How to save a backup of all your Gmail

There are lots of reasons you might want to make a copy of everything in a Gmail account. Maybe you’re done with Google and are switching to an Apple email account. Or you’re leaving a job or school where you were issued a Gmail account. You don’t want to leave behind years of messages.

Fortunately, it’s easy to back up everything in a Google email account. But it’s not quick. Plan accordingly.

How to back up a Gmail account

Don’t be concerned — this process isn’t going to be a nightmare. Google created a tool called Google Takeout to let you do just what you want.

Start by going to the home screen for your Google account: Check in the upper right hand corner of the screen to make sure you’re signed into the account you want to back up, and not some other one.

Next, before you do anything else, scroll down to the Account storage section of the page and tap on Manage storage. On the resulting page, make a note of how much storage space your Gmail account takes up. Is it less than 1 GB? More than 10 GB? It’ll matter soon.

Now go back to the home screen for your Google account (where we started) and Under Privacy & personalisation you’ll see a link labeled Manage your data & personalisation. Tap on it.

On the resulting page, scan down until you get to Download your data. Tap on it to open the Google Takeout page.

Google actually makes it easy to back up your Gmail.
Scroll down on the home screen for your Google account to find the option to back up your Gmail.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

How to use Google Takeout

On this page, you’ll see a list of services offered by this advertising company from which you can download your data. Everything from Android Device Configuration Service to YouTube Gaming.

By default, all of them are selected, and we’re just looking to back up your Gmail account. So look over on the right side of the screen, kind of near the top, and hit Deselect all.

Now scroll down the Google Takeout page until you find Mail. (Note, it is not labeled “Gmail.”) It promises “All of the messages and attachments in your Gmail account in MBOX format.”

The only format option in MBOX. But you have the option to export everything in your account, or you can pick specific folders to export. Unfortunately, you don’t get the option to specify a time frame.

Notice you’re looking for ‘Mail’ not ‘Gmail.”
Scroll down the Google Takeout page to find the settings for backing up your mail.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Next, check the checkbox to the right of Mail, then scroll down to the bottom of the page to hit the Next step button.

What to do with the archive

On the resulting page, you’ll have to decide how you want to receive the archive of your messages. Google can send you an email with a link to the file. Or the files can go straight to Google Drive or a handful of other cloud-storage services, though iCloud isn’t one of them.

Earlier, as the first step of this process, you checked to see how much data you have in this account. Be sure you’re prepared to handle a file of that size. For example, you can’t back up 9GB of Gmail onto a 5GB OneDrive account.

Fortunately, Google gives you the option to break the archive up into chunks. These can be 1 GB, 2 GB… up to 50 GB.

Now sit back and wait. Google warns up up front, “This process can take a long time (possibly hours or days) to complete. You’ll receive an email when your export is done.”