On 27 February, 150,000 Internet users woke up to find their Gmail inboxes empty. All their mail had disappeared, thanks to a glitch on the Google servers.
For many people, Gmail isn’t just a clearing house for mailing lists and correspondence, but a repository of contacts, notes, important files and documents. And let’s not forget the nostalgia value of years of chat logs and rambling conversations. Losing your Gmail is, in many ways, like losing significant parts of your personal and professional life.
In a blog post on 1 March, Google clarified that the mails weren’t gone, just missing. Backup copies were being restored to the users, and the glitch was apparently caused by an “unexpected bug”. But in spite of Google’s swift response and multiple backups, it might be prudent to create your own offline copy of Gmail data. That way, you’ll have local access to your information if Google ever suffers a catastrophic shutdown.
There are, of course, ways to backup your Gmail data to other online services. You could, for instance, automatically forward all your mails to another email account (on Hotmail or Yahoo). Hotmail even offers a service called TrueSwitch (Free at https://secure5.trueswitch.com/winlive/). There is another paid service called TrueSwitch, don’t confuse the two), which lets you easily transfer contacts and mails between Gmail and Hotmail. There are also backup services such as Backupify (www.backupify.com) that offer cheap monthly plans to hold all your data.
Lockdown: Connect your email to other servers or local desktop clients.
However, these methods suffer from the same problem as the Gmail outage—there’s little you can do if your cloud-based backup disappears. A local copy, on the other hand, can be copied to multiple hard discs and computers, giving you access even in the absence of an Internet connection.
Before you can start taking backups of your Gmail outside your inbox, be sure to enable POP (Post Office Protocol), which is a standard method of retrieving data from an email account. To do this, click the box titled “POP for all email” in your Gmail settings, under the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” section.
Now that you’re ready, here are a few ways to create local backups of your email:
Use a desktop mail client
This is the easiest method of retrieving emails from any account. Popular programs such as Microsoft’s Outlook and Mozilla’s Thunderbird are among the many applications that let you access email from your computer, and are easy ways of creating local copies of your Gmail messages. Add your account details to one of these programs, and it’ll start downloading messages.
Use a stand-alone program
There are two dedicated Gmail backup programs you could use: The unimaginatively named Gmail Backup (at www.gmail-backup.com, currently down), which is free, or Gmail Keeper (http://gmailkeeper.com/), which costs you $19.95 (around Rs 990). Gmail backup has a restore feature that lets you re-upload your downloaded mails to any other email account, which is useful. Gmail Keeper also backs up all data from your Google Apps (Docs, Calendar, etc.), and can be scheduled to perform periodic backups from your computer.
Use fancy command-line scripts
Command-line scripts may sound scary, but it is the most lightweight way of backing up your email. It is, however, much more complicated to set up than an Outlook or Thunderbird. The advantage is that your mail is not tethered to any one application, and is saved in open formats that can be ported anywhere. The best command-line program to use is fetchmail (http://www.fetchmail.info/), which is available across platforms. Make sure to consult the tutorials on the site before starting (follow it to the letter), and pat yourself on the back once you’ve completed this tricky endeavour.