I've got a lot of history in email servers in the cloud (i.e. someone else's computer). I'm looking for some way to make a local backup of all that data, preferably one I could easily access/search.

There are two products I know of that do exactly what I want but they're both Windows only MailStore and MailShelf. There's apparently also a Mac only program called Horcrux. But nothing I can find for Linux.

Thunderbird is not and could not ever be considered a backup solution. There is no way within TB to know it has completed downloading mail (even assuming it ever would). This is on its own absolutely disqualifying. It's not good enough for a backup to simply hope it's done, if it worked at all (which there is no way to check in TB). Thunderbird's cache was never designed to produce authoritative backups, it's just a convenience feature.

There do seem to be a number of Linux console tools that do the first half of what I want (imapsync, imap-backup, more?) but I'm not sure how I'd access/search the mail after the messages were down. There are also enterprise products (Piler, MailArchiva) which are probably overkill, and would be a hassle to setup anyway.

I asked this question on Ubuntu's own forum several days ago but the only solution suggested was to run a local mail server and then sync the cloud accounts to that. It might work, but it seems there should be a better way.

Is anyone out there willing to share the solution they have for this problem?


1 Answer 1


Using Thunderbird with IMAP should theoretically be able to download everything, but it doesn't actually do it.

This is incorrect, properly configured IMAP accounts do keep a local copy of messages.

To achieve what you want, use Thunderbird with any email service that supports IMAP and either manually save copies to a local folder at regular intervals, regularly backup your Thunderbird profile directory (it's in ~/.thunderbird), or if you are really worried about a malicious actor deleting messages on the server, configure Thunderbird to save 'deleted' messages into a local folder in that account's settings under the "Server Settings" section as shown.

Thunderbird is very reliable and will download all messages, however if you have a lot of email in an account, the service provider may rate limit how much you can download at once. Leave it running for a couple hours and you should be OK.

Tbird server setting preferences

  • I am aware of those settings and as I said I did try them, but days later it would still need to download things first before displaying them. I realize the settings say it should download everything but as I mentioned it does not actually do it. Oct 25, 2018 at 14:16
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    IMAP is a standard, so perhaps the email provider is not conforming to the standard? This is tested and working with numerous email providers and I've never seen the issue you describe. Which email service you are using please, so we can try to troubleshoot the problem further? Hopefully it's something simple. Oct 25, 2018 at 15:35
  • If you want to start a separate thread about troubleshooting ThunderBird I'd be glad to participate. What I'm looking for on this thread is a reliable backup system for my emails. TB is a great email client I use it every day, but it is categorically not a reliable backup system. Oct 25, 2018 at 18:17
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    The question as asked is now answered, so I consider this resolved. If you are asking generally about how to backup data, that's already asked & answered. If you are experiencing an IMAP bug with your (still unnamed?) email provider, that's probably off-topic here but do reach out to their support team. Thunderbird + regular backups are why I have every email message from accounts going back 15+ years, including closed accounts and accounts with providers who no longer exist. Message headers, bodies, attachments, everything. It's a solved problem. Oct 26, 2018 at 12:35
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    If you edit the opinions out of the question it would be about two sentences long, have actual focus, and probably get you closer to your goal. Your decision to keep the name of your email provider secret is unhelpful, it limits others' ability to help you with the bug you admit you are experiencing. Here's some recommended reading: askubuntu.com/help/how-to-ask Oct 27, 2018 at 5:49

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