Backup Your Gmail Now…Please

I’ve been a little nervous because some people around me have had their Gmail accounts hacked.

I’m not sure if the hackings were preventable, but it was making me slightly nervous.

And then, James Fallows had a series of posts about the hacking of his wife’s Gmail account, complete with tales of other Gmail users losing all of their data after getting their accounts hacked.

And that made me really nervous.

I had been thinking I should backup my Gmail for a while, but the Fallows posts pushed me to finally sit down and do it.

NOTE: I know about the Google two-step verification process, but that just feels like a lot of work, just to check email. Plus, I hate the idea of being locked out of my email if I don’t have my phone with me and I’m not near a landline I registered with Google. Situations like that are probably when I’d want my email most. So for now, it’s off of the table for me.

There are a few ways to approach the backup, but I decided to use POP to download all of my messages. It took a couple of hours to download everything, but other than that, it was a painless process. There are lots of articles and tutorials online about backing up your Gmail, but there weren’t any that gave me a workflow for the entire process, which is why I’m documenting it here:

  1. Download and install Thunderbird, but don’t configure it
  2. Enable POP on your Gmail account
  3. Configure Thunderbird. Thunderbird is great with Gmail. Once you put in your address and password, it’ll set everything up for you. Make sure you tell Thunderbird to use the Gmail POP account, though
  4. Download all of your email. This will take a while because you can only download it in batches. You can leave Thunderbird to handle this on its own, or you can keep it running in the background while you do something else, and manually get your mail every time it announces it has finished a batch. I chose the latter
  5. Now that you have all of your mail held locally, you can leave it in Thunderbird. That seemed like a pain to me, though, so I downloaded a Thunderbird plugin (ImportExportTools) that let me export the messages as .eml files. ImportExportTools gives you a number of export format options, but .eml keeps attachments with the files. Plus, it can be read with a text editor.
  6. Save your email someplace safe and you’re all set! At this point, you can turn off POP in your email and remove Thunderbird, if you’re so inclined.

I’m not sure how easy it would be to work with email in this format, but at least I could search through the files for specific messages I needed. Hopefully, I’ll never need to use this archive, but I feel better knowing that it’s there.

Now I just need to remember to do this at regular intervals. I wish Gmail would let you POP email as of a certain date, so I could just regularly top off my local archive, rather than re-downloading everything.

But the backup process is really pretty simple. Especially now that I know all of the steps to take (and the order in which to take them).