It’s really easy to download a copy of your Gmail data thanks to Google Takeout. However, Google gives you an MBOX file, and what can you do with that? In fact, you can do a lot. It’s ideal for keeping an offline backup or moving all your emails to a new email service or Gmail account.
We’re going to show you how to use Google Takeout, how to create an offline backup using Thunderbird, and how to move your Gmail data to a new email service.
First, you need to download the export of your Gmail data from Google Takeout.
By default, all of your Google service data will be selected, so this includes stuff like Chrome and Drive. If you just want Gmail, click Deselect all at the top of the list, then scroll down to Mail and check the box.
The export comes in two files. One is a JSON file which provides your user settings. The other, which is key for this process, is the MBOX file which contains your emails. You cannot change these file formats within Google Takeout.
By default, all your Gmail messages from all your folders will be included. If you want to adjust this:
- Click All Mail data included.
- Remove the checkmark from Include all messages in Mail.
- Choose the folders you want.
- Click OK.
Scroll down and click Next step. Here you can choose your Delivery method, Frequency, and File type & size. You can leave everything as default, but change them if you want. When ready, click Create export.
Your export will then process. You will receive an email notification when it’s ready. If you only included Mail in the export, it won’t take too long—just wait on the page for it to finish. When it has, click Download. The export is available from this page for one week, though you can always request a new one if it expires.
Open the compressed file on your computer and export it. The necessary MBOX file is in the Takeout > Mail folder.
You can import your Gmail data into any email client that supports MBOX. You could also use a utility like Windows MBox Viewer.
If you use a Mac, you can import the MBOX file into your Mac’s Mail app by clicking File > Import Mailboxes. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you’ll have to first convert the MBOX file into another format Outlook supports—Outlook has no native way of importing MBOX files. You may find it easier to set up Gmail in Microsoft Outlook.
For the detailed steps of this guide, we’ll use Mozilla Thunderbird because it’s free, open source, and supports MBOX files natively. It also runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It’s one of the best free email clients. So, install Thunderbird on your computer.
You now need to navigate to a specific Thunderbird folder in File Explorer so that you can place your Gmail MBOX in it. Here’s how to do that:
- Press Windows key + R to open Run.
- Input *%appdata%\Thunderbird\Profiles*
- Click OK.
This will open File Explorer. You should see a folder in here called xxxxxxxx.default, where the x is eight random characters. Navigate inside this folder and then go to Mail > Local Folders.
Get the MBOX file you downloaded earlier and place it within the Local Folders folder. You can left-click and drag the file across between the open windows, or use copy (Ctrl + C) and paste (Ctrl + V).
Now open Thunderbird. On the left-hand menu, beneath Local Folders, you should see the contents of your Gmail account. It uses the name of the file by default, but you can right-click and select Rename to change it.
Now, you can use Thunderbird as an offline way to read your downloaded email. You can read messages, search, grab file attachments—anything you could do with Gmail online.
This is a decent backup solution that provides peace of mind. You can store an offline backup of your Gmail account in MBOX format on an external hard drive or USB. Of course, you’ll want to regularly download a new MBOX backup file if you’re still using Gmail, just to keep your backups up to date.
Whether you lose access to your Gmail account, Google shuts down Gmail, or the entire internet collapses, you’ll always have a way to access your email archive.
You can also use the offline MBOX copy of your mail to import your Gmail data into other email accounts. This just requires that the email service supports IMAP. The old POP3 protocol won’t work.
With this trick, you can import your emails into another Gmail account, move them to a Microsoft Outlook account, add them to a Yahoo Mail account, or import them into any other IMAP-supporting service. This is useful if you want to move to another service and leave Gmail behind, or if you want a new Gmail address.
To do this, you’ll need to add the other email account to Thunderbird. On the left pane, click Local Folders to go to the Thunderbird overview section. From here, beneath Choose What to Set Up, click Email.
Enter your mail account details. Thunderbird will attempt to automatically download the appropriate server information, so you don’t have to configure it manually, but click Manual config to check the details. Ensure the Incoming Server option is set to IMAP.
Thunderbird may not automatically detect your email service’s configuration, so you may need to look up your email service’s IMAP hostname, port, and SSL configuration. Refer to your provider’s help documentation if this is the case.
Once you’ve set up your email account, it will appear in Thunderbird’s sidebar. You can drag and drop emails (all of them or specific ones) between your local Gmail backup and the IMAP account. Thunderbird will upload them and they’ll appear in your new account.
This trick takes advantage of the way IMAP works, as it allows you to upload messages and move them around. The other email service doesn’t have to know anything about MBOX files or Gmail; it only has to support IMAP.
You can also import your Gmail to another account without using a downloaded MBOX file. Just add both email accounts to Thunderbird, and then drag and drop messages between them.
That’s everything you need to know about how to grab an archive of your Gmail data and how to read an MBOX file with ease. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to use Thunderbird, but you’ll soon find it’s an excellent and powerful email client.