Backing Up Gmail

Once a month I back up my Gmail archive to my computer. Recent problems at Google should make it clear why this should be on your calendar, too. Here’s what I do:

  1. I have a recurring event set up to remind me to back up my mail once a month. (I use Things for my to-do lists.)
  2. When the reminder pops up, I launch Thunderbird, wait about a minute for it to download my mail, and quit the app.

That’s it. One click a month and I have a copy of all my email, which I can then back up using Time Machine and/or SuperDuper! In the event that Google’s servers melt down, I’ll only lose at most a month’s worth of mail, and if the company ever goes full evil I can easily take my messages elsewhere.

Why Thunderbird: I use Thunderbird instead of Apple’s Mail because Thunderbird stores its mail using the mbox format. Also it’s free. Mbox is an old mail format that’s been around for a long time and is understood/importable by most other mail programs. Where backups are concerned, you generally want a time-tested, open format. (There are other email programs that use mbox. I’ve read good things about Postbox but haven’t had a need to try it out.)

Use POP: The Post Office Protocol downloads mail to your computer, as opposed to IMAP which syncs with your server. IMAP is more useful for everyday use, but POP is what you want for backups since it downloads and keeps a copy locally even if the original message is deleted from the server. Here are Google’s instructions for setting up Gmail’s POP access in Thunderbird. Make sure that when you switch POP on in Gmail to have it keep Gmail’s copy in the inbox. One other thing I did was to create a Message Filter (from Thunderbird’s Tools menu) that moves messages sent to me to the Sent folder, since Gmail puts everything in the inbox.