Using Apple Mail's Troubleshooting Tools

Here's what to do when something goes wrong with Apple Mail

A frustrated woman using a Mac notebook computer.

Rafal Rodzoch / Getty Images

​The Apple Mail application that comes on every Mac is straightforward to set up and use. Along with helpful guides that step you through the process for creating accounts, Apple also provides a few troubleshooting features designed to help you when something isn't working.

The three main features for diagnosing problems are the Activity window, the Connection Doctor, and Mail logs.

Using the Apple Mail Activity Window

Mac mail on laptop screen
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The Activity window, available by selecting Window > Activity from the Apple Mail menu bar, displays the status when you are sending or receiving mail for each mail account you have. It's a quick way to see what may be going on, such as an SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) server refusing connections, an incorrect password, or simple timeouts because the mail server can't be reached.

The Activity window has changed over time. Earlier versions of the Mail app had a more useful and helpful activity window, but even with the trend to reduce the information provided in the Activity window, it remains one of the first places to look for issues. 

The Activity window doesn't offer any method for correcting problems, but its status messages alert you when something goes wrong with your mail service and usually helps you figure out what it is. If the Activity window shows problems with one or more of your Mail accounts, try the other two troubleshooting aids provided by Apple to solve the problem.

Using Apple Mail Connection Doctor

Apple Mail's Connection Doctor in use screenshot

Apple Mail's Connection Doctor can help you diagnose problems you're having with Mail.

The Connection Doctor confirms that you're connected to the internet and then checks each mail account to ensure you can connect to send and receive mail. The status for each account is displayed in the Connection Doctor window. If you're unable to connect to the internet, the Connection Doctor offers to run Network Diagnostics to track down the cause of the problem.

Most Mail issues are likely to be account related rather than internet connection related, however. To help troubleshoot account issues, the Connection Doctor offers both an overview for each account and a detailed log of each attempt to connect to the appropriate email server.

Running Connection Doctor

To run the Connection Doctor utility, select Window > Connection Doctor in the Mail program menu bar. Connection Doctor automatically starts the checking process and displays the results for each account. Connection Doctor checks each account's ability to receive mail and then tests each account's ability to send mail, so there may be two status listings for each mail account.

Any account with a status indicated in red has some type of connection issue. Connection Doctor includes a brief summary of the problem, such as incorrect account name or password. To find out more about the account issues, view the details of each connection.

View Log Details in the Connection Doctor

  1. At the bottom of the Connection Doctor window, click Show Detail to open a tray that slides out from the bottom of the window.
  2. The tray displays the contents of the logs. Scroll through the logs to find any errors and see a detailed explanation for any problems.
  3. Click Check Again to rerun the Connection Doctor and display the logs in the tray.

The one problem with the detail display in the Connection Doctor is that the text can't be searched, at least not from within the Connection Doctor window. If you have multiple accounts, scrolling through the logs can be cumbersome. You can copy and paste the logs to a text editor and then try to search for specific account data, but there is another option — the Mail logs themselves, which your system keeps tabs on.

Using Console to Review Mail Logs

Mail Connection Doctor screenshot
The keep track of connection activities, place a check mark in the Log Connection Activity box.

While the Activity window provides a real-time look at what's occurring as you send or receive mail, the Mail logs go one step further and keep a record of each event. Because the Activity window shows activity in real time, if you glance away or blink, you may miss seeing a connection issue. The Mail logs, on the other hand, keep a record of the connection process that you can review at your leisure.

Enabling Mail Logs (OS X Mavericks and Later)

Open the Connection Doctor window in Mail by selecting Window > Connection Doctor from the Mail application menu bar. Place a check mark in the box labeled Log Connection Activity.

View Mail Logs (OS X Mavericks and Later)

In earlier versions of the Mac OS, you used the Console to view Mail logs. As of OS X Mavericks, you can bypass the Console app and view the logs with any text editor, including the Console.

  1. In the Mail menu bar, go to Window > Connection Doctor.

    Path to the Connection Doctor in Apple Mail
  2. Click Show Logs to open a Finder window containing individual logs for each Mail account you have set up on your Mac.

    Connection Doctor showing several Mail accounts
  3. Double-click a log to open it in TextEdit, or right-click a log and select Open from the pop-up menu to open the log in the app of your choice. 

    Logs for various Mail accounts

Enabling Mail Logs (OS X Mountain Lion and Earlier)

In OS X Mountain Lion and earlier, Apple includes an AppleScript to turn Mail logging on. Once it's turned on, the Console logs keep track of your Mail logs until you quit the Mail application. If you want to keep Mail logging active, you must rerun the script each time before you launch Mail. To turn on Mail logging:

  1. If Mail is open, quit Mail.

  2. Open the folder located at: /Library/Scripts/Mail Scripts.

  3. Double-click the Turn on Logging.scpt file.

  4. If the AppleScript Editor window opens, click the Run button in the top left corner.

  5. If a dialog box opens that asks if you wish to run the script, click Run.

  6. A dialog box opens, asking if you wish to "Enable socket logging for checking or sending mail. Quit Mail to turn logging off." Click Both.

Logging is enabled, and the Mail application launches.

Viewing Mail Logs (OS X Mountain Lion and Earlier)

Mail logs are written as Console messages that can be displayed in Apple's Console application.

  1. Launch Console, located at /Applications/Utilities/.

  2. In the Console window, expand the Database Searches area in the left pane.

  3. Select the Console Messages entry.

  4. Enter com.apple.mail into the Filter field in the top right corner of the Console window to limit the Console messages to Mail.

  5. Use the Filter field to find the specific email account that's having problems. For example, if you're having problems connecting to Gmail, enter gmail.com in the Filter field. If you're having a connection problem when sending mail, enter smtp in the Filter field to only show logs concerning sending email.

Use the Mail logs to find the type of problem you're having, such as rejected passwords, rejected connections, or down servers. After you locate the problem, use Mail to make corrections to the Account settings and run the Connection Doctor again for a quick test. The most common problems are wrong account name or password, connecting to the wrong server, the wrong port number, or using the wrong form of authentication.

Use the logs to check all the above against the information your email provider gave you to set up your email client. If you still have problems, copy the Mail logs that show the problem and ask your email provider to review them and provide assistance.