Nicholas Skinner

Freelance website and web application developer

Backing Up Gmail Accounts

Backupify / Gmail KeeperAfter switching to Gmail a while ago I setup Gmail Backup to save a copy of emails to a local server both for myself and a client. I did notice a few odd issues every now and then, and it was far from ideal that all messages were placed in the same folder (now containing over 17,000 items) but it could be scheduled to take backups automatically, and run from the command line.

Recently however (likely the result of a change on Google’s end) taking a backup started causing all unread messages to become read (on Google Apps accounts) meaning that if you did a backup at 3am, any messages arriving e.g. from 6pm (previous day) to 3am (next day) would be marked as read, which is far from idea. Additionally the product nolonger seems to be actively maintained meaning little chance of a fix in the near future. I therefore started look into possible alternatives.

The first solution I looked into was backupify. It is a fairly quick and easy to setup cloud based backup system, with both free and paid offerings depending on the number of accounts you need to backup, and the size of your mailbox. Initially it looked like a good option however the more I tested it the less convinced I became at least in terms of what I was looking for.

  1. No ability to restore mail yourself, you must email support. They are however planning on adding that feature in August.
  2. The only real ability you get to view backups is via a web interface, where you are presented a flat list of 25 messages (list of message subjects) per page (no ability to search/sort messages or view labels). To view a message you can download it in .eml format. Therefore searching for / restoring a single message, especially one sent during an unknown time frame could be difficult / involve a lot of manual work.

At the moment Backupify therefore seems more suitable to those who really want a hands off type solution with limited ability to find/restore messages yourself, (more suited to completely loosing access to your entire account).

It is worth noting that they are also planning on supporting storing backups on your own Amazon S3 account in the future which would certainly go a long way in proving a greater / much more useful ability to access, and download messages. With downloadable messages, you can then at least then search/sort using standard search tools included in the operating system.

The second solution I looked into was Gmail Keeper. It is a windows based application that you download, and run e.g. on a server or your PC. The free/trial version supports only 300 emails, and one account therefore most likely you would need to purchase the paid version for $20.

When I first tested it out I found it suffered from the same problem as Gmail Backup in terms of marking messages as read, therefore initially dismissed it however I did send an email to the author on the off chance they might fix it. A few days later (somewhat to my surprise) I received an email back with an updated version that did not suffer from the same issue.

I therefore purchased a copy and have been using it ever since.

Gmail Backup Features:

  • Schedule backups.
  • Backup from the command line.
  • Backup only certain folders/labels.
  • Backup by date range.
  • Backups are automatically compressed, and stored in a .zip file, arranged by year/month, (meaning you will not get folders containing thousands of messages that are difficult to open).

I have noticed a few odd issues, in terms of labels not being saved correctly, messages being saved in the inbox rather than sent folders, and the fact that “backup_db.gkdata” stores partial duplicate copies of messages (which seems like an unnecessary waste of disk space when the reason for it is apparently “possible future functionality”). Overall however these are minor issues, especially when you consider there are relatively few options available for reliably managing Gmail backups.

2 Responses to “Backing Up Gmail Accounts”

  1. admin Says:

    Update: Another commenter mentions who have a free (for personal use) Google Apps backup tool.

  2. admin Says:

    Update: Another (paid for) service to consider is Spanning Backup

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