa Web Albums, and similar services. Give it a 15-day trial for free before you commit to paying for the service.

Alternatively, try Upsafe or Gmvault. Upsafe offers up to 3 GB of storage for free, while Gmvault is an open-source project with multiplatform support and a robust developer community. More »

Selectively Archive Using Data Rules

If you don't need all your emails, consider a more selective approach to email archiving.

  • Forwarding. When you receive a mail you know you want to keep, forward it individually to an archiving account elsewhere. To keep a copy of what you send, use that archiving account's email address on the BCC line.
  • Auto-forwarding. Tell Gmail to copy or blind copy all received email (or BCC all sent mail) to a specific email address.
  • IFTTT recipe. The popular If This Then That website creates recipes (essentially, scripts stipulating that when X event occurs, Y event should follow) so that you can set up specific Gmail actions to trigger a particular activity. IFTTT recipes are especially useful when you need to set custom rules and use resources outside of Google's ecosystem.
  • Forward to Evernote or OneNote. Set up the alias to import emails straight into an assigned OneNote notebook, or use your custom Evernote email address to log messages into Evernote.

Think Before You Archive!

There's a cottage industry of backup services that suggest that you must back up your emails lest they one day magically disappear forever. 

Although Google can delete your account for a terms-of-service violation, or a hacker could gain control of your account and delete some or all of your archive, these outcomes are relatively rare. Google, as a cloud-based provider of a robust email platform, is not inclined to lose messages or randomly delete accounts for no reason.

Although you may have a legitimate reason for backing up your account, backups aren't ordinarily necessary. They can actually open your emails to even greater data leakage as you connect other products and services to your Gmail account—tools that may not be as secure as Google's own cloud platform.