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Gmail had some issues a few days ago and reseted some email accounts so many people now want to backup their Gmail account(s). I got this request by email so I though I'd suggest a very simple (and free) way to backup your Gmail account: using Thunderbird.

Using the exact instructions in this post, Thunderbird will not delete your Gmail emails and will not mark them as read so it acts exactly as a backup, without interfering with your actual emails. You can of course use this to send emails too (just like with any email client - I've used Thunderbird because it's easy to set up and cross-platform) but the purpose of this how-to is to use Thunderbird just to download your Gmail emails (so you can turn off the outgoing server if you want) so you have a local backup in case something goes wrong with your Gmail account.

If you want to backup your Gmail account online, you can use TrueSwitch to copy all your emails into your Hotmail account or use Backupify which is free for a regular (non custom domain) Gmail account.

How to backup your Gmail account using Thunderbird

1. To backup your Gmail account using Thunderbird you'll firstly need to enable POP in Gmail. To do this, go to Gmail settings and on the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" tab, under "POP Download" select "Enable POP for all mail (even mail that's already been downloaded)" under "1. Status". 

Under "2. When messages are accessed with POP", select "keep Gmail's Copy in the inbox":

Gmail POP settings

2. Now you can start Thunderbird and add a new mail account (File > New > Mail account). On the first screen, enter a name, your Gmail address and Gmail password, then click "Continue":

Gmail Thunderbird

3. On the next screen, Thunderbird will automatically download the Gmail settings from its database. If you use Thunderbird 3.1.x, this is how it will look:

Thunderbird gmail settings

Here, you must select "POP" instead of "IMAP" for the incoming server. If you use an older Thunderbird version, you may need to click "Edit" and select enter the settings manually for the incoming server (POP) and enter the following info for the incoming server: pop.googlemail.com, port: 995

Now click "Create Account".

Gmail Thunderbird

That's it! Now simply click "Get mail" and let the Gmail backup begin. Thunderbird will download all your Gmail emails - this will take a while. Now whenever you want to update the "backup", simply open Thunderbird and let it do its job.

If you're behind a firewall / router that blocks the incoming POP port (955), you can install TOR and then use it as a SOCKS proxy in the Thunderbird settings.

Thanks to JC for the suggestion!