With the popularity of webmail such as Gmail, a lot of us are using our Web browser as our main email “client,” instead of a Desktop application such as Apple’s Mail.app, Outlook or Evolution. This means that if our Internet goes out, we have no way to look at our email; forget about checking for new messages, we can’t even read old ones! In this article, we’ll show how you can use Thunderbird to archive your webmail (in this case Gmail), so even if your Internet connection goes down, you can at least read old messages.
The first step is to download and install Thunderbird. You can head over to the Thunderbird home page and download the installer (simplest for Mac or Windows), while Linux users will likely want to install Thunderbird via their distro’s software repositories.
Now we’ll need to ensure that Gmail is configured to allow POP3 access. So click this link (make sure you’re logged into your Gmail account) to view the POP/IMAP settings.
As you can see above, we’ve turned on POP3 access, which will allow us to use our Gmail account with a Desktop client, in this case Thunderbird. Also, note that under option 2 (under POP Download), we have chosen to “keep Gmail’s copy in the Inbox” when messages are accessed with POP. If we use this option, then nothing we do with Thunderbird (such as accidentally marking a message as “read”), should affect anything we see in the Gmail Web interface.
Note: we’ll be showing the POP3 configuration instructions in this article, but you can check out this link to see Google’s ideal configuration settings for IMAP mail clients, if you were wanting to use Thunderbird as an everyday client. We chose POP3 as our backup method, as it will download all your emails, and not simply new emails as they arrive.
Next, launch Thunderbird by double-clicking its Dock icon or Desktop launcher, selecting its Start Menu entry, or… whatever.
Now we’ll enter in your account details, so go to the Edit menu and then Account Settings (menu names/locations may be slightly different on different operating systems).
When the Account Settings window opens, choose Add Mail Account from the Account Actions menu.
Now simply enter in your Gmail info. Thunderbird has a database of many different email providers, so should automatically fill in the correct server info. The only thing to think about at this point is whether or not to switch from the default server (IMAP), to the alternative (POP3, as we did).
Now, before leaving the Account Settings window, click the Server Settings tab, then make sure to change the “Check for new messages” setting is reduced to 1 minutes (at least while we download your old emails), as well as checking the “Leave messages on server” option, while making sure the next two options (“For at most” and “Until I delete them”) are unchecked.
Now move to the Junk Settings tab and uncheck the “Enable adaptive junk mail controls” option. As Gmail already has good spam filtering (and we’re only using Thunderbird to archive our Gmail account), this will ensure that every email is downloaded.
Finally, click the Disk Space tab, and make sure the “Don’t delete any messages” radio button is selected. This way, no messages will be deleted, simply to conserve disk space. This should be the default option, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check.
At this point, you can go ahead and clock the entire Account Settings window and return to the main interface. If it hasn’t started archiving your Gmail messages, click the Get Mail button in the toolbar, and the process will begin.
Depending on how many emails you have, this process could take quite a while, but when you’re finished, you should have a full backup of your POP3 server.