Backups - part 3: email

Posted By (lapsed member) |  last update 03-Oct 2011


My MacBook Pro recently had to go into the Apple (Store) hospital for major internal surgery. Being a private patient this was performed promptly on a short stay basis (one night), although it wasn't cheap. I won't bore readers with all the gory details, but the upshot was that the TTAs prescribed prior to discharge included having its hard disk reformatted and its version of OS X (10.6, Snow Leopard) upgraded to the most recent version (10.6.8). iLife 11 was included just for good measure. Such are the wonders of Firewire that it took just 10 minutes to reformat the 250GB hard disc and reinstall OS X! Once home the rejuvenated former invalid needed to have its files restored. All my most important files were on my iDisk in the iCloud, so they were OK. Time Machine then worked perfectly restoring gigabytes (or should that be gibibytes?) of ordinary files. Photos were more difficult because they had been backed up on Time Machine using iLife 09 and this wasn't compatible with iL 11, but a bit of manual work sorted them out. iTunes, surprisingly, was even more difficult. In the end I gave up and used it as an opportunity to revamp my meagre music collection.


Next up was email. I have 7 accounts. Fortunately, they were set up using IMAP as opposed to POP, and herein lies the moral of this tale. Internet Message Access Protocol is generally regarded as more reliable than Post Office Protocol. It also works differently with device-based clients such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail. Email is downloaded onto the client machine and deleted from the server when using POP, although with some services it is possible to keep mail on the server for a limited time specifed by the user's preferences. With IMAP the master copy is stored on the ISP's server in perpetuity and devices synchronise with the master copy, so MS Outlook or Apple Mail etc reflect what is on the server. As soon as I synchronised the former invalid with MobileMe all my email account settings and IMAP emails were restored to their former state. I did, however, have a problem with emails that I had archived on my machine outside the IMAP/POP universe. Once again I discovered Time Machine (non-) compatibility issues. A bit of hunting around and after a few hours (!) I had found the relevant file on TM and restored the archive to Mail. I will never have the same problem again because I no longer store any emails solely on my machine. All the stuff I had archived on my laptop is now archived in the Cloud, thanks to the very generous storage allowance of a well-known email provider.


An interesting side-effect of all this was to discover how Yahoo does things. My basic (free) account appears to allow POP, but if you read the help pages carefully it seems that even POP is only available to those who pay for the premium service. My basic/free account and suscriber account, which uses Yahoo, can both be set up using POP. However, a little research on Clarkson's interweb revealed that it is possible to use IMAP with Yahoo. This was originally designed for smart phones but there are ways round that. As ever, Brin and Page can provide details for those who want to know more.


So, if you want to ensure that all those files and emails from years ago don't get lost when your hard disk fails or logic board goes AWOL:

  • Don't use POP.

  • Use IMAP or internet mail.

  • Yahoo can be set up using IMAP, although they don't like to admit it.

  • If you're a Mac devotee then don't believe all you are told about Time Machine. It has its limitations.

  • Backup. Backup. Backup.

  • Keep copies of your most important files in the Cloud. Apple's iDisk on their iCloud, Dropbox, or SCATA's new service from livedrive, can all do this.


show all blogs