Workarounds for Mail Corruptions

{"In this week's Macworld Weekly I offered this little exchange with reader Amanda G:

Q. I checked my mail today in Mac OS X's Mail and it seemed to be working normally. I then went to my Inbox and it showed no new messages so I moved to the Junk folder. When I returned to the Inbox it showed no messages at all. Not one. I restarted the computer and launched Mail again. It opened as if I'd launched it for the first time -- asking me if I wanted to import mailboxes. I replied no and it opened, revealing zero messages in my Inbox. Where did my mail go?

-- Amanda G.

A. My fervent hope is that your messages are intact and that you're dealing only with a corrupt table of contents file. The means to putting things right is Mail's Rebuild command (termed "Rebuild Mailbox" in the version of Mail that ships with Jaguar).

When you invoke this command (found in the Mailbox menu), the table of contents file is rebuilt using data found in the mbox file (a file that contains the messages for POP accounts). If you have an IMAP account (.Mac accounts use IMAP, for example), messages stored on the server are retrieved again, though any messages cached on your Mac are deleted.

If you'd like to try to recover those message manually, follow this path: ~/Library/Mail/Mailboxes and Control-click on a .mbox file likely to hold messages. From the resulting contextual menu select Show Package Contents. In the window that appears select the mbox file and drag it atop the TextEdit icon in your Applications folder. A text document that contains the messages within that mailbox will open.

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A couple of folks were kind enough to offer some additional information on this subject.

John Parker wrote:

I had this same problem once and it took me a little while to figure out the issue because Mail did not give any type of error message. The problem for me was that I had insufficient disk space available for Mail's purposes. Once I cleaned up my drive -- burned some backups, etc -- I was able to open my mail again. I did have to reset my account settings, but my messages were still intact.

And Naomi Pearce suggested that "," could lend a helping hand in this way:

Download a copy of the free demo of Mailsmith (it's fully functional for 30 days) and install and launch it. When you launch the program for the first time you'll see an option to import your messages from Mail. Do so.

Your Mail mail will be broken down into the individual mailboxes that originally appeared in Mail. You can view these mailboxes in both the Mail Browser and Mailbox List windows. Once your mail has been imported, spend a little time with Mailsmith. You may find you like it enough to forget all about Mail.

If you wish to get those messages back into Mail, drag the mailbox you want to bring back into Mail from the Mail Browser or Mailbox List windows onto the Desktop. A text file that contains the mail from these mailboxes will appear. Create a folder on the Desktop, call it anything you like, and move the text file into this folder.

Launch Mail and select Import Mailboxes from the File menu. In the resulting Import window select the Other option and click the Next arrow. Continue clicking the Next arrow until Mail asks you to locate the mbox file you wish to import. Navigate to the folder that contains the files you dragged from Mailsmith and click Choose. The email exported from Mailsmith will be imported into Mail.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that Naomi Pearce is the PR representative for Bare Bones. "}

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