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How to back up your Gmail

This article was originally published on Dec. 26, 2012, and updated on Dec. 2, 2013. Mariella Moon contributed to this article.

Hotmail may have been a hot commodity nearly 20 years ago, back when “The Rachel” haircut and Air Jordans were all the rage, but there’s no denying Google’s Gmail has become the go-to mode of communication for the more than 425 million users it caters to. What started out as a simple email provider on the Web in 2004 has quickly blossomed into the most popular email client on the face of the planet, one in which we all rely to send job applications, keep in touch with friends, and sign up for myriad God-awful services we probably don’t need in our everyday lives. It’s also incredibly feature-rich and resourceful — loaded with labels, keyboard shortcuts, two-step authentication, and a variety of functions — along with tools for chatting, calling, and virtually hanging out with other users in a matter of seconds.

Despite the sheer level of integration with the Google ecosystem and the downright awesomeness it exudes though, Gmail has been known to catch a case of the Mondays from time to time, occasionally suffering from widespread outages that cripple the bevvy of users who solely rely on the cloud-based service for all their work-related and personal needs. Thankfully, there is more than one way to back up your Gmail account and associated emails should the service falter or delete your data due to a software bug (it has happened). Pre-installed and freemium desktop email clients like Thunderbird are a simple means of backing up any email account, as is Microsoft Outlook, but there are additional methods for those seeking third-party support and greater flexibility regarding their Gmail backups. Still, using either, or both, is never a bad idea.

Here’s our comprehensive guide on how to back up your Gmail account so you’ll never have to worry about access your email directory or the cloud giving you trouble in those dire times when you need it most. Additionally, check out our quick guide on how to get the most of Gmail.

Choose your method:

Back up using desktop email clients (Windows/Mac OS X/Linux)

In today’s constantly-connected world of communication, everyone has a desktop email client. Perhaps you’re using the mail application that came pre-installed on your Mac, or maybe the bundled version of Microsoft Outlook you recently picked up, or less likely, the downloaded version of the Mozilla-based Thunderbird. Whichever email client you choose to use, each allows users to download messages directly from Gmail’s servers onto your computer thanks to various email-retrieval protocols like POP and IMAP. Keep in mind you will be required to input an application-specific password the first time a client asks for your login credentials if using Google’s two-step verification. Regardless, follow the instructions below to enable the IMAP protocol within Gmail while using the standard view of the email client.

Step 1: Access Gmail settings — Navigate and sign in to your Gmail inbox. Afterward, click the gear icon in the top-right corner the page, beneath your profile image, and select Settings from the resulting drop-down menu.

Gmail IMAP

Step 2: Enable IMAP — Click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab located in the top navigation bar and select the bubble directly left of Enable IMAP within the IMAP Access section. Afterward, click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page to apply the new settings.

Gmail IMAP 2

Back up using Thunderbird (Windows, Max OS X, Linux)

Step 1: Download, install, and launch Thunderbird — Assuming you don’t have Thunderbird already, navigate to the Thunderbird download page, and click the green download button to obtain the free email application. Afterward, launch the installer, follow the installation wizard instructions and open the program when finished.

Download Thunderbird

Step 2: Add your Gmail account — Once opened, select the Email option within the Accounts section and click the gray Skip this and use my existing email button in the bottom-left corner of the resulting pop-up window. Afterward, enter your name, Gmail address, corresponding password, and click the gray Continue button at the bottom of the window. Click the Done button when finished and occasionally launch Thunderbird to ensure you’re always up-to-date with the latest emails.

Thunderbird add

Back up using Apple’s Mail app (Mac OS X)

Step 1: Access account settings — Launch the Mail application, click the Mail menu in the main application taskbar, and select Preferences near the top of the resulting drop-down menu. Afterward, click the Accounts tab in the top-left corner of the resulting window.

Gmail Preferences

Step 2: Add your Gmail account — Click the the addition button in the bottom-left corner of the tab, select Google from the list of available mail accounts, and enter your name, Gmail address, and corresponding password before clicking the flashing Set Up button in the bottom right-corner of the window. Afterward, select the Mail app and click the flashing Done button in the bottom-right corner. Additionally, make sure to occasionally launch Mail to ensure you’re always up-to-date with the latest emails.

Gmail Account Add

Back up using Outlook (Windows)

Step 1: Access account settings — Launch Microsoft Outlook, click the orange File menu in the top-left corner of the application, and click the Add Account button near the top of the Info pane accessible from the left-hand navigation column.

Outlook add

Step 2: Add your Gmail account — Select the bubble directly left of the E-mail account option and enter your name, Gmail address, and corresponding password. Click the gray Next button at the bottom followed by the Finished button when done. Also, occasionally launch Outlook to ensure you’re always up-to-date with the latest emails.

Outlook Email Account Add

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