Why You Should Archive Your Emails and How You Can Do So

It’s funny to see how fast our tech solutions go from robust digital solution to fragile digital problem. Take emails for example. Having an email account means you never lose a message that you are sent, right? The downsides are that you can never really find a message once the amount of emails you store goes up, and basically all the mail is stored in one location on your computer and so vulnerable to loss.

Of course it’s possible that your computer is backed up (and you really should do that if you just realised that you don’t), but having a backup is one thing – restoring your emails back into your email program is another.

Doing It by Hand

The fastest and easiest way to back up vital emails is, of course, to drag them into a folder and store them on a USB drive. Most email programs on most platforms will open a loose email which will probably include any attachments. That’s all well and good, but the thing about an email client is that it keeps your emails in a (theoretically) searchable database. A loose collection of files in a folder secures the data, but it’s by no means a searchable resource.

You can be a bit more organised about it and drag emails about account activation, product serial numbers, receipts from purchases, etc., but that’s a bit of a pain to have to keep all that manually updated.

Freeware Solutions

The solution is an email archiving service. You will find many services out there, but most are very corporate in tone. There are some, in particular the popular MailStore solution, which offers a free version of their corporate software for home use.

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This is a much better solution to keeping your emails safe, and not just safe but accessible. As well as backing up your emails offsite at a distant digital location, you can restore your emails right back to where they originated in your client software. You can also search the emails in the backup for relevant details like sender and dates.

The biggest upside of using a dedicated email archival service rather than a general offsite backup or doing it by hand is simple: Your emails are not only searchable but restorable. As a side benefit, this also means that having your emails stored in an external database makes migrating your emails easier, too. If you change computers, for example if you upgrade your main desktop machine, one of the biggest sources of pain is having to start your email client from scratch without having access to your legacy mail.

With an offsite backup which can be easily restorable to any client, you can just pull in all the emails from your boss, your wife, your primary software provider, and continue as if nothing has happened. This is so much easier than deploying email export and import tools or hacking the databases by hand, which has been the standard solution for a long time.

As we move to a time of your entire work and home life being stored in email, it makes sense to take steps to secure it.

In Practise

Using Mailstore as an example, it’s very simple to use. Once the software has been downloaded and installed, on running it you are faced with a Dashboard.

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On the left you have a detailed list of all the reports you can do.

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In the centre you have hotlinks for common tasks.

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And on the right you have your dashboard.

email-archive-mailstore-right-column

To get started you need to click the “archive email” link in the centre column. This brings you to the archive email panel.

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Archives are governed by “profiles,” so each email you wish to back up needs to create a profile. You do this either by typing your email into the create profile field or selecting a specific protocol from the advanced drop-down.

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You will be asked to put in your password to authorize the access.

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Once the software has polled your email account on the internet to verify it, your new profile will be created.

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A profile will be created in the dashboard, and you can now double-click it to be archived from the server to your machine.

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Note: as the software talks directly to your mail server, this archive machine doesn’t even have to be your email machine, which is helpful for off-site backups.

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Once that’s done, your email will be backed up and searchable using the Mailstore software.

Conclusion

Hopefully this has given you some ideas to help you feel that your emails are a resource and not a junk pile. It’s pointless having them lying around unless you can get to the ones you need, and email archiving is certainly a step in the right direction.

If you have any thoughts about email archiving, please let us know in the comments below.

Image credit: Yuri Samoilov

14 comments

  1. WILL IT WORK WITH OUTLOOK.COM OR ONLY AN EXCHANGE SERVER

    1. Works with just about everything. It polls the server like it’s an email client as far as I can tell, but of course it might be more complicated than that. :) Works with POP3, IMAP Outlook etc. even Gmail. There’s a screenshot above the words “You will be asked to put in your password to authorize the access.” which shows the list. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Thank you very much for this column! It happens to come at a great time for me as I’m having some problems with my e-mail account and am contemplating a move to different software, but I’ve become leery about hot to keep existing mails. I had two terrible crashes with Thunderbird some time ago and lost megabytes of mail, moved to an online service but am still not confident. I appreciate the hints.

    1. No problem Marjorie, we are here to serve :) I actually enjoyed finding out about this software it’s much more useful than I assumed it would be and way more easy to use. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Great post! Don’t forget other self-hosted, free options like Mail Piler (http://www.mailpiler.org/) and the free version of MailArchiva (up to 20 mailboxes; https://www.mailarchiva.com/). I’ve played around with Mail Piler a bit and am impressed with the feature set. I don’t have any personal experience with MailArchiva, but it gets some good reviews and publicity by its users. In short: there are LOTS of avenues to backup your email.

    1. Thanks Nate! Great tips there.

  4. I would be extremely nervous, entrusting my emails to a third party backup solution – particularly if they were kept in the cloud! Because who’s to say MailStore or any other solution won’t go out of business or simply lose your emails? And what about privacy? Are they encrypted on MailStore’s server and can we be 100 percent sure that only we have the key to decrypt them?

    But I don’t actually see much need for ordinary, private individuals to keep emails in their proprietary format anyway? I just print any I wish to keep to file and save them to an encrypted folder, which is then backed up daily to 3 external disks…..

    And if you use an online email server like Outlook.com or one provided by your ISP, surely they SHOULD have just as much chance remaining safe on it as they do on MailStore?

    1. Hi Sheri

      Personally I’m all for backup to as many sources onsite and offsite as possible. I use Backblaze for machine backups, and I do occasional backups to external drives for movie work and music.

      Is your data vulnerable in the cloud? Of course it is, nothing is 100% bulletproof, but I try as much as possible to have as little as possible on my machine of a sensitive nature. My passwords are on paper rather than being remembered by the machine in any way.

      I think if my mail was ever hacked into in the cloud, the hackers would be quite disappointed that they went to all that effort for such trivia :) Thanks for commenting!

  5. Isn’t it better to keep ALL sensitive data in an encrypted folder on your own computer than trust it to some distant entity in the cloud then? And you say that hackers would be quite disappointed that they went to all that effort for such trivia. Because I find it hard to believe you never receive ANY emails containing sensitive data – like order and delivery information for example?

    1. You are right to be cautious about security, Sheri, everyone should be.

      I take the view that you should take all *sensible* steps to secure your personal data, regardless of whether it’s sensitive or not, but these days it’s not possible to be 100% secure unless you have military grade encryption and even then that’s still more like 98% secure. You have to do all you can do, and the rest is down to luck. If you’re unlucky you get hacked. If you’re doubly unlucky they get something personal or sensitive.

      I would suspect that any encryption I can afford to buy is much less secure than that of a cloud service provider who is far more afraid of being sued than I am and ploughs thousands of dollars into security and encryption. Like shark attacks, successful incursions into cloud systems and backup servers are horrific but rare. Obviously awful and troubling if they happen, but rare nonetheless. Stuff happens but it happens so infrequently it’s not worth avoiding a service that could prove convenient to you.

      Ultimately life’s all about making choices, and I am not telling you whats best for you. I can only tell you what works for me, and my opinion based on 30 years of using technology. If you agree that’s great, if not then that’s not the end of the world either. Thanks for commenting, and good luck.

      1. I didn’t notice anything about cloud servers all ploughing thousands of dollars to encrypt our data in your original article, which is why I raised my concerns. But if that is true, then yes, I agree that it is probably prudent to store your stuff offsite, in the cloud rather than keep it on your own computer – as long as you can remember your login details! Because that can be a big problem, when most of us have logins to dozens of websites, as we have been advised several times NOT to keep our passwords written down on paper, where they can be found and used by an intruder. So I keep a copy of all my login email confirmations in an encrypted folder, which as I said is backed up to 3 external drives every day. AND unlike you Phil, I’m afraid I do also use an online Password safe to make daily logins to my favourite sites easier rather than have a browser remember them all, which sounds very insecure to me.

        1. I agree, having your browser remember your passwords is easy but too open to intrusion. I know some of my fellow MTE people use encrypted password safes so I’m glad you brought that up; that’s a good option, but for me I’m old fashioned and I live in the middle of nowhere so paper works for me. It’s also not available to anyone who tries to hack me online. Be safe out there Sheri, and thanks for adding value to our conversation.

  6. If you’re an individual, you can choose to archive your emails or not, depending on your own estimation of their importance and relevance. However, companies and organizations should definitely have a different approach in order to be compliant with the strict regulations. Here is another article that deals with the topic from companies’ perspective. https://jatheon.com/blog/six-ultimate-features-of-the-email-archiving/

    1. Thanks for the info, Helena, very useful.

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