Back up your Web mail account

Yes, we know–it’s hard enough to remember to back up your desktop, your laptop, your smartphone, and your tablet, and now we want you to think about backing up your cloud-based e-mail account, too.

This may seem like a drag, but we’re not being paranoid. Recently, 150,000 Gmail users were left in the dark when a glitch in Google’s system deleted all of their e-mail messages and disabled their Gmail accounts. Sure, only 0.02 per cent of Gmail’s user base was affected, but that 0.02 per cent was pretty ticked off, to say the least.Luckily, Google not only keeps multiple copies of user data in multiple data centres under different circumstances, knowing this fact might actually make you feel worse), but it also keeps tape backups, and thus was able to restore the deleted e-mail within a week.

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The recent Gmail outage may have ended happily, but it still should be a wake-up call for anyone who relies too heavily on the cloud. The time to back up your Web-based e-mail is now.


Google’s Gmail gives you plenty of space–over 7.5GB of space, actually–to store thousands of e-mail messages, but that doesn’t mean you should put all of your e-mail eggs in one basket. Fortunately, you have a simple, free way to back up your Gmail account in one fell swoop: Gmail Backup.

Gmail Backup works with both Windows and Linux. Here’s how to back up your Gmail in just a few minutes:

1. Download and install Gmail Backup. The install is quick and painless, and leaves you with a Start menu shortcut and a desktop icon.

2. Open Gmail Backup. Enter your full Gmail address and password, and choose the backup folder to which you’ll save your messages. You can either use Gmail Backup’s default folder or find/create your own folder by clicking Directory.

3. Choose which messages to back up. You can back up only the newest e-mail messages, or you can back up all of your e-mail from a specific date range. If you want to back up all of the e-mail in your account, just select a ‘Since date’ from before you opened the account.

4. Start the backup process by clicking the Backup button. The process can take a long time if you have a lot of messages, so you can run it in the background. If you’re interested in watching the progress, though, Gmail Backup will keep a running log of the e-mail that it has backed up. You can also back up your account incrementally; in this procedure, Gmail Backup skips over messages that have already been downloaded into a particular folder.

5. Restore your messages. If something should happen to your Gmail account later on, you can restore your messages from the Gmail Backup utility. To do so, enter the address and password of the Gmail account you’d like to restore the messages to, and then choose the backup folder that houses the messages from the account you’d like to restore from. These don’t have to be the same account.

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I tried Gmail Backup, just to make sure it really is as simple as it sounds–and it is. I was able to download messages from one account and “restore” them to another account, and Gmail Backup kept all of my labels (including ‘Inbox’ and ‘Sent’) and attachments. Gmail Backup can’t support characters that are not alphabetical or numerical (such as a forward slash or an asterisk) in labels, but aside from that little glitch (just rework your labels before backing up), this is a shockingly easy way to make a hard-drive backup of your Gmail account.

Gmail Backup backs up files in .EML format, which any desktop e-mail client can open. The only drawback of Gmail Backup is that it doesn’t back up chat logs–Gmail treats chat logs as a different animal, and doesn’t put them in the ‘All Mail’ folder, which is the folder that Gmail Backup scours.


Unfortunately, no “Hotmail Backup” exists for non-Gmail users. However, you can use a free application that’s pretty easy to set up: MailStore Home. A Windows-only backup utility, MailStore Home lets you back up and restore both Web-based and desktop-based e-mail.

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1. Download and install MailStore Home. Open MailStore Home and click Archive e-mail.

2. Choose POP3 Mailbox, and enter your e-mail address, the ‘Host’ (, and your password. Set the ‘Access via’ drop-down menu to POP 3-SSL, and click Next.

3. On the next screen, you can choose how to archive–namely, whether to delete your messages from the host server once the program has downloaded them. The default setting is that messages are never deleted, and you should leave it that way (after all, you’re backing up your mail, not moving it). You don’t need to change anything here, so click through and start backing your mailbox up.

Sure, MailStore Home requires a little more setup than Gmail Backup’s “enter your password and go” approach (you have to set up a POP3 account), but it’s a smooth and easy tool to use. Not only can you see your messages in the MailStore Home desktop client, but you can also back up your files to a CD, DVD, or USB drive.

MailStore Home keeps your folders and labels intact, and can also run in increments (it skips over messages that it has already archived).

Also, although I admittedly have fewer e-mail messages on my Hotmail account than I do on my Gmail account, MailStore Home seems to be quicker than Gmail Backup (and, yes, you can use MailStore Home to back up Gmail as well).

Yahoo Mail

Yahoo doesn’t want you to back up your mail. How do I know this? Yahoo disables POP3 access to its free users–in order to use the POP3 feature, you must be a Yahoo Mail Plus member, which costs $20 a year. Unless you’re a Yahoo Mail Plus member, utilities such as MailStore Home won’t work.

If you’re cheap (as I am), here’s how to back up your Yahoo Mail without dropping that $20.

1. Download and install Zimbra Desktop, which is a free desktop mail client that works with Yahoo Mail, Gmail, and Hotmail.

2. Open Zimbra Desktop and click Add New Account. Select Yahoo from the drop-down menu and fill in the form (e-mail address, password, and so on). You can also choose to synchronize calendars, contacts, and groups.

3. Click Validate and Save and wait for Zimbra to synchronize–this may take a long time, and you won’t have access to your account while Zimbra is synchronizing. Once Zimbra is synced up with your Yahoo Mail, click Launch Desktop and go to the Preferences tab. In the left menu, underneath your Yahoo account, click Import/Export.

4. Under ‘Export’, make sure Account is checked, and then check the Advanced Settings box. If you don’t want to sync everything, uncheck all of the boxes except for Mail and then click Export.

5. You’ll get a zipped file (.TGZ), which you can open with WinRAR. All of your messages save in .EML files, which you can open with a desktop e-mail program (such as Outlook or Thunderbird). You can also import this zipped file into Zimbra Desktop, and your messages will be recovered; once your messages are restored to Zimbra Desktop, the utility will sync with the server, and your Yahoo Mail account will be back on its feet.

Zimbra isn’t as easy to use as Gmail Backup or MailStore Home are, but it is an effective way to back up your Yahoo Mail–for free. Zimbra Desktop retains folders and attachments, and can even “back up” your contacts and calendar. Now that you have a backup of your cloud-based e-mail account on your hard drive, you’ll be prepared the next time Gmail falls victim to a bug–as long as you remember to back up your hard drive, of course.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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