How to Download Gmail Chat Logs via IMAP

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Google stores transcripts of your Hangouts chat sessions within Gmail, accessible through the Chats label. By browsing previous sessions, you'll see your entire messaging history within Google's various chat tools.

These chats aren't locked in a proprietary chat format, however. Google stores them in Gmail as if they were any other message. And because chat transcripts look like emails, you can export them as messages if you've configured Gmail to allow IMAP connections.

Download Gmail Chat Logs via IMAP

To access and export Gmail and Google Talk chat logs using an email program:

  • Make sure IMAP access is enabled for your Gmail account.
  • Click the gear in Gmail's top right corner.
  • Select Mail settings from the menu that comes up.
  • Go to the Labels tab.
  • Make sure Show in IMAP is checked for Chats under System Labels.
  • Set up Gmail via IMAP in your favorite email program.
  • Look for chat logs in the [Gmail]/Chats folder.

When you've got your Gmail account configured in your email program, use that program's export tools to download a local copy of the Chats folder. For example, in Outlook 2016, either print all the chats to PDF or visit File | Open & Export | Import/Export | Export to a File to export the Chats folder to either an Outlook personal archive folder or a comma-separated data file.

Although you can copy the chat transcripts from the [Gmail]/Chats folder, you cannot import them to a different Gmail account by copying to that account's [Gmail]/Chats folder.

What Chats?

Google frequently changes the names and product offerings of its instant-communication tools. In 2018, the "chats" interwoven into Gmail come from Google Hangouts. Chats from many years prior may have come from GChat or Google Talk or other Google-sponsored chat tools.