Backup Gmail Using Mozilla Thunderbird

Even with the new Google Gears Offline Gmail function in Google Labs, I still wanted to have a non-google-related backup of my Gmail account.  After researching the various options, I found that the easiest way to do so is to set up an old fashioned POP3 account in Mozilla Thunderbird, and let it sit and send/receive for a a few days.  Thunderbird makes it sickeningly easy to set up Gmail, as it includes all of the POP3 Gmail set-up information.  No need to worry about enabling SSL and TLS ports.  Ready to get started?

1. Download Mozilla Thunderbird here.

2. Install Thunderbird using the default settings

3. Open Thunderbird, and close out of any Wizard that may open.

4.  Go to Tools > Account Settings.  Then click the “add account” button at the bottom right.

5.  Select “Gmail” and hit next.

6.  Type in your name, and the username of your GMail account, and hit Next.  Hit Finish on the following screen.

7.  You should not be back in the “Account Settings” Window.  Click on “Server Settings” under your Gmail Account.  Change “Check for new messages” from the default setting of 10 Minutes, to something shorter, like 3 minutes.

8.  Hit OK, and you should be in the main inbox for Thunderbird.  Now, hit “Get Mail” or use the shortcut CTRL-Shift-T to start your messages downloading from Gmail.

9.  Messages download in batches of around 50 to 100 messages per time.  For large inboxes, it may take several days to download all of your messages.

10.  I noticed a lot of older duplicate messages in my inbox, so I downloaded the handy Remove Duplicate Messages Add-on for Thunderbird.

11.  After installing the Remove Duplicate Messages Add-on from Step 10.  Right click on your Gmail Inbox, and select “Remove Duplicate Messages.”

12.  In the next window, all of your duplicate messages will pop up.  All you need to press is the “Delete Selected” button, which will delete all of your duplicate messages, but leave the original ones intact.

7 thoughts on “Backup Gmail Using Mozilla Thunderbird

  1. I have been using hotmail for years, but it has not been searching my email for about a month. It is very irritating. I want to move, but only once as so many people have my old address (and hotmail won’t forward to a not MS address!). I wonder what is the best long term solution, is it gmail + mozilla thunderbird? I want to integrate to my pda as well and want it to be upgradable…

    Any thoughts?


  2. @steve

    Won’t deleting messages on gmail result in deleted messages in Thunderbird when they ‘sync’? I haven’t tried using IMAP, so I don’t know..


  3. Yes, it will! I found out the hard way — I backed up gmail using this technique and then delted all my gmail messages in gmail to celebrate goggle’s new pederast policy and found all my backed up messages on my home PC gone the next day. I don’t even know how this happened since I set every switch in thunderbird to say “never delete anything without my explicit okay”. So how can you tell thunderbird to upload or download but NOT delete in order to “sync” with gmail??


  4. Everything went great but Thunderbird would only download the first 120 msgs and then stopped. Error says,
    The RETR command did not succeed. Error retrieving a message. Mail server responded: Unable to retrieve …
    More stuff that looks specific to my account.
    Also, I was not able to choose Gmail only Email.
    I am using Mac OSX 10.5.8 on this computer.
    Thanks for any help.


  5. Hi Steve. A friend of mine backed up several of my email accounts (different servers) on Thunderbird but, didn’t show me how. I now need to add a 4th email account but, when I go into “Tools”, it doesn’t give me the option of adding an account. Not sure what to do.

    Thanks for any Help!


  6. Why doesn’t Thunderbird E-Mail have a “SELECT ALL” option? I have to delete each message I receive individually. Sometimes I receive over 100 messages daily.


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