How to Backup Your Gmail

Gmail backup instructions for saving your emails and folders

Many of us use Gmail as our essential email program, storing valuable personal and work emails in Gmail. If the Google mail servers go down, though--as has happened in the past--or, worse, your account is compromised or gets reset somehow, you could lose access to years' worth of emails, temporarily or permanently. Here are several ways you can eliminate that single point of failure by creating a local copy of your Gmail messages and/or backing up your email to another online service.

Use an Email Client Like Outlook or Thunderbird to Download Your Gmail

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You can use Outlook or Thunderbird or another desktop email client to download your Gmail as POP3, which will actually store the messages locally in your email client. You can keep the messages in the email software or, better yet, copy the important ones 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.

Note: you can also set up Gmail in your email program as IMAP. This, however, basically 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 web server happen.

Use an Online Backup Service like Backupify

Backupify backs up personal information from Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Google Calendar and Contacts, LinkedIn, Twitter, Picasa Web Albums, and more web services. The free account gives you up to 2GB of storage--note that your cloud data is backed up online, in the cloud (to Amazon's S3 storage, specifically), here.

Use a Desktop Program like Gmail Backup

Gmail Backup (download for Windows from CNet | developer's site) is free software for Windows, Linux, and Mac that backs up your emails in your Gmail account, as well as the labels. You need to enable IMAP access in your Gmail settings (under "Forwarding and POP/IMAP"). You can specify a date range for the backups, and emails are stored as .eml files, which are accessible to email programs.

Use a script to Backup Gmail

You can use a script to automatically download your Gmail messages, creating a local copy of your email on your hard drive at whatever interval you like. The About Python Programming site has a 3-step tutorial for retrieving POP3 email with poplib that can help those technically inclined. Another example is Lifehacker's Back up Gmail with fetchmail instructions, which involve using the command line and running the Unix program fetchmail in a Unix emulator for Windows, Cygwin.

While using or writing a script isn't as straightforward as the options above, it requires fewer computer resources than email programs do to run.

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