How to Back Up Your Gmail Using Apple Mail or Outlook

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Living in the cloud isn’t without its risks. Gmail outages are rare, but they do happen. Your Gmail password could also get stolen or hacked. Before HTTPS was the default option in Gmail, that’s exactly what happened to me. I learned my lesson. Fancy options exist for Gmail backups, but I’ve got an incredibly simple way to do it that even comes with some bonus features.

Since Gmail supports POP, all you need is a POP email program to download your emails from the cloud while still keeping a copy out there on the server. Built into OS X is Apple Mail, but you can easily do this with Entourage/Outlook. Stick with a program that supports OS X’s built-in Spotlight search and indexing system, though, for reasons that I’ll describe below.

  1. You’ll need to login to your Gmail as always and then go to “Settings” and then to “Forwarding and POP/IMAP.”
  2. In the middle section will be “POP Download.” Click on the radio button next to “Enable POP for all mail.

This will allow your mail program to download old and new mail as well as your sent items. In that same section are “Configuration Instructions” for supported programs, including Apple Mail and Outlook. If your program isn’t listed, like Entourage, check “other” for general configuration instructions that seem to work pretty well in general.

Each time your open up your desktop email program, all your emails since your last connection will be downloaded, while also leaving them intact on Google’s system. On average, I open that program once a month or so as part of regular maintenance . No need to keep the program running or actually use it for sending email — just leave it open long enough for it to download your recent messages.

Now that the emails are physically on your computer, you can then incorporate them into your backup routine with online backup services, Time Machine, or whatever other local backup option you choose. If you use a Spotlight-enabled email program, you can then search your Gmail and your desktop computer all with one search. I find this handy when I can’t remember when a date for an event is. A Spotlight search will look in my iCal and my previously-downloaded Gmails in one query.

Another added bonus of regularly downloaded Gmails is that should your Gmail get hacked and you are locked out, Google will sometimes ask you questions about recent emails or contacts. Having that information downloaded in your desktop program means you can easily answer their questions. When my account was hacked, the hacker deleted all sent emails to cover her/his tracks so my backup was incredibly helpful in this case.

Living in the cloud is great, but occasionally it’s a good idea to ground yourself and back up your important data. Luckily, with Gmail and your Mac, that’s incredibly easy to do.

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