Sam Stelfox

Thoughts from a systems hacker and developer.

Backing up Gmail with fetchmail

This morning I found myself in need of a large set of emails to test a particular set of code. Ideally these emails would be broken out into easily digestable pieces, and it was strictly for my own personal testing so I wasn't concerned with using my own live data for this test (There will probably be another post on this project later on).

Having used fetchmail with good results in the past I decided it was a good idea to take this opportunity to also backup my Gmail account into the common Maildir format (which essentially breaks out emails into individual files meeting my requirements).

The first step was to enable POP access to my account through Gmail's interface. You can accomplish this with the following steps.

  1. Login to Gmail
  2. Click on the gear icon
  3. Choose settings
  4. Forwarding and POP/IMAP
  5. Enable POP for all mail
  6. When messages are accessed with POP... Keep"
  7. Save Changes.

Ensure you have fetchmail and procmail installed. For me on Fedora this can be accomplished using yum by running the following commands:

$ sudo yum install fetchmail procmail -y

We need to configure fetchmail to let it know where to retrieve our mail from. This configuration file lives at $HOME/.fetchmailrc. By default fetchmail will send all retrieved mail to the local SMTP server over a normal TCP connection. This isn't necessary or ideal, rather we'll additionally supply a local mail delivery agent (procmail) to handle processing the mail into the Maildir format.

protocol pop3
timeout 300
port 995
username "[email protected]" password "yourpassword"
sslproto TLS1
mda "/usr/bin/procmail -m '/home/<username>/.procmailrc'"

Be sure to set the permissions on the .fetchmailrc file to 0600:

$ chmod 0600 $HOME/.fetchmailrc

We'll now need to configure procmail to properly deliver our mail to the local Maildir folder. Procmail's configuration by default lives in $HOME/.procmailrc



With that done, simply run the fetchmail command. In my experience this can take a while process and it seems like Google limits the number of emails you can download at a time, so you may need to run the command a couple of times to get all your emails.