How to back up your Gmail

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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.

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).

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.

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

Back up using Gmail Backup (Windows)

Despite lacking a recent build in more than four years, Gmail Backup remains one of the best solutions for automatically downloading and saving emails in a format readily-accessible using most email clients.

The downloadable program is free and open-source, and though it lacks resources for labeling and organizing emails, the application is coupled with additional tools for restoring your Gmail mailbox should lose your data or need to migrate clients.

In addition, it wipes your login credential when after downloading the requested emails, allowing other users to utilize the program without compromising your security. It’s not as quick or fully-featured as a dedicated email client, but it still offers access to all your emails regardless if you’re connected to the Web.

Step 1: Download, install and launch Gmail Backup — Assuming you don’t have Gmail Backup already, navigate to the Gmail Backup download page or the Softpedia download page, select the appropriate file for your system — the most recent build is release 0.107 — and follow the on-screen installation instructions. When the installation is complete, launch the program.

Step 2: Backup your emails — Once opened, enter your Gmail address, corresponding password, and select a save location for the resulting files using the gray Directory button on the right-hand side of the window. Afterward, choose your desired date range for the emails you wish to backup and click the gray Backup button at the bottom of the window.

Gmail Backup

Step 3: Wait — Allow Gmail Backup to download and save the resulting EML files. The process can take anywhere between 5 minutes to an upwards of an hour depending how many emails the program needs to comb through, but when finished, you’ll be able to access the email backups from the folder in which you saved them. Email clients like Outlook and Thunderbird, as well as Web browsers like Internet Explorer, should have little trouble opening the file format.

Gmail Backup Example -- in folder

Backing up using other third-party services

Whether you dislike Mozilla and Microsoft offerings, refuse to use a severely-outdated program, or simply prefer to use an alternative method to those above, there’s a variety of different third-party services posed to quench your desire for backing up your Gmail data. Some are rather arcane and difficult to utilize, such as the freemium command-line utility Fetchmail, while others services — most notably Backupify — offer a simple means of downloading content from a wealth of online service for a small monthly fee. Below are a few of our favorites currently on the market.


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