On April 1, 2004, I received an invite from a friend, who was working at Google at the time, to sign up for their new web-based email service: Gmail. Out of curiosity, I signed up for a Gmail account immediately and was a little underwhelmed with the service, to tell the truth. Still, I thought it was a novel idea and one that “might” catch on.
At the time I didn’t give it much of an afterthought and went on my way continuing to use Outlook for my daily email needs. Hence, my personal Gmail account sort of sat on the shelf (almost unused) for a couple of years. Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that, at that time anyway, I had no idea how much I would come to rely on Gmail in the years to come.
Now I’m Stuck with It
As time went by, the Google Gmail service continued to evolve and improve, and (privacy issues aside,) became my defacto “main” email service. Consequently, I have sent and received thousands of important and not-so-important email attachments. Yep, from silly pics to important invoices and contract documents, my Gmail account has seen it all. Consequently, I have, at times, found myself pondering the possibility of ever being locked out of my Gmail account or the service suddenly being unavailable for whatever reason. And, I have to admit; the thought of losing all those emails and attachments is pretty scary.
In a perfect world, I suppose, I would download and save attachments to my PC as I receive them. But, who has the time to do that? Or, who wants the hassle? As we grow to depend on Gmail more and more, it’s just a lot easier to leave those files stored on Google servers. I mean that way we can access or view them from virtually anywhere. But, what if we couldn’t? So, with that possibility, lies the potential problem and, thus, the need to back up those important attachment files.
Backing Up Gmail – Things I Tried
If you do a quick Google search for “backing up Gmail,” you’ll see ad listings for several programs designed just for this purpose. And, while some of them probably work, the ones that are offered for free – well, not so much. Of course, it could just be me, but none of the free programs seemed to do the job. I mean, yes, some were able to download messages, but they left the attachments sitting prettily there on the Gmail servers. Not exactly a great backup strategy, I think.
There are some command-line scripts available, which held some promise for me (I do love the command line.) However, recent changes made by Google on how and how much free user accounts can access Gmail APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) have made tools such as GMVault and GYB (Got Your Back) difficult to use at times. Besides, these tools require creating developer credentials in the Google Cloud Console. And, while setting up the Gmail API to work for this purpose is not overly difficult, it is by no means a task meant for everyday run-of-the-mill Gmail users.
Paying to Back Up Gmail: Not an Option
As I mentioned above, there are a few programs that claim to be able to back up Gmail quickly and easily, and their claims are “probably” true – as long as you’re willing to shell out $30 or $40 for them. But, that’s just not me. I mean, if I absolutely have to, I will spend my hard-earned dollars on a worthwhile piece of software, but those are generally very elusive – at least for me anyway. So, nope; there would be no “premium” Gmail backup solutions for me. I was determined to find a free option, and I did!
Using a desktop email client, such as Outlook or Thunderbird, is a straightforward and efficient way to download all your messages from Gmail. And, of course, you can use other newer clients such as Mailbird or eM Client (my personal favorite.) However, regardless of the email client application you choose, whether or not you can download your attachments all at once depends on the protocol you use when connecting your email software to Gmail.
IMAP vs POP
Generally speaking, there are two primary email protocols in use today: IMAP and POP. IMAP is a much more flexible and complex client that POP and is the one most often used when using auto-setup features of modern email client programs.
IMAP essentially synchronizes mail between your device and the server. So, if you delete a message on your phone or computer, the message is also deleted in Gmail, and vice versa. IMAP also enables you to use more advanced Gmail features, such as custom folders labels and the archiving of messages.
POP, on the other hand, is a more “dumbed-down” type of client. It essentially just downloads your messages from the Gmail server, and then it’s done. If you delete a message on Gmail, it still resides on your device, and if you delete a message on your computer… yep, you guessed it – it’s still there on the Gmail server. POP doesn’t allow you to sync messages on Gmail or use custom folders or labels.
At first glance, it would seem IMAP is the obvious choice for connecting a desktop mail client to Gmail, and in most instances it is. The only problem with this setup is that IMAP doesn’t really download your messages or attachments – until you actually want to see them. IMAP downloads headers and enough information to display the message sender and subject, and then it downloads the rest of the message when you view it in the mail client window. Also, IMAP doesn’t actually download attachments until you initiate the process manually.
This is where the simplicity of POP wins out. With POP, the mail client downloads the complete message, as well as any files attached to it. After you log in with a POP mail client, it goes straight to work downloading all your messages and attachments to your local computer hard drive – which is exactly what we want. So, let’s take a look at how to set up both Gmail and your mail client software so that we can back up those important file attachments.
Setting Up POP (POP3) on Gmail
Actually, once you decide which email client program you want to use, downloading all your messages (and attachments) from Gmail is pretty straightforward. To get started, you’ll first need to set up your Gmail account to allow POP connections from your mail client. To do that. Just click the “gear” icon near the upper-right corner of your Gmail browser window (just below your Google profile pic or its placeholder.) Then, click the “Settings” link in the drop-down menu.
On the “Settings” page, click the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab label. Then, in the “POP download” section, select the “Enable POP for all mail (even mail that’s already been downloaded) option.” Scroll down to the bottom of the Settings page, and then click “Save Changes.” That’s it for the first part. Gmail mail is now ready to allow connections from your desktop mail client application.
Setting Up Your Email Client to Work with Gmail and POP
While setting up your email client to work with this setup is not quite as simple as setting up Gmail to deliver messages via POP, it should be relatively straightforward if you’re using a modern client, such as a newer version of Outlook or Thunderbird, eM Client or Mailbird. However, if you are using one of these clients (and probably most other modern email programs as well,) then you should probably avoid using the “Automatic Account” setup method or one that is similarly named. Using POP with a mail program these days means you’ll probably have to set up your Gmail account manually. But, that’s okay; it’s still really simple.
Settings for Accessing Gmail via POP
When you first run your mail client program, you may see an option to configure a new email account automatically. If you do, it’s probably best to not use this option, as it will “probably” set up the new account to use IMAP settings, rather than POP. If the program does not offer an option to configure POP during the initial run, you can usually set up POP manually in the “Settings” or “Preferences” menu section. Once you find the correct settings window or page to configure POP, you’ll want to enter the following values to get GMAIL to work with POP:
Incoming Mail (POP) Server: pop.gmail.com
Requires SSL: Yes
Outgoing Mail (SMTP) Server: smtp.gmail.com
Requires SSL: Yes
Requires TLS: Yes (if available)
Requires Authentication: Yes
Port for TLS/STARTTTLS: 587
Server timeout: Greater than 60 seconds
Full Name or Display Name: Your name
Account Name, Use Name or Email Address: Your Gmail email address
Password: Your Gmail password
Once you enter the details above in your mail program, just click through the prompts to finish setting up POP, and run the connection test if prompted to do so. If you entered the details correctly, your mail app should connect to Gmail immediately.
NOTE – If you use Two-Factor authentication with Google, a third-party email client, such as Outlook or Thunderbird, won’t be able to connect via POP to Gmail. So, to get around this limitation, you’ll need to create a second “App password” just for this purpose. You won’t need to remember the app password once you enter it in the mail program, though, and creating one is really easy. To learn how to create an app password for your Gmail account, click here.
Download Your Messages and Attachments
Once you finish setting up your mail client to use POP, just click “Send and Receive” or another similarly-named link or button to start downloading your Gmail messages and attachments to your computer. Depending on how many messages and attachments you have stored in Gmail, the process could take quite a while. The time needed to download all your messages and attachments could range from a few minutes to a few hours depending on your Internet connection speed.
Final Note – If you use eM Client and use the automatic IMAP settings when first setting up the program to work with Gmail, you can still retrieve attachment files by using the Local Folders and Rules options. These options will allow you to filter all Gmail and search for messages with attachments. If the program finds a message with an attachment, it will then download the message and its attachment to a folder you select on your local hard drive (see image below for a quick example.) For more information on how to set up Local Folders and Rules in eM Client, have a quick look here and here.
Well, that’s it for now. Hope this post helps you in some small way. Have a better or different method for download attachments from Gmail? Please let me know in the comment section. I would love to hear about it.
Until next time, stay safe. And, remember that social distancing might just save your life.