I tried to be good and it went bad: help me recover my Gmail from the clutches of my computer.
May 18, 2009 12:50 AM   Subscribe

After reading this AskMe, I decided to use Mac's Mail program to keep copies of my messages on my gmail account on my computer. However, I wanted to use the "IMAP" option to keep copies of all my mail both on the web, in gmail, and on my computer, in Mac Mail. Instead, something else happened and now I'm in trouble.

If I understand the distinction between "POP" and "IMAP" correctly, it seems that Mail configured my Gmail account in "POP" format automatically when I set things up, so that it downloaded my messages from my Gmail account and then deleted them from web-based Gmail. Now, when I log into gmail on the web, I can't see or access any of my messages.

I've tried to reconfigure my preferences on Mail for IMAP, but Mail doesn't give you the option of changing an account from POP to IMAP (under "Account Information," it says, "Account Type: Gmail POP" and there's no option to change it). You can change the incoming and outgoing mail servers, but I tried this and it doesn't seem to change anything.

I thought about deleting my current mail account from Mail and then setting it up again, but when I tried to do so Mail gave me a warning message saying all my messages would be deleted.

How can I undo my mistake and get my mail back on the web? Is there a way I can re-upload my messages back into my Gmail web account? And how can I redo my settings properly to keep copies of my mail both on the web and on my computer?

Thanks so much in advance for any help or advice.

posted by foxy_hedgehog to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What floam said.

(FWIW, the distinction between POP and IMAP is that they're completely different protocols; IMAP can be used in the POP-like "download and delete from server" style, but it's more often used in the "keep stuff on the server, maybe make a local copy for convenience/speed" style. Most mail programs have pretty confusing UI for setting this stuff up.)

(Also, there are tools out there explicitly for making backups of gmail (or other imap) mailboxes. If you're only using Apple Mail to refresh your local copies, you might want to look into one of those. OTOH, I find having my mail cached locally to be pretty convenient.)
posted by hattifattener at 1:14 AM on May 18, 2009

Expanding a bit on what Floam said: if you connect a local mail client (like Mail) to an IMAP server (like Gmail's), then as you create folders and move messages about on one, those changes will be reflected in the other. In particular, any messages you copy into an IMAP-connected folder on your Mac will be uploaded to your Gmail account and given a label that corresponds to the folder name.

However, you may not actually need to do that. The Gmail POP3 server's default behaviour, when told by a POP3 client to DELEte a message, is instead to archive it (remove any labels including the Inbox label, but leave the message saved in All Mail). So, if you're lucky, all you'll need to do to get all your mails back is fire up the Gmail web interface and click on All Mail. If you want, you can re-apply an Inbox label to anything you'd like Gmail to put back in your Inbox.

If you do need to re-upload your mails, there is nothing to stop you having both POP3 and IMAP access to your Gmail account active at the same time. Just give each method its own name (maybe like Gmail and Gmail-via-IMAP) inside Mail so you can easily tell which set of folders belongs to what.
posted by flabdablet at 1:23 AM on May 18, 2009

I use GMail with POP, leaving a copy (implicit backup) of everything on the server while downloading messages locally. IMAP is not needed for this.

(IMAP is a flaky pain in my experience, especially in Apple Mail. Not worth it, especially since Mail.app and GMail have such different philosophies on message processing (tags, mailboxes, labels, etc.)
posted by rokusan at 2:21 AM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster:
Just add Gmail properly using IMAP and then drag over all the locally-stored messages. Then delete the POP account.

Ah ha! It looks like the messages are all filtering back onto my web-based inbox. I should have thought of this, but I was too convinced the solution had to be complicated. Thanks so much!

Thanks also for the additional info -- it looks like Gmail deleted my archived copies in "All Mail" as well when everything was downloaded to Mac Mail, so flabdablet, I'm still a little puzzled by your note that I should have been able to find everything in All Mail. However, the essence of the problem- re-uploading my mail back to Gmail -- was solved via floam's suggestion.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:33 AM on May 18, 2009

Gmail will in fact completely delete everything you download via POP3, if that's the option you choose when you turn on POP3 access in your Gmail account. The default Gmail response to a POP3 deletion command is just to archive, rather than fully delete. Sounds like you overrode that default, or maybe they've changed it since last time I looked at it.

Anyway, I'm glad you've got your mail back.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 AM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: flabadabet, you're right, and I see that now on the Gmail settings page. Thanks for following up!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:07 AM on May 18, 2009

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