Mammoth free storage and easy organisational tools makes Gmail the perfect candidate for backing up your existing email account. Here's how to use auto-forwarding to create a searchable archive of your incoming email.
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If you're already using Gmail as your main client, you'll know its benefits (really good search facilities) and quirks (not all of us want threaded conversations). Even if (like me) you prefer a desktop client for your day-to-day email needs, or you use another provider, there are a host of good reasons to have your incoming email forwarded to a Gmail account as well.
You'll create an automatic backup of all your email, and have a means of accessing it whether you have your main machine to hand or not. You can easily maintain "inbox zero" on your main machine but know that older messages are safely stored in the cloud. Unless you receive a ludicrous amount of mail, it'll take several years before you exceed Google's generous (7GB+) storage limits on its free accounts; at that point, you can either clear out older mail or pay for one of Google's storage expansion packs. And if you've shifted from another account, auto-forwarding makes sure you won't miss messages sent to your old address.
If you don't already have a Gmail account, it's easy to create one. How you set up forwarding will depend on the kind of email account you have: we've outlined several possible scenarios below. (You could also follow these instructions with a non-Gmail account; we've focused on Gmail because of its popularity amongst Lifehacker readers.)
You have your own domain and email
If your hosting provider offers email as part of their package, there'll almost certainly be an option to set auto-forwarding. The exact steps will vary, so you may need to check online help from your provider, but if your host uses cPanel (the most common option) it will work something like this:
- Sign into your cPanel console (often found at www.yourdomain.com/cpanel). Your provider should have supplied you with a username and password.
- Look for the Mail section of the panel, and click on Forwarders.
- Click on the 'Add Forwarder' button.
- On the next form, type in the email address you want to automatically forward in the 'Address to forward field' — you'll need to select the relevant domain if you're running more than one — and enter your Gmail address into the 'Forward to email address' field.
- Click 'Add Forwarder' and you're done.
You use Hotmail
- After signing into Hotmail, click on the Options link in the top right corner, and then select 'More options' from the drop-down menu.
- Under 'Manage your account', click on 'Forward mail to another e-mail account'.
- Select the 'Forward your mail to another e-mail account' option and enter your Gmail address in the box.
- Make sure you've ticked the 'Keep a copy of forwarded messages' option if you're planning to keep using Hotmail as your main account. (If you're not, note that you still need to sign in every 270 days to prevent the account being deactivated.)
- Click Save to save your changes.
You use Yahoo! Mail
- After signing into Yahoo! Mail, click on the Options link in the top right corner, and then select 'More options' from the drop-down menu.
- Select POP & Forwarding in the left-hand list.
- Click on the 'Forward your Yahoo!7 mail' button and enter your Gmail address in the box.
- Click the Save changes button (towards the top of the screen).
You use ISP email
If your mail account comes directly from your ISP (that is, your account ends in the domain name of your provider, such as bigpond.com or iinet.net.au) you may be able to auto-forward your mail — it depends on the way your ISP has set up its mail systems, and you'll need to check its online help to be sure (Optus, for instance, doesn't seem to allow it). Here's the help documents for auto-forwarding from some of Australia's larger ISPs:
Got another auto-forwarding technique we haven't covered here? Share it in the comments.
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