Backup Google and Export Emails

Twice in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had friends ask me about getting emails off of Google. Having everything up on Google seems pretty secure. Google’s not going down anytime soon. But there are issues with having all your email, documents, photos, etc. up there and not anywhere else.

The first issue is access. There are many ways to lose access to your Google account. The most common one is forgetting your password. Have you set up verification and recovery in Google? Go to myaccount. and make sure you have your mobile number and a separate recovery email set up. You can’t do this after you lose your password...

The other access issue is other people with access to your email. For example, this could be because your household shares an email address or a person in your business is responsible for corporate email. Having a backup of email ensures you won’t lose all those emails if the situation changes.

To backup your Google data, go to From here, you can pick what you want to export. The simplest action is export all. Beware though, this may be a big file. If you’re just after your email, choose [Deselect all] and then check [Mail]. You can then go even finer and select the [All Mail data included]. From here you can select which folders you’d like to download. Once you’ve selected everything you’d like to export choose [Next Step] at the bottom.

At this point, Google will ask if you want to export once or every couple of months. Pick the one that best suits you and hit [Create export].

Google will send you an email letting you know an archive is underway. You’ll receive another email when your archive is finished which includes a link(s) to download it. If the file would be over the maximum size (the default is 2Gb) then Takeout will split it into multiple files so you may receive several links.

The download will be a .zip archive file that you can open on Windows or a Mac by clicking on it. Inside you’ll see a Takeout folder. Inside there is file archive_ browser.html that has information about the export.

Your email is exported in MBox format. MBox is an old UNIX plain text format that is readable by a variety of email clients. Apple Mail can read it. So can Thunderbird. It is a plain text format that you can read in any text editor. Note that MBox does include attachments, but they are MIME-encoded and not human-readable. They’ll need to be extracted or imported to another reader to be useful.

In both Thunderbird and Apple Mail, you can open the MBox archive and then copy those emails into a folder on an existing Gmail account. This can be very useful if someone else has a bunch of emails in a folder that they want to transfer to you without necessarily giving you full access to their emails. Takeout creates an MBox file for each exported folder. So, they can send you the MBox file for the folder you want. You open it up in Apple Mail or Thunderbird. Connect to your Gmail account and drag the emails to the folder you want them to be in.

Often you don’t want to import all those emails but want to keep them archived “just in case.” In that case, there are freeware programs that will let you browse the MBox file directly. Windows MBox Viewer is free and installed will let you open/search/preview/merge/export emails.

Happy holidays and happy computing.