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How to Back Up Your Gmail Account for Free

Bobby Travis

Bobby Travis

This is a post by Bobby Travis, who wrote with me at 40Tech from 2009 through 2012. Bobby has since moved on to bigger and better things, but I've left all of his great contributions up on the site. - Evan
Bobby Travis

Gmail Meltdown | 40Tech

When thousands of Gmail users opened their inboxes last weekend and discovered, to their horror, that even the servers at the Great and Powerful Google are fallible, the word “backup” started flying around like a hummingbird drunk on one too many cups of coffee. We all know that we should regularly back up our Gmail — or anything that contains important information — but I have to wonder how many of us heard the news of the big disaster that might have been (if Google had been unable to restore the accounts) and quietly thanked our makers when we found that it hadn’t hit us. I suspect that the count in favour would be high, and that many of that group might like to take a moment to do that backup in case it happens again.

What’s the best way to back up your Gmail, though? Can it be done for free? Yep! Read on for two methods, below.

Desktop Email Clients

Using a desktop email client is one of the best ways to get a backup of your Gmail account that you control. It is fairly straightforward to set up either POP or IMAP access to a webmail account in any of them, but if you are set on free and don’t have Outlook already, then download and install Thunderbird or Windows Live Mail for Windows users, or use Apple Mail on OS X. Linux users can also install Thunderbird or use one of the other Linux email clients. If you plan on using the client for all of your email needs, then you should connect via IMAP, but if you want it only for backup purposes, POP will do just fine. Setting these email clients up with Gmail is fairly intuitive, but Google has extensive tutorials on both IMAP and POP setup and troubleshooting if you run into problems.

Once you have your entire Gmail account downloaded to the desktop client of your choice, don’t stop there. Look under file to see if there is an Export option. Exporting your email to .eml format and then backing it up on a separate hard drive or three is the next logical step in a true backup process. You can also export your Contacts from the desktop client, or right from the Gmail/Contacts interface. Set a reminder series on your calendar, and do the “physical” backup regularly. If you need some tips on good file backup services, check out Evan’s post on a comprehensive backup solution.


If you don’t want to go through the hassle of periodically opening up a desktop client just to download your Gmail messages, or are just looking for yet another backup channel, then take advantage of the war for your services that Microsoft and Google are engaged in. Why shouldn’t you benefit from their attempts to draw you in? That’s the core of capitalism and free enterprise, right?

Open up a Hotmail account and and then set it up to import all of your Gmail messages. This is more than just forwarding, this is the inclusion of all of your archives, done with TrueSwitch for Hotmail. The unfortunate thing is that it stops after it imports what is in your Gmail, with no facility to continue drawing in your messages after the fact. In order to do that, you will need to open up your Gmail settings and click on “Forwarding and IMAP”. Once in there, you can set up your Hotmail as a forwarding address, and choose the option to “keep Gmail’s copy in the Inbox.” Don’t forget to schedule yourself to login to that new Hotmail address once per month, just to make sure that everything is going well, and that Hotmail doesn’t shut it down on you.

This method is also a great way to clear space in your Gmail account if you happen to (somehow) be running low on your 7+GB. The only downside is that you are backing up one cloud service to another, but the likelihood of both Hotmail and Gmail going down at the same time is not very high — chances are if it does happen, you will be worried about more important things than a few emails. Like survival — or the freezing cold suddenly emanating up from the depths of Hell.


Both of these methods are easy to implement and require very little maintenance on your part. If you are looking for even less hassle, though, and want to put your backups in the hands of someone who does such things for a living, check out Backupify (we covered it here). Backupify gives you 2GB of backup storage for free, and has paid plans besides. It can also backup many of your other services, like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and more, and is compatible with Google Apps.

Your turn! What methods do you use to backup your Gmail account?