Backing up cloud hosted emails for offline use

Although connectivity in India is becoming better all the time, there are occasions when Internet is not available for brief periods of time, especially if you move away from Tier-I and Tier-II cities. At least on a few different occasions, I have felt the need to check a particular email for some information and the Internet connectivity was absent. In smartphones and tablets, often the most recent emails are cached by your email client. However, since the cache size by necessity must be limited, it means searching for an older email does not work. Besides, what about the desktop? So I thought about keeping a copy of my emails on my computer. A few years ago, getting emails out of online email providers was not easy but in 2014, everything is A-ok.

The key is two things. One, use IMAP as the mail fetching protocol and not POP3 . That way, all your email account folders are fetched and not just the INBOX. Second, use a portable version of an email client like Mozilla Thunderbird portable so that you can carry the entire software plus the emails with you on a portable storage device like an external hard disk or a USB flash memory drive.

Hotmail and Gmail

I opened a hotmail account way back in 1996. I still operate it, mostly for mailing lists and a few other things. So I decided to go have a try with it first. Turns out that the latest version of Thunderbird is quite clever is setting things up once you specify your email address (which ends in for one of my email accounts). I entered my hotmail account particulars. After that it was just a matter of waiting till all the emails were downloaded.
It turns out that if you don't log into your account for more than 90 days, all your existing emails are deleted. If you don't login for more than 6 months, your account is suspended. Unfortunately for me, sometime in 2005, I had not logged into for more than 3 months. As a result, I lost all my emails prior to 2005 and my INBOX has mails only since. A great pity but there are always some caveats with the free online services and I had not realized this was one with Hotmail. I don't know if Yahoo or Gmail have similar policies but I would not be surprised if they do.

The process for downloading emails from a Gmail account is similar. I entered a new account information in Thunderbird for my gmail email address and all the settings were automatically configured correctly and after that I just had to wait till the emails were downloaded.


I suspect that the process for downloading emails of an email address ending in is also straightforward like that of Hotmail and Gmail. However, my Yahoo email address ends in and Mozilla Thunderbird was unable to configure the settings automatically. So I just added the configuration details manually by following the instructions from this page.


  1. If you choose not to use Mozilla Thunderbird, then you can get the IMAP settings and manually enter them into the email client.
  2. If you use a business email account which is hosted by Google as part of their Google apps, you can use the same settings as that for Gmail:
    • Incoming Mail (IMAP) Server - Requires SSL
      Port: 993
      Requires SSL:Yes
    • Outgoing Mail (SMTP) Server - Requires TLS
      Port: 465 or 587
      Requires SSL: Yes
      Requires authentication: Yes
      Use same settings as incoming mail server
  3. I suggest using separate instances of Thunderbird portable for each email account. You would then have to install Thunderbird portable multiple times in separate directories. This provides greater separation of the the email data. However, this will restrict you from running multiple copies of Mozilla Thunderbird simultaneously in case you want to fetch emails from different email accounts simultaneously.
  4. If you use Linux like me , you will not be able to find a Mozilla Thunderbird portable version for your distribution. Instead, you can point to different profiles using your installed Thunderbird software as detailed here .
  5. If you are on mobile, there are a number of apps available such Offline Mail on iOS and the Gmail app on Android that can store old emails. However, in general, any email client supporting IMAP will work just fine. Simply enter the configuration details as detailed above.