Help get my wife's e-mail to the Gmail lifeboat!
July 19, 2008 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Escabechette has years of old e-mail stored on an old school account that's soon going to close. We want to move all this e-mail to her gmail account. Apparently this is now easy because "GMail supports IMAP." But I haven't succeeded in finding instructions (on AskMeFi or elsewhere) which are suitable for someone, like me, who doesn't know what the word "IMAP" means. Is this really easy? And can you explain to this naif how to do it?

More relevant data:

* Her school e-mail client is pine -- I think this means her mail is stored in "mbox" format.
* Our access to the school account is via ssh, so whatever I would do there would have to be on the command line. This makes it hard for me to see how I could use programs like GML (which does say it supports pine.) Alternatively, if there is some giant file somewhere in her account which contains all the mail, I could scp it to my Mac and work locally, if that's helpful.
* Ideally, the transfer would preserve dates and times, the folders in which the back e-mail is stored, and so on.
posted by escabeche to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would do this this way:

Set up Outlook or Thunderbird with both the school and the GMail accounts. Then move all the mail from school account to GMail.

If you don't know how to set up Outlook or Thunderbird, there is surely a 'how to' guide on the school's IT page.
posted by k8t at 8:14 AM on July 19, 2008

Best answer: You have a couple options:

The easy way is to use an IMAP client to just perform a simply copy from one mailbox to another. Thunderbird does this. You'll need her mail server information to connect to it via IMAP. Of course, her school may not even provide IMAP access. Once you have thunderbird connected to both gmail and her school you should be able to perform a drag n copy to the new mailbox. No pine involved.

You can also download the mbox folder(s) directly to her PC and then try to open them via thunderbird (or another mbox reading client). This is a bit more difficult, but doable.

Lastly, her school's IT department may offer some guidance on this. Perhaps they can make a PST or some other format for her.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:19 AM on July 19, 2008

POP and IMAP are protocols through which a client (like you) pulls emails from a remote server (like your school). Gmail will allow you to pull its messages via both POP and IMAP, but we want it to do something else, namely phone your school's mail server and download messages. It can do this, but only using POP, not IMAP. The difference is that IMAP supports folder hierarchies, whereas POP will only pull messages from your inbox.

So, if your wife's mail is cataloged in sub folders, Google's POP mail pulling may be out of the question. But if not, Gmail can connect using the POP protocol and pull all the emails. So the first thing to do is check with your school (call the helpdesk or browse their documentation) if they support POP connections. If they do, you go to Gmail, click on "Settings", click on "Accounts", then "Add another email account" and follow the instructions.

If you could somehow download the mbox file (via scp, or ftp, or whatever), you could use GML.

k8t's advice would certainly work, in that a local email client like Outlook or Thunderbird could pull emails, including the folder hierarchies, from both your school and Gmail. But then the messages from the school server would be stored only on your computer, and would not be accessible via Gmail.
posted by limon at 8:20 AM on July 19, 2008

But then the messages from the school server would be stored only on your computer, and would not be accessible via Gmail.

Thats not true. He can do an upload via IMAP and they will be in gmail. The idea here is that IMAP is a two way communications protocol. So if you have two IMAP accounts open you can simply drag one item from the school account and drop it in the gmail account via IMAP.

Also IMAP isnt solely a download protocol. Its a reflection of one's server store. Dont think of it as downloading email (thats POP), think of it as a live synchronization of your mail. You can dynamically add or remove items.

Here's a lifehacker article that better explains this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:29 AM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, damn dirty ape, I didn't know that. Thanks for the tip.
posted by limon at 8:30 AM on July 19, 2008

For what it's worth, I managed to do this successfully using an even more obscure format (raw Evolution email directories that had been kicking around on an old hard drive for ages and that Evolution would no longer open). I imported them into Sylpheed, re-exported them as mbox, imported them into Thunderbird (because sylpheed somehow screws up the date with IMAP), then copied them over using GMail IMAP. It was a bit involved, but worked perfectly--all my email from 2001 onwards is now sitting in my GMail account like it never left.
posted by nasreddin at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2008

Response by poster: These are great answers! Sounds like my best bet is to get Thunderbird going on my Mac, and open accounts with both the school account and her Gmail account. I'll try it and report back.
posted by escabeche at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2008

Response by poster: Update: I can see the school account in Thunderbird, but only the Inbox -- not the folders that are stored in her mail/ directory. Have written the school helpdesk to see whether they have any good ideas on this.
posted by escabeche at 8:19 PM on July 20, 2008

Response by poster: School helpdesk was helpful. With their help, it was easy for Thunderbird to move everything from her school account to gmail.
posted by escabeche at 9:44 PM on December 6, 2008

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