How to Download & Back Up Your Gmail & Other Google Data

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back up your gmail accountWe’re storing more and more data in the cloud these days. Email, contacts, documents, photos, calendar entries – you name it, it’s on Google’s servers. But what happens when the services we rely on go down? When the US government seized Megaupload, many users lost data they were storing on Megaupload’s servers.

Recent events have highlighted the importance of local backups. Google makes getting data back onto your computer pretty easy but you can also use these same methods if you’re looking to ditch Google because of concerns about their privacy policy.

Google Takeout

You may have heard of Google Takeout, which we’ve covered in the directory. Google Takeout is supposed to package all your Google data into a single file for download, but it isn’t quite there yet. It is improving, though – Google recently added Google Docs support.

back up your gmail account

With just a few clicks, you can download photos from your Picasa Web Albums account, documents and files from Google Docs, contacts from Gmail and various bits of information from Google+. Google does all the work of getting your data together and packaging it into a single ZIP file for you — you can even close the window and have Google email you when the file is ready to download.

back up your gmail

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In a perfect world, this would be the end of the process. But we still have to manually back up our Gmail emails, calendar events and other information.

Gmail

Gmail emails are the hardest thing to download properly. Google’s other services let you download a file directly from the associated website, but Gmail requires an email application that supports IMAP. We’ll use Mozilla Thunderbird here. Gmail Backup, which we’ve covered in the past, is another option.

First, you’ll have to head into your Gmail settings, click over to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab and ensure that IMAP is enabled. You’ll also want to disable folder size limits – otherwise, Thunderbird won’t see all your Gmail messages.

back up your gmail

After that, you can launch Thunderbird and add your Gmail account. Thunderbird automatically detects and provides the appropriate settings for Gmail, so you don’t have to enter them manually.

back up your gmail

IMAP isn’t meant for doing full backups, so Thunderbird won’t automatically download all email messages and their attachments by default. We can use Thunderbird’s Configuration Editor window to tweak some internal settings and transform Thunderbird into a proper IMAP backup application.

back up gmail account

First, set the preference “mail.server.default.mime_parts_on_demand” to False to have Thunderbird download all email attachments. If you can’t locate this preference using the Filter box, you can create it by right-clicking in the window and creating a new boolean preference.

back up gmail account

Second, create a boolean preference named “mail.check_all_imap_folders_for_new” and set it to true. Thunderbird won’t download messages from outside your inbox unless you click each label individually until you set this preference.

Third, set “mail.imap.use_status_for_biff” to false. This causes Thunderbird to always check each label for new messages.

Lastly, ensure “mail.server.default.autosync_offline_stores” is set to true, or Thunderbird might delay downloading of emails until you go offline.

That’s quite a few settings, but after configuring all four you can click Get Mail and Thunderbird will automatically download and store all your email and attachments. If you have a lot of email messages, this may take some time.

back up gmail account

Thunderbird automatically updates your local backup each time you open it. If you want to switch to another email provider, you can even add another IMAP account to Thunderbird and drag and drop your Gmail emails onto that account.

Chat Logs

Your Google Talk chat logs are stored along with your email in your Gmail account, but you won’t see them in Thunderbird yet. Not to worry, you can back up your chat logs along with your email in Thunderbird.

Just go back into Gmail’s settings, click over to the Labels tab and enable the Show in IMAP check box for the Chats label.

Google Calendar

Calendars are easy to download from Google Calendar. Just click the arrow next to My Calendars in the Google Calender sidebar and click the Export Calendars link on the page that appears.

You can’t download calendars that have been shared with you using this link. Instead, download a shared calendar by clicking the arrow next to the calendar’s name, selecting Calendar Settings and clicking the iCal button.

back up your gmail account

Other Services

Love ’em or hate ’em, Google offer easy ways of pulling your data back down to Earth from the cloud – not like Facebook, which requires tricks. If you want to download data from another Google service not covered here, check out Google’s Data Liberation Front page. It provides guides for nearly every type of data associated with your Google account (although its Gmail guide is incomplete).

Let us know in the comments what your experiences have been with backing up your Google data.  How easy or difficult was it?  Did you use a different method to the ones outlined here?

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