Backing up my Gmail account
April 12, 2014 12:50 PM   Subscribe

As part of a general digital cleanup (thank you, Heartbleed), I want to perform the long overdue task of backing up my Gmail account (with nearly a decade's worth of email) to my mac. I have two questions: 1) Is gmvault the only option? Is there anything more accessible to a user who hasn't used Terminal with any regularity in eight years, and even then wasn't very proficient using the command line? 2) If gmvault is the only option, or the most accessible option, can someone explain very clearly how to run it? I am unable to successfully follow the instructions on the gmvault website--they seem to assume that I'll intuit some necessary steps, when I actually need every step laid out for me.
posted by ocherdraco to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can just download your data from Google via the web.
posted by w0mbat at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

Another option is to use Apple Mail or another IMAP mail client, configured to connect to your Gmail account. Setting up an IMAP mail client to make a local copy of messages leaves the Google Mail messages intact (unless you do things like delete or move messages, or change flag settings, etc.). One nice thing about this backup approach is that it gives you a tidy graphical interface to your message archive, which is useful for people who don't like the command line.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, google takeout is a good option. Mailstore works also quite well. It can then export the mail into Thunderbird or most anything. You sure are not alone in this quest, I have finally, after 10 years, abandoned my gmail, albeit I am still using it to forward messages from accounts I have not transitioned.
posted by nostrada at 1:13 PM on April 12, 2014

There is really no point faffing about with obscure and difficult-to-run tools when Google provides good instructions on setting up IMAP. Just make sure that the IMAP client you're using on the Mac saves the mails in some mostly uncomplicated and essentially plain-text format, and you're good. I believe Apple Mail uses mdir format, which is fine; Thunderbird uses mbox, which is also fine. Microsoft products? Not so fine.
posted by flabdablet at 2:27 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: I'd also recommend Google Takeout for your purposes.

- Really easy to use
- In a standard format ("mbox"), which many clients and servers can import

- No incremental backups. If you want to update your backup, you need to download a giant multi-GB file all over again.
- No restore functionality. If your email gets deleted from Gmail somehow, or you lose access to your account and start a new one, you can't use the Google Takeout data to restore your mail as it was.
- It's not that easy to access your Gmail labels from Takeout.

The IMAP option with Apple Mail is interesting. You can even use drag-and-drop in Mail to move your messages to another IMAP server, if you ever switch email providers! But I have some concerns:
- You must set up Mail so that it downloads and keeps all your messages. I think that's the default now, but you should make sure.
- If your messages get deleted from Gmail, Mail will automatically synchronize that change. Make sure you set Mail to manual checking, or only open Mail when you want to sync.
- Restore to another Gmail account actually works mostly ok via drag-and-drop, but you'll duplicate messages with multiple labels.
- Apple's Mail stores email in a proprietary format, so you're relying on Apple.
- If you ever lose access to your Gmail account, I'm not sure if Mail will let you move your messages to another server.

Gmvault does incremental backups and has very good restore capabilities. (Note: I've done some work on gmvault, though I'm not the main developer.) However, I wouldn't recommend it to someone uncomfortable with the Terminal.
posted by vasi at 2:30 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It sounds like Takeout is the one for me; I'd rather have incremental backups, but I can live without them. (As I have been for, oh, about a decade.)

The IMAP solution is also very good, but for the moment the "press one button and I'm done" approach of Takeout will suffice.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:13 PM on April 12, 2014

Response by poster: I found another possibility via Lifehacker, which seems to be very close what I was hoping to find: Horcrux is a dedicated email backup app, uses IMAP, has a GUI, and has a "set it and forget it" style functionality. I might go with this—it feels like it hits the sweet spot for what I'm comfortable with. Anyone see any reason why I shouldn't?
posted by ocherdraco at 3:42 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Oooh, Horcrux looks pretty cool. I wish there were some reviews of it available, I like to have confidence that a backup/restore cycle will actually work. Otherwise, I'd say go for it!

Maybe keep a Google Takeout backup just in case, and then use Horcrux?
posted by vasi at 4:14 PM on April 12, 2014

Response by poster: That sounds like a very good way to go. I think that's what I'll do.

There are a few reviews of Horcrux on MacUpdate and several on the Mac App store (which, annoyingly, seem to be unavailable to view online), in addition to the Lifehacker stub (which is not really a review, but it's at least acknowledgment from a third party). Most of the reviews that exist seem favorable; they indicate that the developer is very responsive. The bad reviews are from two years ago and/or indicate in follow-ups that the developer solved their issues with the app.

I think that's enough evidence for me to move forward with it, though I'll wait until my Takeout archive has been downloaded first.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:57 PM on April 12, 2014

I use a plain old pop3 download of new gmail emails every time I fire up outlook, and segment away different parts of my emails in an encrypted partition for safekeeping. A pain to search if I needed to, but it is purely a backup function. Started with this method a long time ago, so haven't tried anything newer.
posted by troytroy at 4:57 PM on April 12, 2014

I use mbsync on my Linux server to backup several gmail accounts, I believe it also works on Mac. It's strictly a command line tool, I have it scheduled to run every night. It might not be simple enough for your needs but look at it if you can't find anything else.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:07 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use the application Cloudpull which is an app that grabs mail, contacts, calendars and documents. It has trouble with its start at login option so I use a script to verify it is running once a day.
posted by ridogi at 10:32 PM on April 12, 2014

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