Migrate from One Gmail Account to Another

February 24, 2010

I recently acquired a new domain name that I have wanted for years, so I set about creating a new email account for myself. I host my email on Google Apps for Your Domain, which is the same thing as Gmail but with your own, custom email address.

Moving from one Gmail account to another is widely documented, but all the methods I found were unsatisfactory. Most suggest to use POP to pull all your email over to your new account. The fundamental problem is that you lose all your labels (Gmail’s version of email folders) and you would have to re-categorize all your messages. That’s just not acceptable.

I happened upon a tip that I explored further and it worked like a dream. To get started, all of the following must first be in order:

  • You need to have both (old and new) Gmail accounts up and running, with IMAP enabled in both.
  • You need a mail client that supports IMAP. I used Apple’s Mail. I hear Thunderbird works nicely as well.
  • Ensure that both the old and new email accounts are set up and working in your mail client.

The gist of what’s happening here is that you copy the email folders from the old account into the new one. Your client then syncs those local changes with the server, and before long, all your email is the same between the two accounts. I have created a graphic to the right that should make it pretty clear what to do. Below are a few tips.

Do It in Chunks

I suggest doing a few folders at a time since it takes some time for Mail to sync it all with the server. I tried to sync my Gmail folders (All Mail, Drafts, Sent Mail, etc.) and the “All Mail” folder timed out after about 10,000 messages. So be sure to do it in slightly smaller quantities. If you have tons of email, it’s a good idea to start this task and then go to bed since it can take hours.

Don’t forget the Inbox

Be sure to also select all the emails in the inbox’s message list and move them to the new inbox. Don’t use the inbox folder, but grab the actual messages with a “select all” and drag them to the new inbox. They’ll move over and your old inbox should be empty afterwards.

Auto Responder and Forwarding

Once your email has been copied to the new account to your satisfaction, it’s a good idea to log in to the old account via the web client, and turn forwarding on to your new address. You can also set a vacation responder to tell people you have a new email address, and that they should update their records. This will spare you the task of spamming everyone you know with a notice that your email address changed.

There you have it. If you’ve got your eye on a new Gmail account, or you discovered how awesome Google Apps for Your Domain is, then don’t fear the email migration process.