What would you do if you lost access to your Gmail account?

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No Gmail?! It hardly bears thinking about ...

Don’t get me wrong, Google sails a mighty fine ship and Gmail is an impressive achievement but should anything ever go wrong with your Gmail account you could find yourself in a world of problems. Say, for example, a hacker guesses your password, gets into your account, and starts sending spam. Eventually, if the hacker is ambitious and spams enough, your account will get suspended and you will have all sorts of problems getting your account back (should you doubt this, just search Google; a lot of people have gone through this agony).

One of the best ways of preventing a hacker from accessing your digital assets on Google is to enable Two Factor Verification which, while it’s a bit of a drag to set up and occasionally have to deal with, it is worth every second you spend on it … think of it as digital security belt and braces.

Even then, I don’t trust Google to never, ever have a problem; Google’s good but only the superhuman can be perfect and I haven't noticed an "S" on Sergey's chest. As a result I back up my Gmail account so that I have a safe and secure local archive and to do this I use Gmail Backup.

Gmail Backup logo

Gmail Backup is a simple, free, open source tool written in Python and available for OS X, Linux, and Windows. It’s not a big program and takes hardly any time to install; just make sure that the directory you select to store the messages is writable. The latest release is, as of writing, version 0.107 dated February 20, 2009.

Gmail Backup screenshot Mark Gibbs

Gmail Backup in operation

To use Gmail Backup you need to make sure IMAP is enabled in your Gmail account and, if you’re using the Gmail Labs, make sure that you have enabled IMAP access for the “All Mails” folder. You then enter your credentials in Gmail Backup and wait; you’re likely to see data rates of around 25KB/s so you’re in for a long wait if, like me, you have accumulated a serious amount of email. After one hour of run  9,700 messages totaling 173MB had been downloaded into 105 folders; an estimated 3.3% of my total saved messages. 

At the end of a successful run Gmail Backup will have created a folder for each year and within those, a folder for each month all under the chosen archive subdirectory. To backup only the newest messages (those that have accumulated since your last backup) you can set “Before” and “Since” dates.

That’s it. You can also use the downloaded email to migrate to another account using the Restore feature and run the application from the command line (which also allows you to specify the switch “clear” which permanently deletes the messages).

So, before Gmail for whatever reason barfs and ruins your life, use Gmail Backup to make a backup at least every week ... although just imagine how many important messages could go missing in seven whole days! Or even a day ... it really does hardly bear thinking about.

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