The Best Ways to Backup your Gmail Account on a Mac

Dave Greenbaum

At first glance, the whole point of using Gmail is so all your email is safe in the cloud. However, that also means it’s at risk for hacking or otherwise losing access. That’s why you need to periodically back your Gmail up.

Alexey Boldin / Shutterstock.com
Don’t lose Gmail data on your Mac | Alexey Boldin / Shutterstock.com

What Could Go Wrong?

The obvious problem is if someone gets your password. That could be through phishing or social engineering. Sometimes it’s because you used the same password in more than one place. Two-factor authentication tools like Google Authenticator help prevent the problem, but they aren’t foolproof.

Don’t skip the second factor!  Check out our guide for setting up 2-Factor authentication and some tips on setting up Google Authenticator or using an alternative like Authy.

Other times, you might have accidentally deleted some stuff and later regret it. If you use Gmail in your school or work, you may lose access to the account if you graduate or change jobs. That’s why you need to back it up. If you use an email client on your Mac, that email is already backed up.

The Free and Clunky Way: Google Takeout

We’ve covered Google Takeout before. Head on over to the Download Your Data page and select your Mail account. I recommend downloading all your data. Extra backups are always a good thing. Most people can use the .zip format. If your data takes up more than 2 Gig, Google splits it into multiple files. The .TGZ or .TAR format allows for larger files.

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How do you extract a .TAR or .TGZ file? You’ll need an archiving program. We have a list of the top free programs.

When your files are ready to be downloaded, Google will send you a link. Optionally, you can add the files to your Google Drive. I recommend against that because it won’t protect you if you get locked out of your account. That strategy only protects against accidental deletion of email.

If you have more than one Gmail account, you’ll need to do Takeout for each one. This is cheap and it works, but it requires too much manual labor each time you want a backup.

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The Free and Easy Way: Enable POP Access

Using an email client to backup your email seems counterintuitive, but it’s an easy and free way to backup your Gmail. When you download your emails to a mail client, it will get backed up along with other data on your Mac. It also gives you offline access to your email.

To enable POP access, click on the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner of your Gmail page in your browser. Go to Forwarding and Pop Access and pick Enable POP for all mail. Then click on Configure your email client to find out how to enable support for your POP client.

I turn off notifications on new emails since my goal isn’t to read the email in the client, just to back it up. One benefit of this strategy is it lets you use multiple Gmail accounts and messages show up in Spotlight searches.

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What is the difference between POP and IMAP? Read our guide explaining the differences.

The Automatic and Elegant Way: CloudPull

I’ve used CloudPull for years and it works flawlessly. It’s $24.99, but they offer a 30-day free trial. After you launch the program, you’ll add your Gmail address. Then you’ll enter your name and password.

If you have two-factor authentication on, you’ll need to verify your account. Then give CloudPull permission to access your Gmail account.

Then it starts downloading all your Gmail messages. It backs up your email in the background. You can also tell it to backup other Google data like contacts, calendar, and drive.

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If you want to tweak some of the backup options, CloudPull gives a few extra features once you register. The first time you run the program, it tries to download all the new messages. That can take time and hog your bandwidth.

I recommend setting the Message throttling level to Conservative and Backup every hour until the initial backup is complete. That gets the messages trickling into your system without slowing your browsing down.

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Another option: We covered GoodSync before and that program also supports local backups of Google data.

Once you have that initial backup done, I suggest telling it to perform the backups daily. You can’t specify when that backup is done, which is annoying. It only takes a few minutes to backup the changes.

Regardless of the method you choose, don’t rely on Gmail to backup your data. Take control of your data and back it up yourself.

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Dave Greenbaum

Written By

Dave Greenbaum

I have a passion for helping people make technology work.

For my day job, I own a computer repair business in Lawrence, Kansas. Drawing on my support background, I focus on practical technology from the user perspective. I enjoy it all: Android, Chrome OS, iOS, MacOS, Windows and everything in between.