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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. 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.
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.
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.
Move the MBOX file to this folder — you don’t need to do anything special, just place the file here.
Run Thunderbird again. The downloaded contents of your Gmail account will appear under Local Folders in 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.
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.
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.
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.
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