How do I save Web Mail messages to my computer?

A lot of users have asked about saving or copying messages from Web Mail to their computer, particularly the Sent copies that are in Web Mail. Some users want to know how to just save a single message as a file (which is easy to do) and others want to know how to move messages in bulk just to free up their online storage space. We can do that too.
There are several ways to accomplish this, but first it is important to understand the difference between accessing your mailbox via Web Mail, or via any other email software like Outlook Express, EarthLink Mailbox, Apple Mail, etc. The two main advantages of using Web Mail are that you can access your mailbox from any browser on any computer, and you don’t have to install or configure any software. All messages are stored on the server and you just view them using your browser. With any email software installed on your computer (called POP software or a POP client) you are downloading the messages to your own computer hard drive, and then viewing and managing the local copies on your own computer. Some advantages of this are that you can view or compose messages while offline, and your storage space is only limited by the size of your hard drives.
When you use both Web Mail and other email software, understand that the only folder in Web Mail that is accessible by your other email software is the Inbox. This isn’t a limitation created by EarthLink; it is just how the POP protocol works with all email software. POP software (Outlook, etc.) has no concept of online folders, and can only download messages from the online Inbox to your computer. Then once you have the messages on your computer, obviously you can sort and store them in local folders.
If you aren’t completely clear on how Web Mail and other email software access your mailbox differently and how they can work together if you use both, then please read this FAQ for more information. It’s essential to understand that part first.

  1. Saving any single message to your hard drive from Web Mail.
    Obviously this isn’t practical for moving messages in bulk for storage reasons, but sometimes it is useful for just saving a local copy of an important message. To do this, simply select the “View Source” option from the actions menu. This opens the full, raw message content up in its own window. That is a view of the actual email “file” that you want to save to your hard drive. Then just click on File/Save in your browser menu, and save the file to your hard drive. By default, it will be saved as a text file (.txt) but you can save it by any name you wish if you plan to access it using other software that might prefer some other file type. If you plan to import the file into Outlook Express, save it as a .eml file (or rename it after saving). That is just a file extension recognized by Outlook Express and by some other email programs, but the .eml file is exactly the same as the plain text file you saved, there is nothing special about the file other than the name. You can then just drag-and-drop the .eml file on to your Outlook Express Inbox (with the program open) and the message will be automatically imported. Some other email programs will also work this way. With Thunderbird you just use “File / Open Saved Message” and it doesn’t matter whether the file is saved as .txt or .eml. You’ll have to figure out how to open or import the saved message files with whatever software you will be using.
    If you want to save a message as a stand-alone viewable HTML file and not as an email message that can be opened by other email software, you do it a little differently. Click Print in the Web Mail toolbar, and then cancel the printer dialog that appears. Then click File / Save-As in your browser menu, and save the file as an HTML file. Then, you can click on that file later to view it again in your browser.

  2. Saving your Inbox messages to your hard drive from Web Mail.
    This one is totally straightforward. You simply open up any email program installed on your computer, and let it retrieve your messages. You can use Outlook Express, which comes with Windows, or Apple Mail, which comes with Macintosh, or any other software of your choosing. All messages in your Inbox will be copied to your hard drive and will then be viewable in your own email software. Be aware that unless you change the default setting in your software, as the messages are downloaded they are deleted from the server and no longer visible in Web Mail. If your goal is to free up your online storage space, then that’s what you want. But you can change the setting in any email software, to leave copies on the server while downloading to your computer. There’s more information about this in the FAQ linked above.
    So if you want to just periodically move all your messages to your computer, leave them in your Web Mail Inbox until they build up to the point you want to save them, and then just fire up your other email software to download them all.
    If you do not have any email software set up with your EarthLink email account, you can get instructions from this article on the EarthLink Support site.

  3. Saving Sent messages or messages in any other Web Mail folder.
    When you send a message and you have your software (or Web Mail) set to save copies of sent messages, obviously the sent copy is only saved in the place where you sent it from, whether that be in Web Mail or in your other email software (on one specific computer). Those are not shared or accessible to each other. So one common question users have is how to get copies of all those messages sent from Web Mail, onto their own computer.
    To do this, we’ll use the same method but due to the limitation of POP software I described earlier, we have to first put the messages in your Web Mail Inbox. This is a lot easier than it sounds, and I personally do this every few months to archive my email and free up online storage. I can move and save a few thousand messages from several online folders, in about 10 minutes.
    First you’ll want to change the setting in Web Mail to display 200 messages per page instead of the default setting of 20. Click Preferences / Web Mail Options and change the Messages-per-page setting. This will allow you to move 200 messages with a single action (two clicks actually). To move up to 200 messages at one time, simply click the topmost checkbox at the left of the message list (“select all”) and then click “Move To…” and select Inbox. Repeat until you’ve moved all the messages that you are wanting to save to your computer.
    To avoid mixing things up, make sure your Web Mail Inbox is empty first. If you are also downloading those to your other email software, just do that first as described in #2 above. Otherwise, you can simply move your Inbox messages into a temporary folder. To create a new folder in Web Mail, click Folders, and then move them there before putting the messages you want to download into the Inbox. You can move them back when done.
    Once you have all the messages in your Web Mail Inbox that you want to download to your computer, simply fire up your other email software (Outlook Express etc.) and let it download the messages. In this case since these are messages from your Sent folder or from some other folder, you’ll probably want to organize the downloaded copies similarly. You can just select them all from the local Inbox and drag them to the desired folder in your email software, or use the Move selection in the menu. That operation should only take a few seconds. I like to keep my messages sent from Web Mail separate from my messages sent from Outlook, so I create an Outlook folder called “Sent-WebMail” and I just move all the saved messages there after I download them. And I create other custom folders to organize the saved messages just like I had them in Web Mail.
    A couple things to watch out for –
    If your intention is to create a copy of your Sent messages rather than just moving them all, be aware that you will not be able to move messages back into your Web Mail Sent folder after moving them out. The only way to put messages into that folder in Web Mail is to send a message. You could just create a custom folder called “MySent” or something like that, and move them there. But you won’t be able to move messages into the default Sent folder.
    Another thing is that if you already have other messages in your Outlook Inbox (or whatever you are using) don’t expect your downloaded Sent messages to all show up on the top of the list. They will probably be sorted by date, mixed in with whatever you already had in that folder. So you might need to clear out the Outlook Inbox temporarily to do this operation cleanly, by putting those existing messages in a temporary folder first, and put them back after you have stored your Sent messages in the desired folder.

So that’s how you do it. Some users have asked if there was some magical feature where you can somehow just “save” your entire mailbox contents to your hard drive with a click or two. Unfortunately there isn’t. A few users even claimed that “everyone else” has this. I checked the four largest web mail services and none of them have such a feature that I can find anywhere. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never heard of a feature like this on any Web Mail service, and there really isn’t any easy way to do it either, or any standards for how things might be archived in a way that is understood by most other email software. The universal standard is to use the POP protocol and POP software, which is what I’ve described here. There are some enterprising software vendors selling programs for about $20 that automate doing exactly what I’ve described in this article, and they download and save your messages for you with just a click or two. All they have done is scripted what I’ve described, and done so for the major webmail services (the one I saw worked on Hotmail and Yahoo). There are also general scripting tools available for both Windows and Mac which can record your own keystrokes and mouse clicks and play them back on demand. Users familiar with such tools could probably automate most or all of this operation, but I won’t be able to help you with that.
Really the only way to make this any easier is if we had IMAP access to mailboxes, which allows you to automatically “sync” a set of online folders with an offline copy, using IMAP client software. There aren’t any plans for now to offer IMAP service.
One last trick for users who only want to have copies of messages Sent from Web Mail available for viewing in their other email software or on another computer: simply copy (Cc or Bcc) yourself on outgoing messages. I used to do this when I ran email clients on multiple computers and wanted to have my sent messages available no matter which computer I was working at. Nowadays, I only use Web Mail so this isn’t a problem anymore.
Note that some of the comments below were posted prior to this article being written, when I had mentioned previously in this space that I was going to write about this topic.

17 thoughts on “How do I save Web Mail messages to my computer?

  1. I am so grateful to have found your blog and posts after multiple Google searches, both direct and tangential on the subject. Multiple chats with Earthlink support provided no resolution nor any reference to your detailed and well written information. I have not tried your method yet but will as soon as my Thunderbird is properly configured, and am confident your directions are sufficiently valid. Please forward your link to the Earthlink support database to alleviate frustration and exasperation for both sides of chat and support plus threats to cancel service.
    Regards KEG

  2. COOL! I’d been wondering about this possibility … wanting to do it. Thanks to those who asked the question, and thanks to you, Email Guy, for giving such a complete answer!

  3. My inbox messages have not been saving lately after so many days. Two questions: Are there preferences I can set to get back to saving all inbox messages indefinitely? How can I retrieve the inbox messages that I had been saving?

    Messages in your Inbox are never deleted automatically, they are stored forever until you delete them or you download them with other software. See this FAQ.
    Email Guy
  4. I’d like to echo Ellen and BobC’s comment about sorting of messages – I’m not sure that you’re entirely correct when you tell them that messages are sorted by the order in which they arrive in the folder.
    I ran a test – I took 200 messages from one folder (took a snapshot of the window, then selected 200) and transferred them to another folder (took a snapshot of the window, then selected the same 200) and then transferred them back into their original folder (took a snapshot of the window).
    Then I compared the three snapshots. When the messages were transferred to the second folder, they were jumbled up – they didn’t reflect the order in the original folder. When I transferred them back to their original folder, they were even more jumbled up – they didn’t reflect the order of either of the previous two snapshots. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any pattern to the jumbling in either case. Yet isn’t the default sorting order supposed to be by Date (ascending/descending – however you choose it in Preferences)?
    It’s likely that some internal ID is being used to identify each message, but that still wouldn’t explain why the order (disorder?) changes every time the messages are moved as a block.
    To do 200 messages one at a time would take an age and not be practical. I’m not even sure they would retain the order in which they were transferred (I’ll test that when I have some time to spare).
    It would be great if this could be fixed at some point. The reason I suggest it is that when you have to sort a disordered list of messages, you can’t move backwards and forwards in the list using the Next/Previous function when you’re reading a message – you can only return to the “…[folder name] sorted by [field name]” for every single message, and that’s a problem.

    I agree that it’s a problem for some use cases, and I’d like to get it fixed. Ideally, sorting would always work by the Received timestamp, in both the default list and a column-sorted list. I have that on the roadmap for the developers. You’re correct that by default an internal ID is used, and it is basically the file write timestamp on the message file (all messages are individual files in our system). That’s why moving them changes it. In normal delivery circumstances you’ll see a correctly sorted list. But moving messages around does mess it up. The column sort feature on the other hand, always uses the Date header in the message, and sorts correctly by that.
    As for the behavior you saw, the batch move operation in Web Mail will be unpredictable as to the order the new files get written since it isn’t a synchronous operation (it doesn’t serially move one at a time), which explains what you saw. However, it is assured that the files you move are going to show up on top of all files already in the destination folder, as that batch is now “newer” than the messages that were already there. So you could select all messages of the same date, move them to another folder, then select the next date batch, move them, etc. and you would end up with a correctly sorted list in the new folder. I know this is not practical, but it also isn’t a common use. Commonly what users want to do is move new messages into a folder where they put messages from a particular sender, or using whatever organizational method the user likes, and when done regularly there isn’t any problem.
    Relating this back to the topic of the article above, this usually doesn’t matter since we are talking about moving messages so that they can be downloaded to a POP client running on the user’s computer, and that software will then sort the messages by its own methods. The situation that Bob C. and Ellen encountered is definitely a problem when you want to keep your Inbox messages in Web Mail and only want to download the Sent messages. But we’re really talking about unusual workarounds for a feature that doesn’t exist. There isn’t a straightforward way to move Sent messages from one piece of email software to another one, whether that be Web Mail or two POP clients you have on two computers. Sent messages are saved where you sent them from. That’s a limitation in just about all email software and is just intrinsic to how POP and Web Mail work. It can only truly be remedied by IMAP service, which most email providers don’t offer (including us).
    The bottom line is we need to fix the sort problem. I agree.
    Email Guy
  5. Excellent tip for saving Sent mail to one’s PC. Worked like a charm. Except one minor problem. The Inbox mail that I temporarily moved to a folder and then moved back to the Inbox after saving my Sent messages, will no longer show sorted in date order in my Inbox. I can force it to show in date order by clicking on the Date column. But the next time I log back into webmail, they are back in random order. And yes, I do have date ordering set in the webmail options. And new mails in my Inbox correctly sort in date order. It is only those old mails that I had moved out of the Inbox to a temp folder, and then back into the Inbox.
    Has anyone else experienced this? Is there a way around it? Any help would be very much appreciated.

    See the answer to this comment.
    Email Guy
  6. I’d add another thing to watch out for, if you’re accessing the Webmail Inbox using an email client on your local machine (I happen to use an outdated V4.58 Netscape because I haven’t found anything else that works the way I like to).
    When the last email has been transferred down to your local machine, disconnect from EarthLink using whatever feature allows you to, otherwise any new mail that comes into your Webmail Inbox while your email client is still connected risks being downloaded as well, especially if your client (like mine) checks for new email frequently (like every minute).

  7. Hi Email Guy,
    I finally figured out how to get here(this blog)…after having Earthlink for five years….lol. I believe I read one of your ‘articles’ about forwarding, and that the best option is ‘as attachment’. Question: RE forwarding a message which has pics or videos; when I use ‘as attachment’ to forward, the message is sent fairly quickly. But, if I create a message and add the same pics or videos as attachments, it might take a full minute to send. Why the difference? Makes one wonder if the pics and videos are being forwarded.

    The reason is that when you are forwarding a message, the files are already on the server and don’t have to be uploaded. When you attach new files, they have to be uploaded from your computer to the server in order to be sent. That is the delay you notice.
    Email Guy
  8. Why can’t earthlink just automatically save my Sent messages. Why do I have to check a box to make sure it’s saved in my Sent folder. Is this because I use webmail?

    The default is to always save them (the box is always checked). If it is not checked, you have changed the setting in Preferences / Web Mail Options. You can turn it back on there.
    Email Guy
  9. Waiting for this article.
    I have to say… one of the users posted the print or copy/paste option. For couple messages– great method.
    For those of use who had let things slide and are used to UNIX accounts where you just Download the whole (*)%$# mailbox file… This is major pain.. Is there way to setup permissions on the server to allow us lowly users to do that?
    Thanks in advance.
    Calvin Ogawa

    The issue doesn’t exist when you use any kind of email software installed on your computer, all messages are downloaded and stored on your computer and can be manipulated/saved/copied at will. The question applies to viewing Web Mail in your browser, where messages are stored on our server and there are no copies on your computer.
    Email Guy
  10. Hello – I’d like to add to the list of folks interested in how to download e-mail messages to my computer – it’s been a month since that intriguing posting from Webmail guy, but nothing seems to have appeared that I can find. Hope he’s ok – Fiona

  11. I would very much like to be able to save 200+ e-mails to a CD / harddrive. I don’t want to copy and paste each one. How do you do this?

  12. What happened to the red line which used to suround a link when it was clicked ? Yes I read the ground rules

    If you are referring to the underline on links changing color once they have been visited, Web Mail has never used that style. If you are talking about something else then I don’t understand, but we haven’t changed anything else about links other than hiding the underline until you mouse over the link. What you are seeing might be controlled by your browser settings.
    Email Guy
  13. I liked the “PRINTABLE VIEW” option I had so that my copy of incoming e-mail was large enough to read without a magnifying glass. Could we get that option returned?

    It is still there, click the Print button. If you don’t wish to actually print, just click Cancel when the printer dialog comes up.
    As for the text size, we use a very standard web font that is 12 pts on most of the text in Web Mail and is the right size for most users, so if it is too small you are probably using a very high screen resolution, which makes everything smaller. Most browsers now have a zoom feature to make things larger.
    Email Guy
  14. To save messages from WEB MAIL to your pc hard drive, there are two ways for text.
    The first method I use is to highlight the text you wish to save, then paste it in a notepad page and save it in the folder you want to save it in.
    The second method is to copy the note to INBOX if it is not there already, open it, and click PRINT, but do not click OK on the print dialog box. A window or tab should open with the contents of the mail you want to save. Then, click FILE and SAVE or SAVE AS and put it where you want it to go. This method saves all the header info automatically.
    For attachments, you need to open and/or save those attachments as separate files.
    Hey, that’s my two cents. And, I love WEBMAIL, especially the feature that creates 10MB of personal webspace for each email account that you establish.

  15. To make your notices about updates more readable, please use a darker shade of blue with the monospace font, or change the font.
    Thanks very much,

  16. please also include information on saving incoming and/or “hold” messages to my computer. Thanks..I am waiting breathlessly waiting since I am at 80 percent on my web mail. (The old netscape went had no limit, but l it quitsuddenly and your folk can’t fix it.)

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