Saving a Copy of Gmail Data

If you get locked out of your Google account you could lose all your email history

Google - letter GIn recent years, Google have become much more insistent (to the point of irritation) that you provide “recovery information” so that you can get back into your account if you lose your password or if your account is hacked.

Nevertheless, it is still possible that you could lose access to the account – and what about if Google were to have a huge brainstorm and lose/delete/mangle your data? Admittedly, this is very unlikely, but it is not impossible.

Save Google DataIf you have emails in your Gmail account that you really wouldn’t want to lose, it makes sense to have a backup copy. Luckily, Google makes this possible without having to get too technical about it. Indeed, you can take a backup copy of ALL data that Google holds for your Gmail account. It’s probably not something you would want to do every week, but it makes sense to do it every now and again if you would suffer by losing any of the data.

This is how it is done:

  • If you are not already signed into your Google account, then do so. Possibly the easiest way to do this is to go to the Google search page and click on the “sign in” button at the top right of the window.
  • Go to the “Download your data” page –
  • By default, the data contained in all of Google’s products will be selected for download. There’s no need to de-select any of the options, but do scroll down to the mail data (near the end of the list) and ensure that it is ticked. By the by, it is quite sobering to see how many Google products there are in which your personal data may be stored – 50 at the moment!
  • Click on “Next Step”.
  • Under “Export type”, choose either a one-off download or schedule downloads every two months for a year.
  • Leave “File type” as zip (unless you know you want tgz).
  • Choose a different archive file size if desired (but it’s probably OK as 2gb).
  • Click on “Create archive”.
  • Log out of your Gmail account (if desired) by clicking on the round coloured circle at the top right of the windows and then click on “sign out”.
  • You will shortly receive an email from Google telling you that an archive has been scheduled.
  • When the archive is ready, you will receive another email from Google with a link to “Download archive”. Click on this link and follow the instructions.

Gmail logoThe zip file that you receive will contain your email in the “mbox” format. You may – or may not – feel the need to check that it does, in fact, contain your email. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details of how you read mbox files, but here are some pointers:

  • If you use a Mac, mbox files can be opened directly by the Mac’s native Mail program.
  • If you use Windows, you can download a free program called Mboxviewer to read the contents of your archive.
  • You can import mbox files into the Thunderbird email program.