I'm looking for a program that backs up all my emails from an online Emailaccount that support POP or IMAP by saving them as plain text files (an open document format or pdf file would also work) . Ideally in the following way:

1) Every email should be in a folder whose name is the subject of that email.

2) The email inside that folder should be saved in text (or at least in an different open document format or pdf file)

3) As a plus, all attachements of an email should also be stored in the corresponding folder

But it's still ok if it is, for example, just one long text file.

I've tried evolution and thunderbird and couldn't find such functionality (please notice, that I'm not a regular user of these programs since I manage my email online, so I barely know my way around them and only tried them out for the purpose of making this backup).

This program doesn't have to have email sending functionality and all the other stuff that evolution & thunderbird can do. I just need to archive my emails, so it only would have to download them and organize them in some way. Saving my attachments would also be nice.

The reason I'm insisting on *.txt (or open document format or pdf) files is that I want to be able to read my emails in 10 years from now. If my emails are stored in some format of thunderbird for example and with some update of it support of that format gets dropped, I'm lost. The *.txt probably will still be readable in 10 years time. And open document format files - while there may not be a program that supports them in 10 years - are still readable with a txt-editor, so I can use that to read them and extract the email from all the header data. For PDFs I assume there will still be a reader in 10 years.

  • 2
    I don't know of such a program but I could write one for you, for a fee of course :)
    – squareborg
    Apr 4, 2012 at 9:26
  • @StephenMartin If it is that an easy task to write such a program I would be amazed if nobody had already programmed such a thing or if there weren't a program that already included some of the above described functionality.
    – l7ll7
    Apr 4, 2012 at 10:36
  • It's probably very easy (relatively) to write such a program, but I think most people would decide it's not worth the effort because of the existence of Thunderbird et al. By being open source, you can download a copy of said source and keep it with your email backups, this guarantees you always have access to them despite them being in Thunderbird format, and even if Thunderbird goes proprietary or something equally catastrophic in the future. Apr 5, 2012 at 1:33
  • @JeffWelling Hm...actually not a bad idea. Maybe I'll do that, if no answer comes up (although I would still prefer my way of doing the backups, since this spares me of having to also backup the Thunderbird code...).
    – l7ll7
    Apr 7, 2012 at 16:24
  • 1
    Ok, I'm offering a bounty for such a program.
    – l7ll7
    Apr 10, 2012 at 13:11

3 Answers 3


Here is a Thunderbird addon that can perform the necessary backup. It can save to multiple text files, or just one, depending on your settings, and is licensed under the GNU GPL.


Thunderbird saves email in the standard mbox format, which has been around since email was invented, and always will be around as it is in fact, just a plain text file that contains all of the messages concatenated together.


I don’t know a solution where each mail gets its own folder, but there are various ways to get each mail as plain text file:

If you have your mails as mbox file, you can use

  • Hypermail, to create linked HTML files of your mails
  • mb2md, to convert it to Maildir

If you have IMAP access to the mail server, you can use

  • getmail, to download your mails/folders as Maildir
  • OfflineIMAP, to download your mails/folders as Maildir

If you have POP3 access to the mail server, you can use

  • getmail, to download your mails/folders as Maildir

Note that Maildir is an e-mail format where each mail is stored as a plain text file and each mail folder is represented as folder, too. Attachments are included in the same text file (MIME).

So another alternative could be to use any local mail client that uses Maildir as internal e-mail format. You could then simply backup its config folder.

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