If you’ve got emails with Google, either in a Gmail account or in G Suite/Google Workplace, you might want to download it.
This could be as a backup/archive (always a good idea!), to help move the emails over to a different provider (which might be happening with the end of the G Suite Legacy Free accounts – which is what’s happening with me, my family and some of my clients!), or a bit of both…
Google makes downloading your emails quite simple, using a service called Google Takeout. (Sadly, you can’t get any food in there, but you can get lots of your information from it!) You can download all sorts of your Google related data with Google Takeout, but in this guide, I’ll be only looking at emails.
It’s a pretty simple process, but there are a couple of steps along the way, that aren’t that obvious and that can make things much better. I’ll also cover how you can use the emails once you’ve downloaded them. So let’s start…
1. Log into your Google account.
This can be done at https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin or if you’re already logged into a Google account/product (like Gmail or YouTube), you can click the circular account icon at the top right and click the [Manage your Google Account] button.
Once you’re in the main account settings, click ‘Data and privacy’ on the left bar.
2. The Data and privacy section
In the Data and privacy section, scroll pretty much to the bottom and there’s a ‘Download or delete your data’ box. In there, click on ‘Download your data’.
3. Choose what to export
You’ll now be in the ‘Google Takeout’ page.
In this page is a rather long list of all the type of things you can download (if you’ve ever used them). But, in this case, we’re only interested in emails. As there are so many types and boxes, the simplest things to do is to first click the ‘Deselect all’ link at the top.
When you’ve deselected everything, take a scroll down to ‘Mail’ and tick that. In the ‘Mail’ box, there’s also another VERY USEFUL button – ‘All Mail data included’. If you click this, you can control what folders/data is download. This is IMPORTANT!
4. Get the Mail you want
If you don’t click that button, all the emails will be put together in ONE ‘mbox’. You get all the emails – but they ARE NOT organised into labels/folders!!! (See I said it was important.)
If you click the button, you are then presented with a long list of ‘labels’ (what Gmail calls folders) which can be exported. To selected individual ones, untick the top ‘Include all messages in Mail’ option.
When you do this, certain labels are auto selected. You’ll probably want to keep these ticked as well as to tick other ones you want to export/download. (You can probably ignore ones like the Bin/Trash, Spam, Snoozed, etc.)
The HUGE advantage of doing this step is that each of the ‘labels’ you’ve ticked will come as separate mbox files in your export. This makes accessing old emails (or moving them to another email provider) MUCH more controllable and generally nicer.
The ‘Archived’ box will probably include most of your mail, and it also includes anything that’s not been put into a label. This means that you might get two copies of some mail (in the ‘Archived’ mbox and the mbox for the label they’re in), but that’s better than not having them! If emails have multiple labels in Gmail, they will only be exported in the first label they’re in alphabetically (I think) as mbox files are like folders, rather than the slightly more flexible labels…
When you’ve ticked all the things you’d like to export/download, click ‘OK’ at the bottom. You’ll then be back on the long list of data types to export. Right at the bottom of that list is a blue [Next step] button. Give that a click.
5. Doing the Export
On the next page, you can choose some things about how the data will be sent to you. Most people can probably leave this screen as is and click the blue [Create export] button.
(The defaults are to have a link emailed to you as a zip file and the export done in 2GB blocks. If you’ve got super duper fast internet and a lot of mail, you could choose ‘4 GB’ or even ’10GB’!)
On the next screen you’ll have a notice saying that your data is being exported and that you’ll get an email.
Depending on the amount of data you’re exporting, this can take a few minutes to a few hours!
6. Downloading the Export
At some point you should get an email with a link where you can get your data. (You can also go to https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout/downloads and see all the downloads/exports you’ve done.)
When you click the button to download your data, it will ask for your Google Account password again, just to make sure you are you! As soon as you’ve entered your password, the first file will probably start to download. If there are multiple files to download, you’ll see a list of them on the screen and can click them to download.
In the main export folder, in the zip file, there will be an html file called archive_browser.html – this can mostly be ignored. The main thing you want is the folder called ‘Mail’. (There might also be some extra )
In that will be .mbox files for each of the labels you’d ticked in point 4.
In the ‘Mail’ folder, you might also have another folder called ‘User settings’. This contains ‘json’ files (a type fo file used to structure certain data) which contain things like your email signature and mail filters.
No programs can directly used them. However, if you open them in a text editor, there might be some useful info you can take out and use elsewhere manually.
7. What’s are MBOX files & what can you do with them?
An MBOX file is a email mailbox (or folder) saved in a special file. It includes everything in the emails – including attachments.
There are some different email programs which can open and use mbox files.
Thunderbird is probably the best option for most people. It can use mbox files in its ‘Local Folders’. This is a good guide on using mbox files in Local Folders in Thunderbird.
If you’ve got multiple mbox files in the folder you’ve chosen for your ‘Local Folders’, then it will display all of the mbox files are separate ‘folders’ in alphabetical order. This is quite a nice way of being able to access ‘old’ emails.
How I’m planning to use my Exported Data
I’m planning to use something like the above with Thunderbird with my 6.5GB+ mail archive from G Suite Legacy Free as I move over to a different email platform.
Rather than migrating all the emails over IMAP (which you can do – that might be another post!), I’m planning to start with a clean slate on the new account. (My emails cover a period of over 15 years and I’ll never probably need at least 70% of them ever again…)
In Thunderbird, I’ll setup the new account as an IMAP account and my archive/exported emails as the ‘Local Folders’. Then I can create the folders I want (and will use) in my new email IMAP account and then copy emails I want in there (say the last six months/year or something) into them from my archive.
Yes – you can do that as well in Thunderbird!
If both ‘accounts’ are running Thunderbird, you can copy/move emails (and their attachments) around by dragging and dropping or copy/pasting. And as the new account is an IMAP one, they’ll sync to the server.
I won’t be using Thunderbird as my main email client/app, but as a nice way of moving emails around and still having access to my full archive if I ever need it.
I’m hoping to do a post on what platforms and services I’m moving things over to – so keep an eye on the blog for that.