Mail server

How to Move Your Mac’s Emails to a Mail Server for iPhone and iPad Access

Those with long memories may remember that in the early days of the Internet and for many years there were two methods of retrieving email from a server: POP3 and IMAP. (POP and POP2 were long gone when the Internet became open to everyone.)

POP3 was designed to extract email and delete it from the server, and it was apparently relatively simple for email software developers to implement. IMAP was more sophisticated, allowing you to manage emails on a server in folders and have copies cached locally. But it took many years before IMAP software on servers and in email software was what you would call reliable and predictable.

But this division informs how people store emails. You may have opted at some point for either POP3 or IMAP (whatever you use today) to download and delete emails. All of your messages are in a local folder on your Mac. But it prevents you from checking for messages when you’re away from your computer, unless you use some sort of remote access to reconnect to it.

You probably use IMAP today, and Apple Mail and most email clients automatically leave all messages on the server. However, you can change this behavior in Mail:

  1. In Mail, choose Mail > Preferences > Accounts.

  2. Select an account and click Mailbox behaviors.

  3. From the context menu of each mailbox type, such as Drafts and Sent, you can choose a folder on the server or a folder from the On My Mac list. If you choose the latter, the mail is downloaded and deleted on recovery.

If you store your email entirely on your Mac, you can reverse this trend. Mail, on the other hand, allows drag-and-drop movement of email messages.

First, check that you have enough storage space. Most modern email hosts offer many gigabytes or even hundreds of gigabytes of storage for your messages and associated attachments, although you can delete attachments to reduce space. You may have to pay for upgraded storage or even switch mail hosts if you’re using an older one that still limits disk space to single gigabytes instead of up to terabytes.

Now you have several options for copying or moving messages:

  • Create a folder on the mail service in the list of mailboxes (choose View > Show Mailbox List if you don’t see it) for messages you want to move or use an existing folder. Select the messages under On My Mac and drag them into this folder. They remain on your Mac and are copied to the new location.

  • Drag entire folders from the On My Mac list to the email account. Folders are created in the new location and messages are copied.

  • Select messages or folders and click the Move To button in the toolbar. This copies the selected items to the single destination you choose from the drop-down menu, then removes them from the source. This means that these messages will no longer be on your Mac.

  • You can also Control-click the toolbar, choose Customize Toolbar, and drag the Copy Items icon to the toolbar (its icon looks like a folder with a + in a square above) and click Done. Then you can select messages and folders, click the Copy Items icon, and copy them to a destination as if you had dragged them.

Keeping copies both on the server and on your Mac isn’t a bad idea for extra security by making sure you have backups. However, be sure to determine the locations you are looking for when searching Mail, otherwise you will receive duplicate responses for all copied messages.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Neil.

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