Backup your Gmail in a few easy steps!

I’ve actually spent a few hours searching around for a good backup solution for my mailbox until I decided to stick with getmail.  What you’ll be able to achieve after reading this HowTo and deploying the following setup is:

  1. A full backup of your e-mail DATA in the Mbox format. (yes, Gmail’s labels / folders as well)
  2. Prevent getmail to mark all mails as read after delivering them. (this was a pretty bad issue since getmail was marking all my mails as read even if I did not access my e-mail at all)
  3. Keep your backups up-to-date with the latest content from your mailbox. (by default getmail grabs all the DATA from your mailbox and fills up the Mbox / Maildir content keeping deleted mails. So let’s say I deleted a mail two days ago, well it’ll still appear on today’s backups. This behaviour is definitely unwanted)

I’ll now move to explain a few details about my new configuration but before moving to tweak getmail’s main config file, please do the following change on* :

return self._getmsgpartbyid(msgid, '(RFC822)')


return self._getmsgpartbyid(msgid, '(BODY.PEEK[])')

When done grab the following getmailrc and adapt it to your needs**:

type = SimpleIMAPSSLRetriever ## or SimplePOP3SSLRetriever.
server = ## or for POP3.
username =
password = password

## so-called Gmail's labels should be listed one by one here for getmail to retrieve mail from them successfully.

mailboxes = ("INBOX", "[Gmail]/Sent mail",
"ubuntu", "gnome/example", "linux/example")

type = Mboxrd
path = ~/.getmail/backup.mbox

delivered_to = false ## No delivered_to header added automatically.
received = false ## No received header added automatically.
verbose = 2 ## getmail will print messages about each of its actions.

When done we should go ahead setting up getmail’s directories and config file:

mkdir $HOME/.getmail
cp $HOME/getmailrc $HOME/.getmail/

Adapt $HOME/getmailrc to whatever dir you put that file into. But…pretty much all the remaining work will be done by a small shell script I wrote:


date=`date "+%d-%m-%Y_%H:%M"`

if [ ! -f  $WORKDIR/backup.mbox ]
touch $WORKDIR/backup.mbox

getmail > $WORKDIR/getmail.log
if [ $OUT -eq 0 ]
mkdir -p $WORKDIR/backups/ && { mv $WORKDIR/backup.mbox $WORKDIR/backups/backup_$date.mbox ;}
else [ $OUT -eq 1 ]
exit 1

## Cleanup older than 3 days backups
find $WORKDIR/backups/* -mtime +3 -exec rm {} ;
cd $WORKDIR && { rm -rf oldmail-* ;}

This script will:

  1. Run getmail using the getmailrc config file you previously worked on.
  2. If the above command will be successful, it’ll create a_ backups_ dir into $HOME/.getmail and move the latest Mbox file there appending a date and time to its name. (by doing this we are sure next getmail run will happen on an empty backup.mbox file, thus it will just contain the latest content from your mailbox)
  3. It’ll re-create a backup.mbox file on $HOME/.getmail to avoid the next getmail run to fail.
  4. In the end, it’ll clean up older than 3 days backups to avoid a too crowded backups folder. (it removes the oldmail file as well since it is useless in our case)

In the end set up a cronjob that will run the above script and generate the backups for you every one hour:

0 * * * * $HOME/.getmail/ > /dev/null

Feel free to let me know if you’ve encountered any issue while following the above HowTo. Enjoy!

* /usr/share/getmail4/getmailcore/ on line 901.

** More documentation about the getmailrc file and syntax can be found on getmail’s documentation page.