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I want move towards using my own mail server, so I picked Dovecot. I plan on using thunderbird to retrieve my mail using IMAPS. I have never used either of the software, so my questions are a bit naive.

  • I don't understand the process of deleting email from dovecot from thunderbird. If I delete an email from thunderbird, this will eventually be deleted on Dovecot permanently (to save space on the server if it's running out of disk space)?

  • If thunderbird downloads all email from dovecot and stores them locally through IMAPS, what happens if I delete an email on the server (by logging into the server and manually deleting it)? Will this then be propagated down to thunderbird so that the local copy of that email will also be deleted?

  • This relates to the previous question: If I delete emails on the server to save space, how do I make it so that thunderbird can still see all the emails from the past? So I would still receive new emails, but I would also be able to see all the previous emails that had been deleted on the server.

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migrated from Mar 11 '13 at 15:58

This question came from our site for system and network administrators.

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Responding to the Questions:

  • 1 & 2: IMAP is essentially an email synchronization protocol. Changes at one point are replicated to all other points (eventually, as they synchronize).

    "Deleting" is slightly more complicated than you'd think in IMAP. Most clients like Thunderbird will simply move items you delete to the Trash folder, no actual "delete" operation. IMAP has a two step "delete" process, items are marked as deleted (but they still actually exist), and then expunged (items marked as deleted are actually removed). Most clients hide this process. If you "permanently delete" (as most clients call it), it does a mark and expunge operation simultaneously.

  • 3: Don't do that. Your server should be the one place where all the e-mail live in perpetuity. If you want to save space, the clients have options to limit what they cache locally. Your e-mail shouldn't be that big in the first place. It's e-mail, not large file storage.


  • Backup your server regularly or you'll be very sorry someday.
  • Use IMAP with STARTTLS - It's better supported by most protocols and easier to get running in the first place.
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I guess I should look into migrating to a larger server if I ever run out of space rather than trying to manipulate individual files. – tabx Mar 11 '13 at 17:57

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