It’s here. Finally. Gmail now supports IMAP. Internet Message Access Protocol. IMAP is cool because as you work with your email, moving it to folders, reading it, deleting it, etc. your actions are synced with the mail server. This way if you access the mail again from a different computer you will have everything in the last place you left it and you don’t have to remember what you did last time. Much more advanced them simple POP email.

My favorite client for IMAP is Mozilla Thunderbird. Not just any Thunderbird, Thunderbird Portable Edition. This allows me to keep my copy of Thunderbird on a USB stick and take it, and all of its detailed settings, with me where ever I go.

The things I’m going to show you here will work whether you use the portable edition or not. Google is rolling out IMAP slowly so if you don’t see it right away you will shortly. I’m not going to ‘reinvent the wheel’, Google already provides instructions on how to set up Thunderbird with IMAP.

Getting the most of out Gmail IMAP and Thunderbird

When you set up IMAP in Thunderbird and retrieve your mail for the first time, Thunderbird will create a folder structure with the basic Gmail folders and folders representing all your Gmail tags.

tbimap17 NOTE: When I set mine up I called the account, within Thunderbird, Gmail IMAP. You will see this in screen shots throughout. You may have called yours something different.

Set up your server settings

Right click on the account name (in my case Gmail IMAP) or click Tools –> Account Settings

Click the Server Settings entry on the left


Ensure the following are checked:

  • Check for new messages at startup
  • Check for new messages every 10 minutes
  • When I delete a message Move it to the Trash Folder
  • Clean up (Expunge) Inbox on Exit
  • Empty Trash on Exit

Make sure Sent and Draft mail is available synched to your Gmail from Thunderbird

For Sent:

  • Click the Copies and Folders entry on the left
  • Set “When sending messages, automatically:” to put the outgoing message in your Gmail sent folder by checking “Place copy in”
  • Select Other
  • Navigate to your Account Name –> Gmail –> Sent Mail


For Drafts:

  • Under Drafts and Templates select Other
  • Navigate to your Account Name –> Gmail –> Drafts

Enable Offline Access

If you want access to your email offline, click the Offline & Disk Space entry on the left

  • Select “Make the messages in my inbox available when I am working offline”

If you want other folders available when you are offline, click the button ‘Select Folders for Offline Use’. You will then be able to select your other Gmail tags/folders.

Under Disk Space you can select how to manage these offline files. I chose to have mine deleted after 7 days. I left the selection for read messages unchecked because most often it is something I recently read that I might need again when I can’t connect to the net.


Enable Junk/Spam Sync

  • Click the Junk Settings selection on the left

Ensure the following are checked

  • Enable adaptive junk mail controls for this account
  • Do not mark mail as junk if sender if in your Personal Address book
  • Move new Junk Messages to select Other
  • Navigate to your Account Name –> Gmail –> Spam


Some Tips on how functions map between Thunderbird and Gmail

  • Open a message = Mark a message as read
  • Flag a message = Apply a star to the message
  • Move a message to a folder = Apply a label to the message
  • Create a folder = Create a label
  • Move a message to [Gmail]/Spam = Report a message as spam
  • Move a message to [Gmail]/Trash = Move a message to Trash
  • Send a message = Store message in Sent Mail
  • Delete a message in inbox = Remove the message from inbox
  • Delete a message from a folder = Remove that label from the message
  • Delete a message from [Gmail]/Spam or [Gmail]/Trash = Delete the message permanently

Note: If you want to Archive a message, or several selected messages, drag it to the [Gmail]/All Mail folder


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