How to back up Gmail to your computer or local drive

Over the years, your email collects a lot of important information you don't want to lose. And that means you may not want to trust it to a big corporation in the cloud.

Karicharla Venugopa asked for a safe way to back up a large collection of Gmail messages to a local drive.

I’ve been using Gmail for nearly a decade. Within the 40,000-plus messages I’ve sent or received, I have important professional correspondence and personal messages from loved ones who have since passed on. I really don’t want to lose them.

I know that Google backs up its servers. But I still feel better with all those messages stored locally.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

I’m assuming you access Gmail through your browser, and wish to keep doing so.

When I last covered this topic in 2012, I recommended a free program simply called Gmail Backup. It worked, and still works, downloading each message as an EML file.

 

But something bothers me about Gmail Backup. It hasn’t been updated since 2009. For a program that accesses an email account online, that’s kind of scary.

The code has been open-source since 2013—which is a good thing. People can study the code and find and fix security leaks. But to my knowledge, no one is doing that.

So here’s another solution. And this one should work with any web-based email service.

Set up a local mail client to access Gmail, using the IMAP (as opposed to POP) protocol. IMAP synchronizes the mail on your computer with the mail on the server (in this case, Gmail’s server). Old messages as well as new ones will download and stay in local storage.

Depending on your program, you will probably need to change a setting to make sure that it will download everything. For instance, with Outlook 2013:

1.   Press Ctrl-Alt-S to bring up the Send/Receive Groups dialog box.

2.   Select All Accounts and click Edit.

1019 outlook step 2

 

3.   Select Use the custom behavior defined below.

4.   In the Folder Options section, right-click your email address and select Check All Subfolders

1019 outlook step 4

 

5.   Right-click the address again and select Apply Options to All Checked Subfolders

6.   Then, above Folder Options, select Download complete items including attachments for subscribed folders.

Continue to use Gmail on the web. But every week or so, load your local mail client and sync it.

One problem: If you archived a message in Gmail, and didn’t give it a label or move it to a folder (really the same thing in Gmail), that message won’t be backed up.

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