This question is about keeping email during a server move, where the clients are Linux (me) and Mac (my wife) using IMAP.

I receive email at [email protected] using a webmail service that my hosting company (1and1) provides. I read it via IMAP in evolution, so I should have copies of all the emails on my local machine.

I have just moved mydomain.com from one type of account to another, and the hosting company don't move my existing email on the server when I do this - I assume they move my account to a different mailserver, and don't choose to provide a migration path for the email to move too (yes, this is annoying).

Before migrating, I backed up Evolution (File -> Backup settings) and did a spot-check in the evolution-backup.tar.gz file to be sure that my mail was in there. After migrating, I restored (File -> Restore settings) and had hoped that I would see all my mail again. Unfortunately, Evolution just shows me new mail sent to the account, not the old mail.

Is there a way to get the old mail back in the mailserver, or at least displaying in Evolution, as it was before the move? If not, can I read it in some convenient way, e.g. in Evolution offline or in a text file (then I can pick the mails I really want to keep and resend them to myself)?

Also, I am about to do a similar move for my wife's domain, [email protected]. She reads her mail on a Mac using IMAP to Apple Mail. Is there anything I can do to make the move smooth for her? (I have backed up [her user]/Library/Mail already, but not sure what to do once the move is done.)

4 Answers 4


IMAP - Internet Message Access Protocol is exactly as the acronym suggests, it is access only. Which means that all the messages stay on the remote mail server and get loaded into Evolution when you click/request the particular email message.

Unless you set an option in your preferences to download a local copy of the messages then all you are seeing are the headers of the emails not the actual email itself.

If your evolution-backup.tar.gz backup is not big in size (assuming 1-3 mb) then you were only seeing headers in your spot-check.

So basically all your messages are still on the old server. If that is the case I hope you can still access and get your messages.

However if your evolution-backup.tar.gz is in the 100s of megabytes then the messages are fully backed up and you would have to import them to you new mail server rather than through the mail client. This would be accomplished via the new hosting company's control panel or if you have shell access to perform a data dump. Also the data in the evolution-backup.tar.gz needs to be in a compatible format.

On a side note, it would have been better to backup the mail via 1and1's control panel.

  • Thanks ricbax. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a backup facility in 1and1's control panel, nor a way to import. I don't have shell access to their mailserver. I guess I could set up my own mailserver on my Ubuntu Linux server and transfer the mail there; then how would I do the import? (How would I know whether the data in the backup is compatible?) Oct 23, 2009 at 6:18
  • By the way, the backup file definitely contains at least some of the message bodies - I spot-checked and can see text files that have the body text in them. The size is 10MB, which makes sense as I didn't have huge amounts of email to start with. Oct 23, 2009 at 6:21
  • To import them would depend on the type of mail server that you go with POSTFIX, QMAIL, SENDMAIL, EXIM4. I believe Ubuntu uses POSTFIX by default. I am not sure what format Evolution saved your emails in. You would have to check the format then depending on that MTA, see if you can port them over to that MTA's mail folders. Glad to hear that you do in fact have your emails. Another way that you might be able to get them back on Evolution is by using a bash script to import probably easier than setting up you own MTA.
    – ricbax
    Oct 26, 2009 at 5:04

You could probably pop the old mail from the old server, store them in a local folder on your machine, and then move to the new server. They won't look like they belong to the new server, but at least you'll be sure to have a full local copy of them.


If you didn't change hosting providers, but only changed account level, I'd open a support ticket with 1&1. They might be able to help you out directly.

  • 1
    But, for a Super User, what's the fun of that? ;-)
    – Arjan
    May 1, 2010 at 12:45

Moving domain and keeping IMAP email...

I've experienced the problem of the local email client (MUA) deleting local messages after switching hosting providers. MUAs like Evolution and Thunderbird don't merge like you would hope.

You will have to perform a migration. Before taking the old server offline, you will need to stand up a new server. Then have a migration tool like IMAP Migration Tool copy the emails from the old server to the new server using IMAP.

Once the email copy operation is complete, you can take the old server offline. You can also rename the new server to the old server's name to minimize disruptions.

Fortunately, folks like you and I can do the manual migration. If you had 30,000 users, it would likely be much more painful because of the additional account management burdens. That is, you can't get away with manually creating an account and setting the password when you have 30,000 users.

Also see Julian's answer at Mail migration: pumping mails into IMAP account and Sathya's answer at Transferring lots of messages between IMAP accounts.

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