How to: Download Emails (from Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc)

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Gale S. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I read with great interest your series of articles on Mozilla Thunderbird. The last article I read was in regard to Thunderbird: One Inbox, Multiple Email Accounts. Near the end of that article you mentioned there would be another editorial piece to explain how to archive emails for offline viewing using Thunderbird. I would personally love to download my Gmail emails to my PC and store them locally. Can you explain how to do that? "

My response:

I've already written an article on how to do that, though I'd be happy to go over it again in much fewer steps and less technical explanation, since this question gets asked quite a bit.

How to: Download Emails (from Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc)

  1. The first thing you need to do is set up Mozilla Thunderbird and then add your email account(s) using the IMAP protocol. If you have not already done so, refer to my previous article Thunderbird: One Inbox, Multiple Accounts. Optionally, you can contact me for remote desktop support service and I will set this up for you (for a nominal fee).
  2. Once you have Thunderbird set up on your PC or laptop, I suggest you set up your Inbox using the "Unified Inbox" view. Using this method, all emails you receive (even from multiple email accounts) will be shown in a single Inbox. This makes it easy to view and process all your Inbox emails at once. To set this up, refer to my article Thunderbird: One Inbox, Multiple Email Accounts for more information.
  3. The next thing to do is decide how you want to archive your emails: using a single folder, or using an "archive", where messages are sorted by year.

    Using a single folder: if you want to simply offload your emails in a jiffy, create a folder under "Local Folders" - for example, call it "Inbox - Read" or "Inbox - Archive" or such. Then, go to your Inbox, select all messages, then right click over top of those messages and select: Move To -> Local Folders -> the name of the folder you created.

    Using an archive (by year): to use this method you will need to make some configuration changes to Thunderbird. To do so: enable the menu bar in Thunderbird if you have not already; then, click Tools -> Account Settings. The "Account Settings" window will appear; for each account, go to the "Copies & Folders" menu, then on the right side of the window (near the middle), you will see a heading called "Message Archives". Place a check mark beside: "Keep Message Archives in", then select "Archives Folders on: Local Folders" and click OK, then close the "Account Settings" window.

    Once that is complete, go to your Inbox and select all messages, then right click over top of those messages and select "Archive" from the dialogue menu, and it will automatically download your messages off the remote server and place them into an "Archive" folder in Thunderbird, sorted by year.
  4. Once that is done, you can use Thunderbird's built in search to search through your archives using keywords, or message rules to sort your emails even further, placing messages into other folders if you want. Thunderbird makes this very easy and convenient.

I hope that helps folks who want to archive their emails locally, as this is a question I've been asked time and time again.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

If all of this is over your head, or if you need help setting up your email account(s) with Thunderbird, or some other advanced configuration changes, you can contact me for help using my remote desktop support service. Simply send me a brief message detailing your problem and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question - or even a computer problem that needs fixing - please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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pm.norris_5513's picture

Hi Dennis, I've been follwing your articles on Thundebird with interest. I've been using TB since at least mid 2007. One useful trick that you didn't cover fully is the ability to select where TB stores emails archives.
I have email archives going back to mid 2007 on this third PC i've had since then!
The trick is to specify a storage address in your user area. If TB crashes then you don't loose your emails for one and secondly it enables you to copy and transfer emails archives from one machine to another and also to back them up in your NAS system.
I prefer to use TB with seperate email account inboxes just for the reason that you can easily swap accounts without having to log out and in to the next account. TB keeps all accounts open and receiving messages at a time set by you. Mine is set to 5 mins.

The trick as you said is to open an TB Account called 'Local Folders'. When you do this TB will tell you
'This is a special Account. There are no identitiies associated with this account'
The last box identifies as 'Local directory' with a browse button. I have used
C:\Users\pmnor\Documents\Email archive for many versions of Windows but with different usernames!

You can then create under this account individual folders to archive emails say by period, Received or Sent and and from what email account (I have three, a private account, a gmail and a society account which I run). Of course before you create an archive it pays to remove all the commecial junk which will no longer be valid but might be good for a laugh sometime in the future! You can then tranfer files using Select and paste or just drag them.
You can also set up a direct archive from the Normal Accounts through the Copies and Folders tab as you said which allows you to select Local Folders as a option so you can archive messages as you go along. So set up an Archive folder in Local Folders for each account and date period you want and select Archive Tab in the message window. Still not automatic but easy!
Perhaps someone else may find this a useful trick. Perhaps then somebody can tell me why it is useful to have an events tab or pane alongside you emails! A separate Diary program perhaps but added to emails? Weird!