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Managing your email - how to archive it

The problem in a nutshell: Space for mail on the server is limited. If the space is used up, the email account will cease to work (it won't receive new incoming mail) until space is cleared. Here we describe how to clear space by archiving old mail. It is best to do this regularly (say, every six months) so there is no risk of the space reaching its limit.

Note: The following information is for people using IMAP email accounts. When you first set up your email account (in software such as Thunderbird or Outlook) you will have chosen either to use the IMAP option or the POP option. IMAP means that mail stays on the server so that multiple devices can access it and changes made using one device can be synchronised across all other devices. (POP is a simpler type of account for people who are happy to use a single device to access their email. With a POP account each email is downloaded to that device when it is read, so mail is not left on the server and there is no risk of the mailbox reaching its limit.)

The solution: To stop your mailbox filling up if you are using an IMAP account, you need to archive your emails every 6 or 12 months. This involves saving a copy of those emails in a local folder on the PC that you use as the main device for storing data relating to your business (this should be a PC you keep regularly backed up). After making copies stored locally (i.e. not on the server), you can then delete the mail in your inbox and sentbox, and then you can empty the deleted folder (because mail that is deleted is just moved to the deleted folder, where it continues to take up space on the server). Below we describe the steps to be followed if you use Thunderbird.


1. Create a folder for the archive

First we need to create a folder to store the mail that will be archived. To do that, work with the main device that you use for business and where you store your business records. This should be a computer that you keep regularly backed up. On that device, open the Thunderbird email programme.

In the Thunderbird window on the left you should see a section marked Local Folders. Right-click that to see the option to create a new folder in the Local Folders section.

Archive mail in Thunderbird 1

Give the folder a name such as Archive-Bookings (if your email address is bookings@mywebsite.co.uk).

When created, the new folder should appear in the Local Folders section of the left column on Thunderbird. This means you have now created a folder on your PC (i.e. NOT on the server) where you can store your mail.

2. Check your account settings

Still in the Thunderbird email programme, at the top click Tools -> Account Settings. The first thing to do here is to protect the folder created for the archive. Find the Disc Space item in the Local Folders section on the left. Click it to see the options. Select the option Don't Delete Any Messages.

Archive mail in Thunderbird 1b

Click OK at the bottom to save the changes (if anything has been changed).

Then go back to the settings window (Tools -> Account Settings) and click the Copies & Folders setting for the account shown on the left that you want to archive.

Archive mail in Thunderbird 2

Select the archive options as indicated below, and hover over the Local Folders option to see the Archive folder you created earlier. Select that as the folder to save the archived mail in. Then click OK at the bottom.

Archive mail in Thunderbird 3

Then go to the Synchronisation settings (Tools -> Account Settings -> Synchronisation) and make sure the box indicated below is ticked. Click OK at the bottom.

Archive mail in Thunderbird 4

3. Archive your inbox

Click the inbox of your mail account in Thunderbird so that you see the list of mail in the broader section on the right. The inbox should be hightlighted on the left.

The click Edit at the top and click the option to Select All. That will select all the mail in the inbox, and two new buttons will appear below the list of mail: one to archive and one to delete.

Archive mail in Thunderbird 5

Click Archive. Wait while the selected messages are moved one by one into the archive folder. Subfolders will automatically be created so that mail is saved according to the year in which it was received. The inbox should gradually empty and the archive folder in the Local Folders section should show the number of emails that have been moved to it.

Note: There is a limit to the amount of emails that can be archived at any one time. If you have more than 2,000 emails in your inbox, you will have to select batches of less than 2,000 and archive those one batch at a time. To select only some of the mails in the inbox, click the oldest email to select it, then use the scroll bar on the right to scroll down the inbox and Shift-Left Click (press Shift while you left-click) to select all the mail in between those two points. Then click Archive below, and then repeat until all the mail is archived.

Click the archive folder/s to see the list of emails and verify that all is well.

4. Archive your sent box

Repeat the above procedure for your Sent box. That will move your sent emails to the same archive folders.

5. Empty the deleted folder

Right-click the Deleted folder on the left in the Thunderbird window and select the option to empty it. That will remove all the deleted mail.

6. View the server to double check

Using only your email software, it is not always clear what is being left on the server. It is easy, for instance, to mistakenly create all the archive folders on the server, which defeats the object. To make sure that that hasn't happened and to double check what has actually been left on the server use the webmail facility to log onto the server and see what is there. Click for a guide to using webmail to check and manage your mailbox on the server.


Well done! You have now archived your mail and cleared space on the server to ensure your mail account continues to work properly. Depending on the amount of email you get and send, archive your mail every six or 12 months to keep the mailbox well within its limit.

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