How to Back up Gmail and View .MBOX Files

There are many reasons why you might want to back up your Gmail account, for example: It’s good to have a copy of your most important data; you are about to be fired from your job, and you want to keep everything that you have done; you just need a little extra protection in case someone breaks into your account and hijacks (or deletes) it.

While most of us probably believe our Gmail accounts will be there forever – since that’s Google’s problem, not ours – it’s always worth having a backup of your emails. Worst case? You will never need a backup. Best case? You will prevent mental illness when a disaster strikes. This and you will get your details back.

Download everything from Google

The easiest way to back up your Gmail is with Google itself. Go to theUpload Data section of your Google Account Settings, uncheck all the Do Not Select boxes (otherwise this process will take much longer than it should), and scroll down until you see the Mail option. Choose this. If you don’t want to back up your entire Gmail and only want to receive emails with certain labels, you can also click the down arrow for more details on what Google is saving.

Once you’ve made your choice – “Include All Mail” should be enough for most people – scroll down the page and click Next. I usually leave all the options at their defaults on the next screen, but you can always resize the archive if you think you have a lot of email and attachments to back up and want to work with fewer files. You can also tell Google to automatically save the backup to Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or Box. I usually just get an email from Google with a download link so that I can then save my backup to my PC, NAS or other portable storage.

When you’re ready, hit “Create Archive” and sit back while Google backs up your data.

What should I do with this .MBOX file?

After unpacking the google archive, you will see one (or more) .MBOX files. Viewing their contents – your emails – can be a cumbersome process. First, grab Thunderbird – Mozilla’s not-so-dead email client. If you just want a fast and easy version to view .MBOX archive files, I recommend downloading the portable version of Thunderbird instead of the full version of the Thunderbird client . Your call.

Once you’re in Thunderbird, click on Tools and then Add-ons. Click Get Add-ons at the top of the left sidebar and find ImportExportTools . Install it.

Return to the Local Folders tab. Click on “Tools” again, scroll down to “ImportExportTools” and select “Import mbox file”. Choose the one that works best for you – import one or more .MBOX files, and then browse for the .MBOX files downloaded from Google.

It may take a while for the add-on to dump your emails into Thunderbird, depending on how long they have to go, but you should see them all appear as a folder (or folders) in Thunderbird. Now you can view them (and re-save attachments) as you see fit.

It is also part of the process that you will use to restore your messages to your Gmail account, or to copy them to your new Gmail account if you like everything with your old one.

If you don’t want to mess with Thunderbird and the add-on, you can try the CutePieSMPT Daemon app, which also makes it easy to view the contents of the .MBOX file. The app felt a little slow to me – and crashed once – when I was using it, but if you just need to quickly check something in the downloaded Gmail archive, this is a great alternative. I also like its name.

If you are using a Mac, you can use the Apple Mail app to import .MBOX files. Open the app, click File and Import Mailboxes. Make sure mbox files is selected, and then locate the .MBOX files. Anything you import will be placed in the On My Mac section of Mail as a subfolder of the new Import folder.


Leave a Reply