Gmail Back-Up Explained

Want to back up your Gmail account? This article has you covered!

Yes, we’ve all been told a million times to "keep a backup", but what does that mean to you?

Is having a compressed database containing all of your emails sitting on your computer’s hard drive enough, even if those emails aren’t searchable or readable? How about having your emails in a ‘usable’ form, but only on one computer? Or do you want them available wherever you have internet access and as usable as before?

These are very important questions that deserve a little thought - this is YOUR life’s data, and it’s important!

Remember, it’s easy to overlook the usefulness of cloud-accessible data. Stop and consider times when you’ve been in a meeting, at a friend’s house, or at the store and needed to reference that one email someone sent you a year ago.

Many people have become used to the convenience and reliability of Gmail - so much that they take their email for granted. Even if disaster strikes and your computer’s hard drive or phone is destroyed, you always know your email is safe in the cloud - that’s the beauty of Gmail!

However, understandably, some people just want to keep a copy somewhere and don’t think keeping their emails backed up in the cloud is critically important. This, in our opinion, is a mistake. Data stored in the cloud will never be compromised by a house fire, a stray glass of water, or a power surge. Having a useful contingency plan in place can save you the time and stress of trying to restore your vital information.

Basically, there are four ways to approach this problem described in this article, each with different results:


Need more information before you decide? Read the step-by-step procedures below to help you pick the option that's right for you...

Option 1: Create and download an archive database of your Gmail

  1. On a desktop or laptop computer, go to
  2. Sign in to the account with Gmail you want to export.
  3. Go to
  4. Here you will see a bunch of Google Apps you can save. If you’re just going to back up your Gmail, under "Select data to include", click Select none
    Google Takeout App Select Data to Include
  5. Then scroll down to "Mail" and use the slider to select it. Note that you can also include a subset of labels if you don’t want to archive all of your emails.
    Google Takeout Mail Slider On
  6. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Next
  7. On the next screen, select the file type of your Gmail backup, the size, and the delivery method
    Google Takeout Export Preferences Dialog
    1. File Type -- You have three options: .zip (the most common), .tgz, and .tbz. .Zip tends to be the most widely supported format, so we recommend using that
      Google Takeout File Type Selection Dropdown Menu
    2. Archive Size -- Let's say your Google account has 75 gigabytes in it that you are trying to export. If you select the 2GB option, your archive will be split up between 75/2 = 37.5 (38 folders). However, if you select the 50GB archive option you will need to download a zip64 file extractor. From Google Takeout: "Zip files larger than 2GB will be compressed in zip64. Older operating systems may not be able to open this file format. There are external applications that can be used to uncompress zip64 files." If you want to find out how much data is in your Google account, the quickest way to tell is to just sign into your account on our app page here: VaultMe App
      You'll know in seconds how much data is in your account! If you have a small amount, we recommend selecting the 2GB default option.
      Google Takeout 2GB Archive File Size Selected
    3. Delivery Method -- This is how your Google Takeout archive will be sent to you for you to download. It's probably easiest to also just select the default option here Send download link via email.
      Google Takeout Delivery Method Selection
  8. When you've selected all three, click Create Archive.

Congratulations! Your Google backup archive is now being created!

Next, you'll probably see something like this:

Google Takeout Archive in Progress Dialog

This means Google is creating your archive and will send you a link (via your delivery method) when it's done

But be aware, the larger your archive is, the longer it will take for Google to process. You might even notice on Google's messaging that is says it could take "hours or possibly days" to create.

Important: Keep a look out for the email containing a link to your archive because you only have 7 days to download your Google backup archive before it’s deleted, forcing you to start over again.

Once you get the notification that your Google backup archive is available for download (via email in this example), you'll need to:

  1. Find the "archive ready" notification email from Google.
    Google Takeout Archive Ready Notification
  2. Click Download archive
    Google Takeout Notification Email
  3. You'll be prompted to either Open or Save the Google Takeout archive. Select Save File and choose where to save it (for now just put it on your Desktop for easy access).
    Google Takeout Save Archive Dialog

Well that was easy enough! Now you've got a neat little folder on your computer that has your Gmail inside of it!

Now, unzip the backup file (usually this can be done simply by double-clicking the .zip file). This should create a new folder on your desktop.

If you take a look inside this folder you'll notice that all of your mail from your old account has been compressed into an .mbox file. This is your Gmail backup:

M-Box file exported using Google Takeout

Neat, right? Well, maybe not...

You have the archive, but in order to actually read the emails inside your .mbox Gmail backup, you will need the help of a common third party application, called an ‘email client’. We recommend Thunderbird because it's open-source and works on any platform, but feel free to use any email client.

Option 2: Make your backed up emails readable on your computer

Warning Symbol IMPORTANT: Complete ALL of the steps in Option 1 above before starting this checklist

Prepare your email client to import your .mbox file(s):

  1. Download and install Mozilla Thunderbird
  2. Visit the "ImportExportTools" add-on download page for Thunderbird: Get ImportExportTools
  3. Click Download Now
  4. Save the ImportExportTools .xpi file to your Desktop
  5. Open Thunderbird and at the top click Tools and Select Add-Ons
  6. Click the Settings icon and then select Install Add-on From File
    Mozilla Thunderbird Install Add-on From File
  7. Navigate to your Desktop and select the ImportExportTools .xpi file
  8. Click Install Now
  9. Restart Thunderbird

Import your .mbox file(s):

  1. In Thunderbird, on the left, right click Local Folders → highlight ImportExportTools → select Import mbox file
    Mozilla Thunderbird import M-Box file
  2. Select Import directly one or more mbox files and click OK
  3. Navigate to and select your .mbox file in your Google Takeout export folder.
  4. Your emails will start importing and they will be located under your Local Folders (give it time because it may take a while).

Now, your emails are searchable and readable on your computer! But hey, you’ve come this far - why not make them accessible from anywhere by moving your emails to a new Gmail account?

Option 3: Make your backed up emails accessible online

Warning Symbol IMPORTANT: Complete ALL of the steps in Option 1 and Option 2 above before starting this checklist

Add your new Google account to Thunderbird:

  1. If you don't have one already, create a new Gmail address
  2. Open Thunderbird and go to the top, selecting File → New → Get a New Mail Account
  3. Click Skip this and use my existing email
  4. Enter your information for your new Google account in the given fields and click Continue
  5. Select IMAP and then click Done. Your new Google mail account should appear on the left.

Finally, move your newly imported emails into your new Google mail account on the left:textile

  1. In Thunderbird, click to expand Local Folders on the left.
  2. Select the folder that was your previous .mbox file you imported.
  3. Select all of the emails and right click to open the context menu.
  4. Highlight your new Gmail account and select the folder you want to import these emails into.

Heads up: This last part is going to take a while. Depending on the number of emails you have, it could be weeks. However, once the process is done, you should have same searchability, access, and use of all your backed up emails & attachments through your new email account!

Option 4: Just Use VaultMe (seriously, SOOO much better!)

We created VaultMe precisely because 'manually' backing up your Gmail is difficult, time consuming, and frankly, easy to mess up. VaultMe does all of the above (and more) for you automatically!

How to use VaultMe:

  1. Click the button below
  2. Sign in to both accounts
  3. Select what you want to copy (it can back up your Drive files, Contacts, and Calendars too!)
  4. Start your copy and go have some coffee - VaultMe will email you when your copy is complete. That easy!

Remember, VaultMe is: