A painting of me

Switching to IMAP

   29 August 2007, late at night

You may recall that I was using GMail as a way to read and reply to email all over the place. I had 1&1 (and then Dreamhost) forward all my email to a GMail account, as well as storing it for download via POP3. GMail lets you send emails as if they were from another account, so this worked well enough, but it was far from perfect. Emails I sent from the GMail web interface were stuck on Google’s servers unless I forwarded them to myself. Related to this, people started emailing me directly at this dummy GMail address. The dummy GMail account was supposed to be a mirror of my actual email account, but this wasn’t the case. Finally, I like using desktop applications. As nice as GMail is, I still find it slow and kludgey. This convoluted set-up existed because 1&1 didn’t support IMAP properly — or at all, as far as I could tell; Dreamhost, on the other hand, does.

IMAP exists to allow you to manage your emails on a central server. Many email clients have support for the IMAP protocol, including Thunderbird, which I use at work. I added a new IMAP account in Thunderbird, a pretty straightforward process, and used it for the day, sending emails and replying to ones I got.

When I got home and fired up Mail.app, the first thing I did was disable my current POP3 account and create a new IMAP one. Switching from POP3 to IMAP is fairly straightforward. For Dreamhost, the mail servers are exactly the same, you are just connecting on a different port. After doing this you’ll find a new IMAP account inbox under your local inbox, and under that any folders you’ve created on the server. By default, there should be folders to store drafts, sent mail, and junk mail. All set up, I checked my mail: at first I thought things were broken, because I had no new mail; looking more carefully, I realized that the mail I read at work was correctly marked as read — nice.

I erased the dummy GMail account I used to forward my Funkaoshi email to. Deleting a GMail account wasn’t as tricky as I had thought it would be. Google lets you pick a new email to use as your login. Google Talk, Google Reader, etc continue to work as they did before, you’ll just need to login again with your new credentials.

I don’t have any strong desire to have access to all my email anywhere I might be. I archive my mail each day, moving all the mail in my inbox to a local archive folder. Mail I have yet to respond to I let sit in my inbox, but if I haven’t replied to something after a week or two, chances are it really isn’t that important an email after all and i’ll archive it as well. This keeps my inbox fairly neat and tidy. I also move all the sent mail of the day to my local sent mail folder. Mail.app is set up so that any mail I send from my iMac is saved in the local folder. Thunderbird at work is set up so that any mail I send is saved to the server. In this way, my home machine is a repository for all my email. Both Thunderbird and Mail.app move Junk mail to local junk folders, and delete them when I quit the applications. I really don’t care to have Junk mail I read at work available when I get home. Drafts are always saved to the server, so that I can start an email at home, and finish it at work, or vice versa.

Dreamhost lets you check your mail via a shell session using Mutt, which is fast and works well enough. If I’m feeling nostalgic they also let you use Pine. You can also use the SquirrelMail web interface.

I’ve been using IMAP for a week now. It’s been working well thus far. I haven’t lost any email, or had anything go horribly wrong thus far. Mail.app’s IMAP support is supposed to be atrocious, but I haven’t hit any snags yet.

Now, I am left wondering how interesting my email habits and set up are to other people?



  1. you’re crazy. gmail is the most best. and if you don’t like it revealing who you are (behind the domain), sign up for a free google apps for your domain account.

  2. Well, there is also the part of me that doesn’t like the idea of hosting all my personal email at Google. Of course, since everyone I email has a GMail address, this is really a moot point. Really though I find typing emails in Google sucks compared to using a proper program.

  3. you might find this strange, but this post has really really hooked me up. My shell is going down soon and I was considering using Dreamhost for DNS and hosting, and one of my questions actually happened to be “can I run pine on a Dreamhost shell?”.

  4. Do you still use Pine. I found it so kludgey when I used it last, I can’t imagine how I stuck with it all through university.

    I wish I could still log into rees.math

  5. I do, but I don’t really need to do anything crazy with my e-mail. I just need to read and write it. I like the accessible-everywhereness of it without the stigma of webmail.

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