Managing IMAP email in Thunderbird
April 16, 2018 8:28 PM   Subscribe

We use thunderbird for email at work and until now everyone has used POP to download everything to their local PC. Obviously this can be a bit inconvenient when you have multiple devices, but it's difficult to use IMAP-only because our mail server only keeps the last 30 days of email. So I'd like to know what most people do in this situation.

Some details:
* The server IMAP account only keeps email for around 30 days.
* I access email from 3 devices: desktop, laptop and smartphone.
* I'd like to be able to see the full email history on the desktop and the laptop. On the smartphone I'm fine with only seeing the last 30 days.
* I regularly have to tag and sort email into folders, and would like this to be reflected across devices.

Should I archive the email regularly, or copy it to a local account? Could I get the exact same folder structure in the archives?

And should I be using folders here? Or just tagging emails then using Saved Searches to get a folder-like appearance?

I'm sorry for the basic questions, but most of my experience has been with webmail in the past, and I'm a bit surprised to see how out of date Thunderbird has become. I'd be really grateful for any suggestions!
posted by theyexpectresults to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Use IMAP, and copy (not move) new stuff into local folders at least every 28 days on both desktop and laptop.

Alternatively, get yourself a FastMail account, set your work email to forward everything to that, and just use webmail. Thunderbird is a fine email client but it can't compensate for a poorly managed server.

Best of all: persuade your workplace to outsource its email hosting to FastMail.
posted by flabdablet at 10:51 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Flabdablet's advice to make a copy is about the only way I can think to do it without changing anything about the setup. You can even set up Thunderbird to automatically copy messages to a local folder of your choosing using its message filters. Just have the filter set to run when getting mail, match all messages and set the action to copy it to a local folder.

That said, if your server only keeps 30 days of email, IMAP isn't really designed for you; if Thunderbird sees that the email has been deleted, it'll delete its local copy as well, unless you've made local copies. Can you get your IT department to lift the restriction on email retention? Also, to CYA, you should probably check what the policy for it is before forwarding all of your mail to a different provider, if you choose to try that route.
posted by Aleyn at 11:04 PM on April 16, 2018

Sorry, that should read "Thunderbird will delete its synchronized copy as well, unless you've made a local copy." If you make a copy to a local folder, that shouldn't be affected by IMAP.
posted by Aleyn at 11:11 PM on April 16, 2018

Sorry I should have mentioned before that we are definitely not allowed to forward emails to other providers, and unfortunately we can only use an internally hosted email server too. Thank you for the suggestions!
posted by theyexpectresults at 3:08 AM on April 17, 2018

As Aleyn says, the only real solution is to fix this on the server end and that's unfortunately on the IT department.

Disk space is so cheap these days that I'm wondering why the IT department has implemented this policy in the first place, and whether it's a legal/compliance/audit type thing rather than a technical or cost limitation. Understanding that might be helpful in pointing you in the right direction, and keep you above board with the powers-that-be too.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 4:56 AM on April 17, 2018

we can only use an internally hosted email server

If you can't persuade management that spending a few hundred bucks on a few terabytes of additional storage for their mail server is a worthwhile productivity investment, then setting your Thunderbirds up with filter rules that automatically make local copies of incoming IMAP messages as they arrive is probably going to be your best option.
posted by flabdablet at 4:57 AM on April 17, 2018

Is there a valid business case for not saving email? If not, I think going over IT to an executive is the route here. 30-day mail retention is nuts. What happens if a customer asks about something that happened 45, or 180 days ago. Email is likely your documentation in many cases, and it's gone.
posted by COD at 5:00 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding COD; depending on your jurisdiction, not retaining email might be illegal. I'd still think twice about going over someone's heads with forwarding email to another provider, but this restriction smells odd to me, especially if the mail server is internally managed.
posted by Aleyn at 3:24 PM on April 17, 2018

I will definitely ask IT about the retention policy, thanks. If I were to guess at reasoning behind it, it's that users will regularly be emailling huge data files back and forth and so the mailbox sizes are probably larger than for a typical company. I realise that emailing files is bad practice and should be stopped regardless, and I think the IT department are working on that. I also might ask them if they can strip the attachments after 30 days instead of removing the email as a compromise.
posted by theyexpectresults at 9:06 PM on April 17, 2018

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