I send and receive lots of email. LOTS! Even though Google’s Gmail has lots of options for extra storage and offers quite a bit of storage, I’ve found that my life is just a bit easier if I remove old email from my primary Gmail account and store it in a secondary Gmail account (which I use for other purposes as well, but it works great as storage of my very old email). I’ve been doing this for several years, but getting the process to work perfectly is a little challenging every time I attempt it (which is about once a year). To make it easy for me to remember next time, I figured I’d create some instructions and share them on here.
Things you’ll need:
- two (or more) Gmail accounts
- a desktop email client, like KMail or Thunderbird
- some time and patience to get this right
Here are the steps you’ll need to follow.
(1) Go into the settings on your two Gmail accounts:
(2) Make sure that IMAP is enabled:
(3) Install a desktop email client or, if you already have one installed, start it. I had KMail – the KDE email client – already installed, so I opted to just use that.
(4) Once you have your desktop client set up, you’ll need to add the two Gmail accounts. Most desktop clients have “wizards” that will walk you through this process rather painlessly. All you should need is your email addresses and passwords. If you need extra help, Google provides tutorials here. Here’s what KMail’s wizard looks like:
(5) Assuming you are able to get your Gmail accounts set up, your desktop client will begin synchronizing the account information. In KMail it creates new accounts in the sidebar and you can expand the accounts to reveal your labels (which are reflected as folders), like this:
(6) It will take a while, depending on how many emails you have, to synchronize everything. Once it’s done, it’s time to figure out which emails you want to transfer. Since I’m just interested in transferring old emails, I set up KMail to organize my emails by the month and date. And since I don’t want to transfer an entire year of emails at a time, just a month at a time, this works great.
(7) Since I don’t actually use labels in Gmail for anything important, I’m not interested in transferring emails with labels. If you wanted to do that, however, it’s not that hard. Simply create the same labels in the target Gmail account as you have in the originating Gmail account. Then follow the process I’ll outline below. In my case, all I’m doing is transferring email in the All Mail folder from one account to the other and I’m doing it month by month, which still takes a while. The first step is to make sure that you have both Gmail accounts fully expanded, like this:
(8) I’m transferring from my primary account (ryantcragun) to a secondary account. Select the emails you want to transfer (in my case, from my All Mail folder) and drag and drop them to the same folder on the other account:
(9) Depending on how many emails you are moving, this can take a while. So, wait.
(10) Once your email client indicates that it has moved all the files, it’s not a bad idea to check. You can do this two ways. You can check online in your browser, or just click into the target Gmail folder and look to see that all of the transferred emails are there. Once you’re sure the emails have been transferred, you now have to do the scary part: delete the emails from your primary account. I think I know why (see below), but Gmail using IMAP doesn’t actually delete the emails you transferred. It may seem like the emails are gone, but if you check in Gmail online in your browser, they will still be in your account. It’s actually kind of annoying. But this necessitates two extra steps, and this is part of the reason why I only move one month at a time. First, find all of the emails that you just COPIED (since they were not actually moved). In KMail, all of the emails that you just told the program to move will temporarily disappear, since KMail really did try to move those emails. But you just have to wait a bit (it’s not a bad idea to tell KMail to resynchronize the folder). Slowly but surely, all of the emails you thought you just moved will begin to reappear (this takes about 5 to 10 minutes for me). Once they are all back, drag those emails to the Trash folder in your originating account.
(11) Once you’ve put them in your trash folder, give your email client a few minutes to synchronize with the Gmail servers, then open your browser, click on your Trash button, and make sure all of the emails are in your Trash. Then delete them online. Once you do, they are GONE FOR GOOD. So, make sure you are ready to do this.
NOTE: Why doesn’t IMAP for Gmail delete the emails you said to transfer to the target account? I’m pretty sure it’s because Gmail doesn’t use folders for storing emails but rather labels. When you use the desktop email client to move the emails from one account to another, the desktop client thinks that it is actually moving them from one folder to the other. But for Gmail, this doesn’t actually do anything, since no labels were changed. So, your email client temporarily thinks the emails have been deleted, but only on resynching does it find them again. As far as Gmail is concerned, nothing actually happened to the original emails other than they were copied to the target account, which doesn’t affect the emails in the originating account at all. So, to delete the emails, you actually have to move them to the trash in your desktop client, which labels those emails with the “trash” label in Gmail. Then you can find them in the trash online and delete them, which will actually delete them in Gmail. This makes the process a bit more cumbersome, but the important thing is just to know how to deal with it.