How to preserve iOS email messages

Greetings everyone.

I’m changing email hosting providers. In iOS mail, if I change the account and server settings for my new provider will the current email messages remain or will they disappear? My current account is set up as POP. I know, IMAP is supposed to be better, but POP just fits my working style better.

Many thanks in advance, John

POP works for me, too. However this scenario was a problem…
I updated my wife’s five-and-a-half year old iPhone 6s+ to an iPhone 13. It appeared to go well. When my wife looked at the newly-populated iPhone13, she found that her saved (undeleted) emails only went back 30 days.

This is because my Mac email client automatically removes emails from the POP server after 30 days. This is a server setting for Thunderbird that I use on macOS. iOS Mail has a similar setting. I move emails I want to keep to another folder on my Mac.
If you set removal to “Never”, it should be OK. (Until the server fills up and does something without telling you.)

So don’t change the old account when you set up your new one. Then if you don’t get a new phone or re-initialize your current phone, it will retain what you have on the old account alongside the new account.
However, unless the old account is “Active” (under Settings > Mail > Accounts), iOS Mail won’t display the retained emails. When I am traveling I turn some accounts to “Inactive”, and I see this happening.
I guess you could keep the old account as “Active”, but let the log-in fail every time, which would give you an annoying message. Maybe there is some other iOS account server setting to make logging in a dummy value?

It’s not only better, POP has been abandoned and obsolete for years. Most ISP’s (including Apple) abandoned it as an option years ago. I can’t image what in your working style would make it better.


First of all, “most” ISPs support POP. For example, I use hotmail (Microsoft), gmail (Google), spectrum (cable ISP), and the service on which I have my own domain.

Now let me give you an image of how POP works and IMAP is less convenient for me.
There are some emails on my accounts that my wife wants to receive. Often she does not look at them, and as a result they clutter up my inbox. On IMAP, I can’t delete them from my phone without deleting them from her phone. On POP, I can delete whatever I no longer need.

On POP, I can back up my saved emails to my own backup drives or cloud services.
On IMAP, the server fills and at some point the ISP starts removing your emails. Oh, and Apple provides NO way to back up email from an IMAP account. iMazing and iCloud are limited to the API that Apple provides, which assumes that email is on the server and won’t back it up.
OK, you can carefully download your IMAP emails to back them up.
I prefer the control of a POP account, where I have the email on my device(s) and can back it up as I please.

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POP3 isn’t much different in that case - people emailing you will just get errors that your mailbox is full and new messages won’t be received.

My wife and I also have one shared mailbox, from our ISP, but I just leave messages there so she can see them and clean things up of old messages which she hasn’t already deleted (or archived, but really only I do that) every month or so. Neither of us have lost a single message on the several mail accounts we have that we didn’t delete on our own using IMAP.


I understand that you may not interested, but for others reading this, you can backup from Mail by using the Export Mailbox function. This creates a standard mbox file that can be read by many applications.


Nothing about IMAP prevents you from moving messages to a local folder, which stores everything on your computer instead of on the server.

You can back up that folder like anything else on your computer, and nothing done on the server can affect messages you put there.

But, like with POP, messages moved to a local folder won’t be accessible from any other computers or from any other mail apps.


Here’s a suggestion, how about people post only if they can actually answer the OP’s original question and solve their issue? How about people refrain from posting if they can’t fix the OP’s issue but instead choose to argue/lecture the OP if/how/why their solution is backwards/outdated/stupid? The OP owes nobody an explanation for why they choose to do certain things a certain way. Chances are they have a perfectly fine reason for sticking to POP. Why would anybody assume without knowing details, they’re so much smarter than the OP? Whatever happened to “if you having nothing nice (helpful) to say, don’t say anything at all”?

To get back to the original topic, I too would be curious to learn how to deal with this using only iOS. On Mac Mail we can, as @bb1 already pointed out, use Mail’s export to make an archive that we can then back up or use to transfer to another computer. But I would be curious what the counterpart on iOS would be. Obviously, iOS Mail doesn’t support any such export to local storage or cloud storage, but is there perhaps a trustworthy 3rd-party app that could do that for somebody who has iOS only? Ideally perhaps exploiting all the mail settings/credentials already entered by the user into Settings > Mail > Accounts ?


Thank you for all the responses.

Here’s the reason why I like POP. On my laptop Mail running Monterey, I have probably a dozen mailboxes in the On My Mac section and a slew of mail rules to organize and keep track of my messages. I really need only a fraction of these messages on my phone or iPad.

It’s my assumption, and perhaps I am wrong, that with IMAP if I delete a message from my phone it will be deleted everywhere and this is definitely not what I want to have happen.

The main reason for my original post is I want to know if I will lose the messages on my phone or iPad when I create a new mail account.

Regards, John

You are correct. IMAP is showing you what is on the server. Whatever you do locally happens to the server and vice versa. So if you don’t want to delete the message from the server, don’t delete it from your phone.

Don’t worry about your phone’s mailbox filling up. Any reasonable IMAP app will purge your local copy of messages you haven’t recently viewed, and will re-download the content when you next view the message.

If you don’t want to see the message on your phone, consider moving older messages to a folder or use a smart mailbox (e.g. one that only shows unread messages and those read within the last 2 weeks or something similar) to hide older messages that you don’t want to see but don’t want to delete.

Getting back to your question, though:

If your old account was using POP, then the messages you downloaded are going to be on your phone and not on the server (unless you explicitly configured your POP client to not remove messages after download).

If you delete your old mail account from the phone, its messages will get deleted. And if that’s your only copy, they will be gone.

But it’s not as bad as it seems. You can create your new mail account without deleting the old one. Do this instead of changing the configuration of your existing mail account.

Even when the old account is shutdown, your local mailboxes will not go away until you delete the account from your phone, even if that account can no longer fetch new messages from the server.

So you can keep the old mailbox(es) as an archive for as long as you want to keep them.

Or you can move them to local folders on the new account if you want to keep them all in the same place. And once they’re all moved, there won’t be anything to lose if you later delete the old account.

And, of course, this is an advantage of POP over IMAP. With IMAP, once you lose access to the server, you will lose access to the messages (at least anything not already cached locally). If you decide to drop an IMAP mail provider, you must move the messages elsewhere (e.g. local folders) before you lose access to the server. Whereas with POP, what you have on your device will remain there until you choose to delete it.


Is this right? Been a while since I used POP on iOS, but IIRC it did support an entirely selective access, at the very least selective deletion, metaphor, and “felt” like IMAP. So are the emails actually downloaded and cached in full, even if not accessed?

I don’t know what iOS is doing in particular, but the nature of POP is that your client is not viewing server-hosted files. It is meant to download them for local storage.

If someone else later deletes the message from the server, your POP client should not auto-delete your local copy. While not necessarily a violation of the POP protocol, I think it runs contrary to the behavior most POP users expect.

As for selective deletion, this is something I’ve read about clients doing. POP provides the option for the client to leave the message on the server after download, and provides a means to delete individual messages from the server.

So a client could do what you describe, but that’s still not the same as what IMAP is doing. For illustration, think about the situation where a single server has three clients (let’s say a Mac, an iPhone and an iPad).

If all three support POP in the way you are describing, then each client would download the message from the server as a part of its periodic checking for new mail. Each device would have a local copy of the message. When you delete the message from one client, it will be deleted from the server. But the other clients will retain their copies. You’ll have to delete the message from all three devices if you want to completely delete it.

If all three are running IMAP, however, each will get the list of metadata (subjects, addresses) as a part of checking for mail. The clients might download the contents at the same time, but they don’t have to. When you open a message to view it, the client will download the content at that time (if it hasn’t already done so). If you delete a message from any client, it will be deleted from the server. And the other clients will delete their content for that message the next time they check the server for new mail.

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Mmm, the POP protocol provides facilities for learning which messages are in a mailbox by identifier (UIDL) and for only retrieving headers or part of a message (TOP). And, although I can’t remember which client it was, I know for a fact that some mobile client would present a list of messages prior to download. Mac Mail will by default not delete messages for some time after initially retrieving them, and it will mark for deletion email that you delete locally, if it hasn’t already done so. And, of course, nothing prevents a client from using the message list to identify messages that are already deleted to delete the same messages locally, although doing so would be risky because the spec says that nothing prevents the server from automatically deleting mail to free up space.

I think you’re right that it is contrary to expectations, certainly, to use POP like IMAP. However it was quite a while since RFC 1939 was written, and I don’t think mobiles are expected to work just like desktops. As it happens, that’s the way that I prefer to use POP, which I do (much to my surprise and delight) when vacuuming the mail spool of a couple of my servers, which would otherwise never get cleared of system notifications. POP lives! :)

I know it’s a fool’s errand to try and understand Apple’s thinking these days but… Why can’t they just create a “On My Phone” or “On My iPad” system of local mailbox folders like they did with “On My Mac”?

On the subject of old mail retention with Thunderbird, I echo the suggestion to set Server Settings to never delete (automatically). This will still enable you to manually delete items. I also like to set Trashed items to be kept for at least a week (2 weeks even better). This give you a chance to recover accidentally trashed items.

When configuring Thunderbird or other desktop mail apps the first time or to do a separate “backup” of mail, before starting I always DISABLE NETWORKING on that device. Use Airplane mode, turn off WiFi, pull out an ethernet cord or disabe in System Prefs > Network.

Be sure to check Networking has been disabled by trying to access a reliable web site in your browser.

Then open Thunderbird (or other app) and do your configuration, being certain to change the Server Settings to NEVER delete mail and NOT automatically check for new mail.

This can be a little tricky if you are configuring an account for the first time, as it will try and connect to the server. I advise Quitting the app, reopening, and then re-checking your settings. Once you see the “never delete” setting already there and saved, it should be ok to begin checking mail.

Having done this routine for a few people over the years I get very diligent about checking the setting 2 or 3 times after app Quit and relaunches to make sure the setting has stuck, before moving on.

As I have suggested in previous threads, Mail Steward converts Apple Mail emails into a searchable mySQL database. This avoids the risk of archived emails not being accessible because of app updates etc.
My data goes back nearly 20 years (and is backed up on bluray disks).

I use and recommend Mail Archiver X from Moth Software, which has a discount for TidBits members.
Mail Archiver X also creates a local, searchable database from all email accounts on Mail and Thunderbird, whether they are POP or IMAP accounts.
Of course, you can back up the local database however you please.

Of course, if you’re already running your own IMAP server, and you have fast full-text search set up, then there’s also the option of simply using IMAP. Thus concludes the cycle of increasingly off-topic threads, by finally just telling the OP they’re doing it all wrong. :)

Q: Do you find the Mail Steward or Mail Archiver X apps are good with keeping & dealing with both separate attachments and in-body attachments (eg. pictures, etc.)?

I often have emails where the sender (usually a company/organisation) adds in-body images, that annoyingly disappear (weeks/months/years) later when going back to re-read the message; presumably because those images are embedded from a server, so the sender purges them sometime later on, leaving emails with blank holes in them where the images once were.

It would be nice for downloaded emails to stay intact, without those images with info on them disappearing.

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I don’t have extensive experience retrieving the different embedding formats.
I did retrieve an attached photo (that my wife was looking for) from an email in 2008 on a POP account.
Maybe ask the developer what is possible?