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A Python package for creating full backups of IMAP mailboxes


python3 -m pip install --user imapbackup3

Command line usage

usage: imapbackup3 [-h] [-y] [-f FOLDERS] [-e] [-k KEY] [-c CERT] -s HOST
                   [-P PORT] -u USER [-p PASSWORD] [-m MAILBOX] [-t SECS]

Back up E-mail messages from an IMAP server. mbox files are created in the
current working directory.

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -y, --yes-overwrite-mboxes
                        Overwite existing mbox files instead of appending
  -f FOLDERS, --folders FOLDERS
                        Specifify which folders use. Comma separated list.
  -e, --ssl             Use SSL. Port defaults to 993.
  -k KEY, --key KEY     PEM private key file for SSL. Specify cert, too.
  -c CERT, --cert CERT  PEM certificate chain for SSL. Specify key, too.
                        Python's SSL module doesn't check the cert chain.
  -s HOST, --server HOST
                        Address of server (without port)
  -P PORT, --port PORT  Server port (defaults to 143 without and 993 with SSL)
  -u USER, --user USER  Username to log into server
  -p PASSWORD, --password PASSWORD
                        Prompts for password if not specified. If the first
                        character is '@', treat the rest as a path to a file
                        containing the password. Leading '' makes it literal.
  -m MAILBOX, --mailbox MAILBOX
                        Local e-mail storage format. Possible values: mbox
                        (default), Maildir
  -t SECS, --timeout SECS
                        Sets socket timeout to SECS seconds.
  --thunderbird         Create Mozilla Thunderbird compatible mailbox

Python usage

Minimal example (using SSL on port 993):

from imapbackup3 import IMAPBackup
with IMAPBackup(host='', user='myuser', password='mypassword') as imb:

Full example:

from imapbackup3 import IMAPBackup
with IMAPBackup(
    folders=['INBOX', 'INBOX.Sent'],
) as imb:

Usage of the message filter

A function msg_filter can be passed to the download_all_messages method that takes an email.message.EmailMessage instance as input and either returns the same instance again (which will not change anything), returns None (which will filter out the message) or returns a modified instance (which will store the modified message). (Stupid) example:

def my_filter(msg):
    if 'SPAM' in msg['subject']:
        return None
    msg['subject'] += ' (no Spam)'
    return msg



This package is based on a script by Rui Carmo. Original description:

This was first published around 2007 (probably earlier) on my personal site, and it was originally developed to work around the then rather limited (ok, inconsistent) Mac OS X functionality and allow me to back up my old mailboxes in a fully standard mbox format (well, at least as much as mbox can be considered a standard...).

Somewhat to my surprise it was considered useful by quite a few people throughout the years, and contributions started coming in. Given that there seems to be renewed interest in this as a systems administration tool, I'm posting the source code here and re-licensing it under the MIT license.


Inherited from imapbackup

  • ZERO dependencies.
  • Copies every single message from every single folder (or a subset of folders) in your IMAP server to your disk.
  • Does incremental copying (i.e., tries very hard to not copy messages twice).
  • Tries to do everything as safely as possible (only performs read operations on IMAP).
  • Is completely and utterly free (distributed under the MIT license).

New features

  • Python 3 compatible
  • Supports mbox or Maildir formats
  • Can be imported and used as library
  • When used as a library, messages can be filtered or modified on the fly


This package requires Python 3.6.

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