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How can I archive email in my free email account?

Question: Without manually copying and pasting the text of every single message and if possible, how can I archive my email messages? I have no POP3, IMAP, or administrative access. It’s a free webmail account.

Yet another reason I intensely dislike relying on free email accounts for “important” things. There are so many things that can, and do, go wrong it’s scary. I hear very sad “I’ve lost everything” stories on a regular basis.

So you’re quite right to want to backup.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by recommending my original article Are free email services worth it?. If you’re using a free email service as your primary email account, or even worse, as your only business account, you seriously need to reconsider what you’re doing.

A POP3 or IMAP account is, by far, your best way to backup your email. By downloading to your own machine, and then backing up the downloaded mail, you have everything under your control.

But what if, for whatever reason, that’s not an option?

Well, your options are very limited. Basically you can try to automatically forward all email to another email address, or you can try to download your email. By forwarding your email to another account on a different free service, you basically got everything backed up at that service. Similarly, by using pop3 access to your free account, you can treat it like any pop3 account and download and back up your mail yourself.

Unfortunately from what I’ve seen, none of the free email services support either approach directly.

With one exception.

Google’s GMail allows you to automatically forward incoming email to another email address, and it allows you POP3 access as well – meaning you can use a traditional mail client on your PC to download and read your email.

So if you’re a GMail user, you could create a HotMail account and automatically forward all your mail to it. Or you could configure your PC’s email client, like Outlook Express, and periodically download your email to your PC.

But what about other services like Hotmail, or Yahoo? How do you backup that email?

The best I’ve been able to find so far is that there are services on the internet that claim to be able to forward Hotmail and Yahoo mail, and services and tools that can provide POP3 access. I’ve not used any, so don’t have any specific recommendations. Some are not free, and if you’re going to spend money, I’d rather have you get a “real”, supported, POP3 email account. I also believe that in most cases in order to use those tools, you’ll need to provide your account information; something that, quite honestly makes me nervous. And in all cases, these approaches are not officially supported by Yahoo or Hotmail.

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18 comments on “How can I archive email in my free email account?”

  1. Be careful when using pop access with Gmail. This system does not follow the standards that other pop services do, in that it does not permit a “delete” of messages that are downloaded to your client. Gmail is set up to archive everything, and only manual intervention will delete it. So your email is there, under archived messages, forever. Which is just what they advertise!

    Rather than trust Gmail or any other free email provider, I like to set up pop services and manage the messages on my home client. Why let my messages sit on another server where they can be searched without my control? With pop, I can control the messages and can use the email client I like.

    The great advantage of free email accounts that Leo missed is that of changing addresses. When I have an account that is suddenly in the spammers address book, I can stop using it and use another. Thus I give out such an address to web sites, and my more permanent addresses, perhaps from a paid provider, is given to my friends and business contacts. Although I have found that some friends tend to get my address published with spammers more than most web sites do!

  2. I’ve successfully used YPOPs to download Yahoo email to Outlook Express and Thunderbird:

    This could be a means to archive your emails from Yahoo email.

    I know that there are similar programs for Hotmail. I guess that you must have a certain amount of trust with these programs that your login info isn’t being misdirected for some nefarious purpose.

  3. I just want to clarify a comment you made about gmail archiving messsages forever unless there is “manual intervention.” Please excuse my ignorance, but when I delete something in my gmail account, is it really deleted? Or does it just disappear from my view and my access, remaining forever archived somewhere at gmail?
    If the latter, is there a way to request that gmail clear your old files or are we stuck with that. Thanks for any info you can provide.

    I also am curious about what happens when people use software programs to have one email account auto-forwarded to another and then reply from the account where they are receiving things. I understand that capabilities and features depend on which software program you are using and the type of email accounts you have, but is there any situation in which replies would go automatically back through the original account, or should I assume that any such set-up would show my main account as the sender if I reply to something auto-forwarded from a hotmail or gmail account. Thanks for the info.

  4. The claim is that when you delete something in GMail it’s really deleted. I tend to believe them, but … I guess we never really know :-).

    Typically when you send mail it is idenfied as coming from the account you use to send it, regardless of any forwarding. You can set up to have the resturn address be from a different email address (that’s this article:
    but it will still, in the headers, identify the actual account that was used to physically send the mail.

  5. Do u happen to know why my email is being deleted from the yahoo server. I am using ypops in junction with outlook to retrieve my mail, but I still want a copy left on the server in cast of reformating or whatever. I marked save email on server under account settings in outlook but to no avail. Any ideas?

  6. Rather than trust Gmail or any other free email provider, I like to set up pop services and manage the messages on my home client. Why let my messages sit on another server where they can be searched without my control? With pop, I can control the messages and can use the email client I like.

  7. Hi Leo, Thanks for all the great advice!
    I have a lot of folders in gmail where I keep messages I want to refer to at some later date. Is there a way to get gmail to forward those to my computer e-mail program?
    Thanks, Lou

  8. I created a new gmail to archive my 2011 yahoo messages. Unfortunately, gmail only copied the (inboxes and the) first two folders, and I have 70 folders. So, I can move all the messages into the first two (alpha) folders, or I can keep re-naming the folders to get each to appear on top, and import messages 35 times (2×35=70). Just seems like a lot of work, maybe I’ll find a POP way to manage this. Would be a nice tool to just click archive, have my email archived within the folders that they appear now but archive them (anything older than a certain date) so that will disappear from my current email, but be searchable when I choose an archive search function.

    The POP email protocol doesn’t know about folders. IMAP does, but I don’t think that’s an option.


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