Backup your IMAP mail

Having all your mail on an IMAP server is great. This way you can always access it. No matter if you're at home or at work. But what about backup? If the IMAP crashes, you're lost! I have all my mail on an IMAP server, so I decided it was time to take a backup. This is my solution. I'm using Mozilla Thunderbird.

Before launching Mozilla Thunderbird make sure you have the Offline Extension installed. This normally done when you install Thunderbitrd.

First create a new profile in Mozilla Thunderbird. This can be done by running the Mozilla Thunderbird Profile Manager. From the command line run thunderbird.exe -ProfileManager. I called the profile IMAP Backup.

Now create your IMAP account. After this go into the Options via Tools -> Options.... Go to the Extensions tab and hit Install new Extionsion. Select the offline.xpi file you just downloaded. After the install restart Mozilla Thunderbird.

Now go into Account Settings via Tools -> Account Settings and select Offline & Disk Space. Check both checkboxes and press the Select folders for offline use.... Here you select all the folders you wish to backup. I selected all folders except the Junk folder where Mozilla put all the mails that's detected by Mozilla's spam filter. Now press Ok and Ok again to return to the main mail screen.

Now press the blue Offline icon the the lower right corner of Mozilla Thunderbird. Press the Download button and all of your mails will now download. This may take a while. When it's done you can exit Mozilla Thunderbird.

Your mail is now located in your profile directory. Here's how to find it. It's inside the IMAPMail directory.

If you like to zip up all of the mail files you have to zip those files that doesn't have an extension. The .msf files are just summary files and can safely be deleted.

And you're all done. Backup before you need to back up.

Update: Be sure to read Restoring your IMAP mail

February 19, 2004 06:04 PM | Posted in Mozilla


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Very good idea - using the client as a an (extra) backup.

But a small (and probably very stupid :-)) question comes to mind: how do you plan to restore back to the IMAP server when/if the server crashes.

Hope I have overlooked something obvious, and that you have a nice way to do this.

Best Regards

Comment by Morten Andersen at February 19, 2004 08:41 PM | Permalink

TITLE: re: IMAP, Thunderbird, and mail clients URL: IP: BLOG NAME: Omar Shahine's WebLog DATE: 02/20/2004 09:15:54 AM

Site icon TrackBack from re: IMAP, Thunderbird, and mail clients at February 20, 2004 09:15 AM | Permalink

I used to do some IMAP backup by manually copying the EMail to the LocalFolders accounts.
(restoring would be another quick copying)

This lets you do all the backup from the client interface although you can still additionally compress the thuunderbird files after that.

To me it also sounds better regarding the load on the server (specially when you re nice and free IMAP server do some bandwidth accounting :) ) : it should only download what is necessary.

what do you think ?

BTW, this would be bad if my only input to was for criticism, because I love it ;)

Comment by Patrice B at February 20, 2004 12:21 PM | Permalink

Henrik Gemal has written up a clever tutorial on how to backup IMAP mail using Mozilla Thunderbird. Follow that up with the corresponding tutorial on restoring IMAP emails. Now those of you who're still using POP3 to get your email...

Site icon TrackBack from Backing up your IMAP email in Mozilla Thunderbird at February 20, 2004 01:10 PM | Permalink

Just stumbled upon this. Just wanted to mention my experience with this...

I did this using the Suite about 14 months ago, and found that when backing up with IMAP, I had to copy to Local Folders like Patrice does (did).

The reason I had to do this was because the offline version of IMAP folders didn't seem to be MBOX compatible. I used to copy the file to somewhere else and try and get MozMail to re-parse it, and all the headers would be stuffed up, plus attachments screwed.

So I had to copy everything to Local Folders, and tested by copying the mbox files to another PC and proceeding to restore. This worked fine, but using the IMAP offline version never did.

I also had to manually create my labyrinth of folders in Local Folders as drag-n-drop of parent folders wouldn't work (I think the bug is fixed now), I could only drag emails from individual folders.


Comment by BlueMM at April 22, 2004 01:42 AM | Permalink

How to proceed to do that:
i have IMAP and thunderbird.

I want to keep the last month, with folder tree.
Backup old mail , and keep folder tree. remove mail.

Comment by Anacronik at May 19, 2004 02:00 PM | Permalink

Just came across your post on how to backup IMAP mail on Thunderbird. Just one question - why the need to set up a separate profile? Wouldn't it work just as well to - say, once a week - go offline and download all your mail into your current profile's folder. Then include that profile as one of the files that you backup?

Comment by Chris B [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 21, 2004 03:29 PM | Permalink

Just came across your post on how to backup IMAP mail on Thunderbird. Just one question - why the need to set up a separate profile? Wouldn't it work just as well to - say, once a week - go offline and download all your mail into your current profile's folder. Then include that profile as one of the files that you backup?

Comment by Chris B [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 21, 2004 03:31 PM | Permalink

For Linux folks there is an alternative called "offlineimap" which syncs the imap account with a local maildir. The syncing is done in both directions so backup and restore are quite straightforward. I sync my IMAP account with a local backup mail directory before I start my usual backup job.

Comment by Reinhard Weiss at July 24, 2005 08:21 PM | Permalink

you can use IMAPsize, freeware, done for that, more easy...
it works good

Comment by matthieu at May 1, 2006 03:42 PM | Permalink

That's great, I never thought about Backup your IMAP mail like that before.

Site icon Comment by YachtCharter Griechenland at January 7, 2009 08:59 AM | Permalink

Hmm, well this is a nice disaster. Thanks, now my Thunderbird is completely hosed. No accounts show up in the window at all. And there's nothing to uninstall. Nice.

Comment by Ben at January 27, 2009 07:34 AM | Permalink

I installed the offline extension and it asked if i wanted to add it to my profile to save reinstalling Thunderbird. Close Thunderbird and re-open now no accounts show. Any advice please how I can undo that extension as it does not show in the add ons. Tahnks

Comment by gchapiii at February 18, 2009 11:03 PM | Permalink

Same for me. After installing there is no mail visible anymore!!!!!
I can not uninstall the extension for the extension is not visible in the extensions window.

Comment by Jaap at February 1, 2010 04:53 PM | Permalink

Useful tip, but...

Don't install the offline extension, Thunderbird have it installed by default, or you'll get many bugs.

Site icon Comment by Euro at June 7, 2010 04:02 PM | Permalink

Hello Everyone,

I am one of the developer team member. I would like to share a simple application which helps you to backup your important mail(IMAP backup).

It not only supports IMAP/Gmail backup but also supports feature to Restore backed up mail, Copy/move(transfer ) mail from one Gmail account to another.

It maintain separate file for each downloaded mail, which is compatible with other Email Client application like MS Outlook, Thunderbird etc.

You can run this application on Windows, Linux as well as on Mac Os. Follow the link to know more

Site icon Comment by Vijay Thakur (develpment team member) at February 15, 2011 07:57 AM | Permalink

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