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Google Takeout finally allows you to easily download a copy of your Gmail data. But Google gives you an MBOX file — and what can you do with that? It turns out you can do a lot with an MBOX file. It’s ideal for keeping an offline backup or moving all your emails to a new email service or Gmail account.

Previously, getting an offline copy of your Gmail required downloading your entire Gmail archive over IMAP in Thunderbird How to Download & Back Up Your Gmail & Other Google Data How to Download & Back Up Your Gmail & Other Google Data We’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... Read More . Now it just takes a few clicks on the Google Takeout website and you’re good to go.

Import Your Gmail MBOX Into Thunderbird

We’ll use Mozilla Thunderbird for this because it’s free, open source, runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and supports MBOX files natively.

First, install Thunderbird on your computer and open it. Add any email account to Thunderbird. You don’t have to actually use the email account for anything; this will just ensure Thunderbird is set up properly for email.

thunderbird-add-email

Close Thunderbird after adding an email account. You’ll now need to locate the C:\users\NAME\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\########.default\Mail\Local Folders\ folder on your computer, where NAME is your username and ######## is eight random characters.

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To get started, open Windows Explorer — or File Explorer on Windows 8 — plug %appdata% into the address bar, and press Enter. You can click the rest of the way to the Local Folders folder.

thunderbird-mail-local-folders-folder

Move the MBOX file to this folder — you don’t need to do anything special, just place the file here.

import-gmail-inbox-into-thunderbird

Run Thunderbird again. The downloaded contents of your Gmail account will appear under Local Folders in Thunderbird.

import-gmail-mbox-file-into-thunderbird

If you use a Mac, you can import the MBOX file into your Mac’s Mail.app by clicking File > Import Mailboxes. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you’ll have to first convert the MBOX file into another format Outlook supports — Outlook has no native way of importing MBOX files.

Use Thunderbird as an Offline Archive

Thunderbird now provides an entirely offline way to read your downloaded email. You can browse through it, read messages, search, grab file attachments — anything you could do with Gmail online.

This is an excellent backup solution that provides peace of mind. You can store an offline backup of your Gmail account in MBOX format on an external hard drive or USB somewhere along with all your other important backup files. Of course, you’ll want to regularly download a new MBOX backup file if you’re still using Gmail, just to keep your backups up to date.

Whether you lose access to your Gmail account, Google shuts down Gmail, or the entire Internet collapses, you’ll always have a way to access your email archive.

gmail-offline-email-search

Import Your Emails Into Another Email Service

You can also use the offline copy of your Gmail to import your Gmail data into other email accounts. This trick just requires that the email services supports IMAP so you can access it from Thunderbird — the old POP3 protocol won’t work, we need IMAP POP vs IMAP POP vs IMAP Read More .

With this trick, you can import your emails into another Gmail account, move them to a Microsoft Outlook.com account, add them to a Yahoo! Mail account, or import them into any other IMAP-supporting service.  This is useful if you want to move to another service and leave Gmail behind or if you’ve decided you just want a new Gmail address as your main Google account.

To do this, you’ll first need to add the other email account to Thunderbird. Click the menu and select New Message > Existing Mail Account to add a new mail account to Thunderbird. Enter your mail account details — Thunderbird will attempt to automatically download the appropriate server information so you don’t have to configure it by hand. Ensure the Incoming server option is set to IMAP. Thunderbird may not automatically detect your email service’s configuration, so you may need to look up your email service’s IMAP hostname, port, and SSL configuration.

add-outlook.com-imap-to-thunderbird

Once you’ve set up your email account, it will appear in Thunderbird’s sidebar. You can drag and drop emails between your local Gmail backup and the IMAP account. In fact, you can even drag-and-drop all the emails from your MBOX file to somewhere in the other IMAP account. Thunderbird will upload them and they’ll appear in your new other account.

move-emails-between-imap-accounts-in-thunderbird

This trick takes advantage of the way IMAP works, as it allows you to upload messages and move them around. The other email service doesn’t have to know anything about MBOX files or Gmail; it only has to support IMAP. We’re not aware of any email service that allows you to directly upload an MBOX file — the IMAP part of the process is essential.

You can also import your Gmail to another account without using a downloaded MBOX file. Just add both email accounts to Thunderbird, and then drag-and-drop messages between them. This would even allow you to move emails from an Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail, or other email account to a Gmail account.

What other uses have you found for the MBOX file Gmail provides? Leave a comment and share any tricks you have!

Image Credit: Cairo on Flickr

  1. Tim W.
    September 2, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    But for Gmail-to-Gmail transfer, I actually prefer to use something like g-transfer.com just because of the convenience. Using takeout or downloading and .mbox file with gmail was so annoying for me and actually left data behind. Not worth it in my opinion.

  2. joane
    August 9, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Thank you! this is really awesome and helpful! :) more power to you

  3. Happy Guest
    August 7, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    ? really appreciated to you. Thank for your efforts really thank you

  4. Christian Braun
    May 25, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Hi there,
    thanks for the great description which I followed through to be abvle to read my exported Gmail *.box file archive.
    Aftr copying it into the local thunderbird folder and restarting, the symbol for the folder appears but contains nothing. The mbox file is about 9GB.
    Any ideas.
    Thanks for any help
    Christian

  5. sandra diaz
    February 22, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Can i read my Google takeout data without having installed Thunderbird in my system ? Suggest ways if is possible ?

    • Hartigan Beckham
      February 23, 2016 at 4:17 am

      Hi

      Yes you can still view your Google takeout data without having Thunderbird installed, just look for some freeware Mbox reader or there is a blog Mailboxreader.wordpress , it will definately help you .

      Regards

  6. sandra123
    February 22, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Can i view my Gmail downloaded data without installing Thunderbird in my system. Suggest ways if it possible ?

  7. Liz
    January 22, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Fabulous - easy to read and easy to make sense of - win!!

  8. Eelco
    January 22, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Hi,

    I've exported my mail using Takeout. It seems though the resulting mbox file contains a lot of 'empty' messages. It looks like the same thing happens in the last screenshot in this post. What are those empty messages? What goes wrong?

    Best, Eelco

  9. Heidi_F
    December 1, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Amazing article. So helpful, easy to understand and to the point. Thank you!

  10. flow
    November 25, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    this is ridiculous. why gmail cannot import its own archive is beyond comprehension

    • samuel
      January 18, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      I still cant comprehend this. It could be so simple to get the info from one account to other! Hope they implement this feature soon!

  11. Héctor
    March 6, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Two thumbs up!

  12. Tushar
    February 4, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Thanks a lot. This article is lifesaver. :)

  13. Katherine
    January 13, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    Awesome! Finally some coherent, simple instructions on how to make my gmail archive useful again!!! THANK YOU!!!

  14. Kumarapush
    June 26, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Well I got a topic from this link (http://officetricks.com/download-your-social-network-profile-data-to-pc/) on how to download Gmail data to Local system. But not aware of this issue on how to use the downloaded data. Good thought.

  15. sd
    May 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    This was awesome! Thank you for the clear instructions. Worked like a charm.

  16. Bill S.
    February 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Can Thunderbird make use of Gmail Labels, so that one can pull up a particular Label of emails from the Mbox download. Thanks.

  17. Bruce Barnes
    February 1, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Great Idea! Thank you.

    Instead of regular Thunderbird I used the Portable App version and that way I end up with all my emails and the Thunderbird reader in the same stand-alone folder that can be burned on a CD for backup purposes.

    • david
      February 5, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      You can backup your Thunderbird (and Firefox) profiles using a tool called Mozbackup. This creates a file extension called PCV which is apparently really a ZIP. It makes the backup a little easier and it may decrease the size.

  18. Zana Kergaye
    January 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Awesome

  19. ddd
    January 24, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    looking for ergotron giveaway

  20. Shafiq
    January 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Can the above procedure work in Microsoft Outlook instead of Thunderbird?

  21. Jonny
    January 23, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    Here's a question: can I import my MBOX into another Gmail account?

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