Working with archived Mail messages

Reader N.N. would like to archive—yet still have access to—his or her mail. The initialed one writes:

I’ve been using Mail to keep a record of my e-mails. However, I now have over 6,000 e-mails and it is slowing Mail down (spinning beach balls, freezes, etc.). Is there any way to back up e-mails in Mail to an external hard drive and still be able to view (and resend) them? By the way, some of them have attachments.

There is. Let me provide a couple of options.

The first is, by far, the easiest, but it will cost you $25. It’s Pubbloq’s MailSteward Lite. MailSteward creates a searchable database of all your email (or as much of it as you like), including attachments. Once you’ve created that database, you can clear out these messages from Mail’s mailboxes as you’ll always have access to the messages and attachments via MailSteward Lite. You’ll find MailSteward faster than Mail, even when packed with a load of messages, and its Search Email feature quickly finds what you’re after, allowing you to search by From, To, Subject, Mailbox, Body Text, Attachment Name, and Attachment Contents.

If you’d like more from such a utility—the ability to schedule automatic archiving of your email, add searchable tags and keywords to your mail, and export to an mbox, SQL, tab-delimited, or separate database file—you’re looking at the more-fully-featured $50 MailSteward.

If $25 is too rich for your blood, you can archive your email manually. To do so, choose the mailbox that you’d like to archive and drag it to the Desktop. This creates an Apple-flavored mbox archive of the mailbox. When you wish to restore it to Mail, choose File -> Import Mailboxes, choose Mail for Mac OS X in the resulting Import window, click Continue, and navigate to the mbox folder you created earlier.

To store just certain messages, select those messages, choose File -> Save As, make sure that Raw Message Source appears in the Format pop-up menu, and Save.

Once archived, you can delete the original messages.

I realize that this barely satisfies your requirements. Yes, you can view and resend messages using the manual method I outlined, but having to reimport your messages to do so is a pain in the neck, which leads me to option number 3: Use Mozilla Thunderbird as your archive client.

Thunderbird is free and a perfectly decent email client, but if you prefer to spend most of your time in Mail, you can export your old Mail messages, import them into Thunderbird, and then do any work on archived messages within Thunderbird. But getting messages from Mail 2.x into Thunderbird requires a little work. To do so, follow these steps:

1. Download Thunderbird (natch).

2. Download a copy of the MboxImport Thunderbird extension.

3. Launch Thunderbird, configure your account settings, and choose Tools -> Extensions. In the Extensions window that appears, click the Install button and navigate to the MboxImport extension you just downloaded. Install it and restart Thunderbird.

4. In Mail, drag the mailbox(es) you want to archive to the Desktop.

5. Launch Thunderbird and choose Tools -> Import/Export in mbox/eml format -> Import eml file.

6. In the dialog box that appears navigate to the mbox folder that you created with that drag-to-the-Desktop move, dig down into the mbox folder to the contents of its Messages folder, select all the .emlx files within (to do so, click the first message in the list, hold down the Shift key, and click the last message), and click the Open button. The selected messages will be imported into Thunderbird. When you next need to muck with an archived message, do so in Thunderbird.

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