Every message that I have sent and saved is on my Yahoo! account. I would like to
download all of this material – to a CD, a memory stick, my computer, anywhere!
I don’t know how to do this. Could you help me on this?
This is one reason why I rarely recommend Yahoo! as an email provider. They have
a nice UI and it’s a reasonably good service, but they provide no officially
supported way to back up your email.
So, we have to go through some slightly unofficial back doors.
It may seem a tad intimidating at first, but it’s well worth it – without a
backup, you’re at risk of losing everything.
To backup Yahoo! Mail, you can install or use a desktop email program to access your email using IMAP to download a copy to your PC.
IMAP? Desktop email program?
Yahoo! Mail and IMAP
It’s not widely known, but Yahoo! Mail supports IMAP, apparently everywhere.
IMAP is a protocol, like POP3, that is used by email programs to access your email.
IMAP differs from POP3 in that rather that transferring your messages when you “download” your email, it acts more like a mirror of the email that’s kept on your mail server. Email is copied to your PC using IMAP, but unlike POP3, it’s also left on your mail server.
Then, as you read and dispose of your email, the actions that you take in your email program are reflected back up to the email server: if you delete a message on your device, it’s deleted on the server; mark it as read on your device and it’s marked read on the server; move a message to a folder on your device and it’s moved to that folder on the server.
You get the idea. IMAP is simply a kind of locally-cached window onto your email.
The “catch” in our scenario, however, is that Yahoo!’s support of IMAP is intended for mobile devices.
You can actually see Yahoo! Mail IMAP settings in Yahoo!’s own help center.
So, why do we care so much about IMAP?
When supported, IMAP on a PC-based email program can download a copy of all mail in all folders.
Which sounds suspiciously like a backup.
Yahoo! Mail and IMAP … and Thunderbird
Because Yahoo!’s support of IMAP is intended to support mobile devices, it’s not guaranteed to work everywhere or with every program.
But then again, it’s actually not all that easy for a service provider like Yahoo! to tell whether mail is being requested by a desktop or a mobile device. As a result, it works in more places than just mobile.
In researching this article, I set up Thunderbird to access my Yahoo! Mail account via IMAP and it just worked.
Configuring Thunderbird for Yahoo!
In the Tools menu, click Account Settings…. At the bottom of the account list, click the Account Actions drop-down and click Add Mail Account…:
Enter your name (the name that you want displayed in the From: address of the email you send), your yahoo.com email address and your password, and click Continue.
Make sure IMAP is selected. It likely will not be by default.
Click Create Account.
Thunderbird is now configured for Yahoo! Mail.
You may need to restart Thunderbird for all of your Yahoo! Mail folders to appear. It may also take some time to download all of your mail.
Backing up Yahoo! Mail
As I stated at the begining, to backup Yahoo! Mail, you can install or use a desktop email program to access your email using IMAP to download a copy to your PC.
In the example above, I’ve configured Thunderbird to access Yahoo! Mail.
What that means is that by simply running Thunderbird periodically, I’ll automatically backup my Yahoo! Mail by downloading any updates. New mail will be added, deleted mail will be deleted, and changes that you make to what mail is in what folder will be updated.
Of course, you could choose to leave Thunderbird running – in fact, you could simply use it as your mail program instead of the web interface.
It’s what I do, but really … that part is up to you.
Other Email Programs.
I’ve used Thunderbird as an example here because it’s what I use, I recommend it, and as we saw, it just worked.
You can most certainly try other email programs. Windows Live Mail, Outlook, or any of several others come to mind. All that’s required is that they support IMAP and that you simply use Yahoo! Mail’s IMAP settings when you configure the account.
And that Yahoo! is willing to treat them as if they were a “mobile device.”
What about Contacts?
Everything that we’ve discussed so far is about backing up mail and does not apply to your Yahoo! Mail contacts.
And unfortunately, while backing up is fairly easy, it’s not continually updated like your mail might be via IMAP.
In Yahoo! Mail’s web interface, click the Contacts tab and then near the middle of the screen is the Actions drop-down menu. Click that:
Click Export All…
Choose the format that you would like your contacts to be downloaded in.
Because we’ve been using Thunderbird above, that would make sense to choose – you can then import those contacts directly into Thunderbird’s own contact manager.
If you’re not sure and just doing this to back up, Yahoo! CSV would make sense.
Just remember to export your contacts “every so often,” so as to keep your backup current.