Utilities to backup (and restore) your Gmail account to your local desktop via IMAP

I love Gmail. It took a while before I got used to the idea of labels (vs folders), but now I’d much rather use Gmail vs say Outlook. The major keyboard shortcuts are now second-nature to me and I guess I can probably process email twice as fast as the traditional email client. 

Now, what about backups? Well Google has that covered you say. Not so fast. What happens if someone hijacks your account (psst… turn on two-factor authentication. Now!) or worse, Google decides to ban you and suspend your account? The 2nd possibility sounds remote, but it does happen, and you should protect against that possibility too. If you’ve never downloaded copies of your email via POP or IMAP, then you should really get on that ASAP. 

I currently use Mozilla Thunderbird to pull down a copy of my mail (via IMAP), and it’s useful for performing specific searches that aren’t quite as easy in Gmail (yet?). And I’ve found a way to upload mail (also via IMAP) but it’s a bit of a pain. I wanted to find a more ‘bare metal’ way to perform a backup. 

There are a few options, although surprisingly not many. The ones I found that looked viable: desktop backup options: GMVault, Gmail-Backup (trialware), BaGoMa; and cloud-backup ones: DropMyEmail, Backupify, and BackupMy.Net

I eliminated the cloud-based ones because I wanted a copy in my own hands. Gmail-Backup is a popular option, but hasn’t been updated in a long time (Feb 2009) and does not like certain characters in your label names. 

GMVault and BaGoMa
Now down to GMVault and BaGoMa, both of which are Python scripts, I had a tough choice. GMVault is really polished, works on mutliple platforms (Windows, Linux, Mac), has well-documented instructions, and is free. It has a few options that I didn’t see in BaGoMa: OAuth authentication support, local encryption, and separate syncing of emails and chat messages. 

However, there was one explicit thing that BaGoMa does that GMVault does not mention, and that is being able to restore the entire mailstore to a different IMAP mail server. Think about that. If your Gmail account goes away or you want to move to a different email provider with your emails in hand, how do you do it if they don’t provide a migration path? 

In the end, I chose the open-source BaGoMa utility. It doesn’t require ‘installation’; just unzip and run. On Windows, you don’t even need Python. Note though that if you are using Google’s 2-factor authentication (and you should), you’ll need to generate an application-specific password for BaGoMa.

See some of the references below for more thoughts on backing up your Gmail account. Now get to backing up.

References and Further Reading:

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