How best to retire an email account?

I have an email account for a business I closed a couple of years ago. The account has around 18 years of messages – about 50K messages, many with attachments, in 9 GB.

I want to retire the account – meaning I want to archive the messages somewhere then delete the account from my hosting service, Dreamhost. I am not interested in replicating the messages to PDF, like some of the advice I’ve seen, since 99% of them will never be looked at again. I just need offline access to the messages occasionally in case an issue arises where a former client needs info. That will become increasingly rare the longer the business is shut.

One issue is that I bought software over the years using that account’s address, and I still use some of that software. I’ll plan to work through this and transfer licenses and change the contact info to a Gmail account that the business used.

Once that is done, I was planning to use Mail to export the mailbox to an .mbox and archive that somewhere. Will it be possible to open that .mbox when needed, in Mail, and search the mail? Will all the attachments also get moved into the .mbox by Mail?

Any suggestions?

Thanks much,

If you use a mail client that generates traditional .eml files those are straight-up text files that many, many programs can read - including EagleFiler, DEVONthink, etc. Or they can be imported into a mail client that supports them.

Attachments are stored right in the body of the message, so yes - attachments would go to either the .eml files or the .mbox.


Hi Robert – I’m not planning to change mail clients, if that’s what you’re suggesting. Right now, the account is accessed via Apple Mail. I’m wondering if I can export the account’s messages with attachments to an .mbox and then in the future if I need to locate an old message I would open the .mbox and search for the message.

Since the odds are that I’ll only need to find one or two messages a year this way, exporting all the messages to individual files seems like a lot of work with not much value.

Am I missing something?

Thanks for helping,

I was suggesting .eml in case you already deal with software like DEVONthink, EagleFiler, etc. Much easier to access in that format if you want options for searching.

If you’re happy with using Apple Mail to access them in the future, and you just don’t want them on the IMAP server anymore, just make a local folder in the “On My Mac” section and move all the messages there. They’ll move out of the IMAP account and just sit in a local folder for whenever you want to access them. That way you can just leave them in Apple Mail and call it good, rather than importing / exporting.

Perfectly sensible advice.

Thank you!

I routinely archive my mail as both .eml (individual messages) and .mbox (folders) in case I need to access a message (i.e., exact same use case as you’ve outlined). It’s easy to import into Apple Mail to read on the odd occasion I do find I want to look at an old email. I archive the .eml and .mbox files in the file system and only import them into Apple Mail when I find I need to look at an old email. I file them either by project/subject or by year so it is easy to identify what .eml/.mbox files can be deleted when I am certain I no longer need them. I prefer to archive my mail this way, rather than leave it On My Mac in Apple Mail, since they are messages that, like you, I don’t need to view regularly and I am keeping for a certain length of time as a “just in case”. All attachments are archived with the messages.

You may want to keep the email address active for awhile after you’ve cleaned things up and transferred software licenses to your gmail. I recently cleaned up decommissioned email addresses for a business, and I did find I needed access to the old, unused email address a few times after I thought I had completed all tasks that would require access to that email (e.g., password resets for forgotten accounts). Leaving the account open a bit longer as a precaution was useful.


Based on your suggestion, I just did this. My email Archive folder in iCloud was huge, now it has been culled down to just CY 2022. Each year I will move the previous year’s emails from “Archives In iCloud” to “Archives On My Mac”. Thank you.

You’re welcome - just make sure you keep backups. :slight_smile:

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Just be aware that there are some limits as to how many message Apple Mail can actually handle without becoming glacially slow and also flakey. I had to dump out of Apple mail some 83K individual messages that I still need access to. I use all POP email so all my messages were already on my mac. Once I had them out I deleted them out of Apple Mail.


This is a timely thread!

I’m on a similar quest. I’ve been storing my email in DEVONthink, but after 6 years they still haven’t created the ability to import encrypted email, so I’m looking for an alternate solution.

Some of the comments/questions for me are as follows:

  1. Saving the emails as eml files will give long and duplicate file names for threads and introduce characters into the filename that could cause problems. This would be a lot of work to clean up and make useable.
  2. 85K emails in a folder structure is going to add significant load to accessing those folders. Especially if they have attachments.
  3. How do you search them? Is it possible to add a local folder into something like Mailmate? (Mail App is far too buggy for such an amount of email IMHO.)
  4. Is mbox a better format? It only creates one file with thousands of emails. How do you access and search the emails?
  5. Would using Mu in the commandline work? Store them in Maildir format and use Mu for searching, viewing, adding/removing messages, extracting attachments, exporting/searching address lists, creating maildirs… This of course would not work if you needed them in the cloud or across devices.
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This is another reason why I archive email in the file system and not in Apple Mail. I have also experienced a decline in speed and an increase in crashes/flakiness when Apple Mail gets full (IMAP setup). The emails I archive are being saved as a “just in case”. I don’t need to search within/for them or view them regularly, so I remove them from Apple Mail to keep things speedy.

I define an archived email as one that I no longer need access to but may need/wish to access in the future. Emails that are not archived (i.e., I need regular access to them or to search for/within them) are kept in either Apple Mail or DEVONThink. Most stay in Apple Mail, but some project-related emails are moved to DEVONThink with the other project files until the whole project gets archived. I don’t use DTTG, so I also keep anything needed cross-device in Apple Mail.

Yeah, I’ve definitely had that happen too. Honestly, most email clients aren’t designed to handle obscene amounts of old emails. I’ve found MailMate to be better than most, though.

I’m assuming Apple Mail can handle the messages in this case, because OP currently apparently uses Apple Mail for this inbox - but possible that future use could become an issue depending on volume.

ETA: this goes back to what I’m always telling my customers. Email accounts - ESPECIALLY IMAP - are not designed to be robust, long-term places to store things that are important. It’s almost always best for anything that’s critical for reference purposes to live somewhere else.

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