Exporting/importing e-mail to Google Mail

As so many others, I have been using Gmail for a long time by now. With ~3 gigabyte of storage, high reliability and capable of handling multiple accounts, it is far better than any other e-mail based solution. But for a long time, I have also had to live with Microsoft Outlook, partly because it contains a huge amount of old emails, and partly because I used it for my universities IMAP-mail. Now that I transfered the handling of these accounts to Gmail, Outlook is just a big container of old emails, emails that never will be found in any search by me, as I only use Gmail. Time to export the email to Gmail.

There are a couple of ways to go about this, that is, moving your emails from Outlook to Gmail. After some quick research, I chose to use Mozilla Thunderbird with it’s Mailredirect extension. It seemed simple an reliable – but after this how to, I will link to some other proposed methods:

  1. If you haven’t already – get the Gmail account. As far as I know, you still need an invite to be able to register. Comment in this post and I will invite you (but beware, don’t post your email address without rewriting it with, for example, [ at ] instead of @ so spambots won’t catch it).
  2. Download and install Thunderbird
  3. Start it and choose to import from Outlook – hopefully it will automatically find your files and import them. This might take a while if you have lots of emails. You might save some time if you first delete all trash emails from Outlook, so Thunderbird won’t import unnecessary emails.
  4. Install the Mailredirect extension as shown on their web site.
  5. Restart Thunderbird. Now, make sure you have an account to send your emails through. Which one won’t matter, as long as you are allowed to send emails through it. Set this up as instructed by Thunderbird. Note: you will be sending lots of emails through this server. It is possible that it will block you if it thinks you are sending spam. This completely depends on how the SMTP-server is configured.
  6. Now, it’s time to configure Gmail. Go to Settings, then Labels. Create a label to identify the email you will import (not compulsory, but it helps). For example, name the label as your old email address from which you are importing. Then make a filter from the Settings. I choose to filter all email with my old email address as recipient – this however might miss emails that was received to other addresses, such as some mailing lists. You can detail the filter more to be sure to catch it all. And if the filter don’t catch all you can clean up the rest manually. Make the filter apply the label you just created, and preferably, archive the email so it won’t block your inbox.
  7. What Mailredirect does is that it copies the emails, with (almost) all their headers intact. This is what makes this approach so much better than just forwarding all emails to your Gmail account. The emails will be presented with their original sender and recipient in Gmail, and even original date (although, in Gmail they will be sorted according to the time they were redirected). To redirect, select a bunch of emails and right click – select Redirect. Write your Gmail-address in the To-field. Then press redirect and wait… (you should not send too many emails in one batch, begin with a few and verify that it works).
  8. Now, in a perfect world, everything should work. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. For me, the SMTP-server stopped responding quite often, and Thunderbird said it failed to copy sent emails to the Sent-folder (which it shouldn’t even try to do, according to Mailredirect). And when the SMTP stopped answering, Thunderbird crashed on me. This might very well be because of the SMTP-folder blocking me when I send too much in a short period of time. I had success when I lowered the amount of simultaneous connections to the server – go to Extensions – Mailredirect – Options and set a lower number than the default 5. Other problems that may arise are encoding problems – the emails may look scrambled in Gmail. If you only have plain English emails, I’m sure you won’t experience this, but other’s might. I have yet to find a solution to the problem.
  9. Finally, verify that your emails arrived in Gmail. Click your label in the label menu, and hopefully you will see all your emails with correct headers. To be safe, look through your Spam folder and verify that there aren’t any redirected mails. Remove the filter(s) you created for sorting the incoming email if you don’t have any more use for them. Now you’re finished!

As I stated earlier, there are some other ways to do this:

  • Forwarding emails from any mail program. Always works, but it might be impossible to do in batch, and it will replace the headers with new ones, such as new sender, recipient and time. Not a good solution.
  • Use the gExodus program and other tools found at marklyon.org. These approaches also requires you to export your email from Outlook to another format.

2 thoughts on “Exporting/importing e-mail to Google Mail”

  1. Thanks! In the article above, I already linked to marklyon.org – there’s plenty of Gmail resources there! However, I read somewhere that people where experiencing some problems, which is why I choose the Mailredirect extension. In the end, that was not a bugfree experience either :p

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