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How To Securely Export Your Email Inbox as mbox in

Export, Archive, Migrate, or Clean: Do It Securely. No Third-party Permissions!

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By Pat
How to export any email inbox into mbox securely maintaining full privacy and not giving data away to third-parties

Every day our email inbox gets a bit more crowded. Between those must-read emails are many we might never open. You've decided it's time to sort them out. Whether you're thinking of moving to a different email place, backing up your emails, or just tidying things up, this guide's for you. Here, you'll learn how to save your emails safely, always protecting your privacy.

We will guide you through this process without depending on third-party solutions that inevitably gain access to your data, despite their assurances of security. A wise piece of advice I received from my parents was, “Entrust your data to no one”. This sentiment is the driving force behind the creation of this guide.

This involves exporting your emails using the universally recognized mbox format.

If you happen to be using Gmail, the process is straightforward, and we'll walk you through it. But for those looking beyond Gmail and desiring more universal solutions, we've also got you covered. We'll show you how to do the same with Apple Mail and Thunderbird emails clients.

Option 1 - Quick & easy email inbox export to mbox with Google Takeout

Works great for Gmail users

We've created a detailed article with the step-by-step mbox export process for Gmail users. It's super easy! In summary, it involve these steps:

  1. Log in to your Google account.
  2. Navigate to the Google Takeout page.
  3. Deselect all services and only choose 'Mail'. This ensures you’re only downloading your emails.
  4. Click on “All Mail data included” to select specific labels if you don't want everything.
  5. Choose the mbox format for the export.
  6. Click 'Next' and choose your preferred download method.
  7. Google will prepare the export and send you a link to download when it’s ready.

Now, if Gmail isn’t your primary email provider or if you're interested in universally applicable solutions (which also work with Gmail btw), keep reading.

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Option 2 - Secure mbox export with Apple Mail

Works great for any type of email account and small inboxes, but you need to be a macOS user

If you're a macOS user and prefer utilizing the Apple Mail client, you can export your mailboxes directly to an mbox file without needing additional software. The process is straightforward and ensures your data remains secure and uncompromised.

Steps to Export Mailboxes to mbox using Apple Mail:

  1. Open the Apple Mail client on your macOS system.
  2. If you haven't yet connected with your email provider, here's how you add a new account:
    1. Choose Mail > Add Account.
    2. Select an account type.
    3. Apple Mail Select Email Account Provider Type
    4. Enter your account information.
    5. Wait until it finishes downloading all your emails before continuing to the next step.
  3. Select the mailbox you wish to export from the left sidebar.
  4. Navigate to Mailbox in the menu bar at the top of your screen and choose Export Mailbox....
  5. Apple Mail Export Mailbox Menu
  6. Choose a save location for the exported mbox file.
  7. Click Choose to start the export process.
  8. Please wait patiently while the system fetches all your files and prepares the mbox file. You'll know it's complete when the folder name changes from, for example, INBOX.partial.mbox to INBOX.mbox. This process might take a while depending on the size of your inbox. Make sure to keep your computer on and active until it's finished.
  9. Important: "INBOX.mbox" refers to a folder name, not the actual file you need for tools like GoodByEmail. Ensure you use the mbox file located within this folder.

Once the process is complete, the mbox file will be ready for backup, archiving, cleaning, or migration.

By following these steps, macOS users can securely export their mailboxes using the Apple Mail client, keeping their email data safe and private.

Option 3 - Secure mbox export with Thunderbird

Works great for any type of email account and available for macOS, Windows and Linux users

Regardless if you're a Windows, Linux or Mac user, Thunderbird offers a clear path to generate mbox files from any email provider securely. Here’s why Thunderbird is favored by many:

  • Universal Compatibility: Thunderbird interfaces seamlessly with numerous email providers, ensuring a smooth export process.
  • Data Security: With Thunderbird, your emails are processed directly on your machine, mitigating risks associated with third-party tools.
  • Open-Source Integrity: Being open-source, Thunderbird's security measures are continually scrutinized and refined by experts worldwide.

Steps to Export Emails via Thunderbird in mbox format

  1. Setting up Thunderbird:
    • If Thunderbird isn’t already installed, download version 115 or newer and install it. Then, go ahead and configure your email account .
    • While downloading emails locally may take time based on your inbox size and internet speed, it ensures no data is shared with third parties; monitor the download status at the bottom left corner.
    • Thunderbird automatically downloads messages for offline use, ensuring your mbox files contain all required data without removing them from the server. Do ensure your computers is left up and running until the download completes.
    • Note: To ensure Thunderbird retains messages locally and on the server (its default setting), right-click on your email account, select Settings, then Synchronisation & Storage and select the options shown in the screenshot below.
    • Thunderbird Default Synchronization & Storage options
  2. Accessing the Profile Folder:
    • Launch Thunderbird.
    • Click on the burger icon (three horizontal lines) in the top right corner.
    • Hover over Tools and select Open Profile Folder.
    • Thunderbird Settings Menu Burger Icon
  3. Locate the mbox Files:
    • Within the profile folder, find the ImapMail directory (or Mail for POP accounts).
    • Notice how the subfolders are named after your email domain, like imap.gmail.com, or outlook.office365.com.
    • Dive into the relevant domain directory to view files corresponding to your email folders. Your mbox files are right there, ready to be used! They are the ones without a file extension and matching your mailbox folder name (e.g. INBOX and Sent) and usually the most interesting ones are very large:
    • Thunderbird Email Contents folder sample

And that's pretty much it. You have successfully found all your mbox files created by Thunderbird, which can now be used for cleaning, backup and archiving purposes, or perhaps migrated to another email client.

So, no matter if you’re using Gmail or another email provider, and whether you’re a Mac, Windows, or Linux user, you now have the know-how to safely export those emails, back them up securely, and keep your personal info right where it should be—private and safe. Happy mbox exporting!

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