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How to move your Email accounts from one hosting provider to another without losing any mails?

You purchased a hosting account from a service provider and over a period of use have accumulated good number of emails in your Inbox on the hosting/mail server. You may also have lot of emails in your Sent box. You might have even created custom folders to organize your emails and thus have mails in each of those folders. Now, you are not happy with the current service and want to move to another provider. Read on to understand how you can move all your emails to the new provider's server.

I will explain a very simple method of moving all emails from your old hosting server to the new one. It does not matter whether the source and destination servers are run on the same platform or on different platforms. For instance, your source server may be on a Windows Helm and your destination server may be on Windows Plesk, or source may be on Windows Plesk and destination server may be on Linux Cpanel - it does not matter.

Using the method explained in this article, you will be able to move emails from an email account on any type of source server to another email account (of the same name or some other name) on any destination server.

The protocol that is used to connect, is IMAP. When you connect to your mail box using any browser based webmail interface, you essentially get connected to your mail server via IMAP, though you may not be aware of this. Did you know that you can replace your browser based webmail interface with a local email client such as outlook? Well, Yes - you can use outlook or any other email client that supports IMAP, to connect to your mail server, access all folders of your mail box and send and receive mails in exactly the same way you do with webmail.

Point to Note: When your outlook connects via IMAP, you are able to see all your server mail folders and mails stored in them only as long as you remain connected. The moment you disconnect your internet connection, everything vanishes from your local client. This is because you were only seeing a snapshot of what exists on the server. To permanently bring the mails in your local computer, all you need to do is select all mails and drag-drop them into folders that you physically created in your local email client. Once you do this, mails from the server will be removed and they will move into your local disk.

It is exactly this concept that we will utilize, to download all mails from old server (source) and push them on to the new server (destination).

Let us see how to do this. I will use a Microsoft Outlook email client to explain the entire process. However, once you understand the concepts, you can apply it on any other email client that you may have. The only requirement is that the email client installed in your local computer must support IMAP. Most email clients such as Outlook, Windows Mail, Eudera, Thunderbird, etc. support IMAP.

If you have several email accounts and lots of emails in each, be prepared to spend some time in a relaxed mode as this is a tedious process and takes time. For convenience of explaining the concepts, I will take the example of a single email address. Let us say that you have an email account sales@mydomain.com and you now need to move all mails in this email account to sales@mydomain.com newly created on another server.

Step 1 - Setup your email accounts on the new server

First purchase a new hosting account from another provider. Before purchasing, make sure to ask the new provider that their mail server supports IMAP (most mail servers do). Now, point your domain to the new hosting account by changing the domain's Name Servers. You will need to ask your new hosting provider what name servers you need to assign to your domain so that it begins pointing to the new server. Replace the existing name servers with the new ones. After having done this, immediately create all your email accounts on the new server.

Note: The moment you change the name servers of your domain, the DNS change starts propagating across the Internet. Full DNS propagation takes 4 days. During this period, in some networks your domain will point to the new server while in other networks it will point to the old server. Thus while the DNS transition is taking place, some mails will be received in the new server while others will be received in the old server.

Step 2 - Setup your email accounts in Outlook

Now, you need to setup two IMAP accounts in outlook. One for sales@mydomain.com on old server and the second one for sales@mydomain.com on the new server. Keep the following account configuration parameters handy - email account password, incoming and outgoing mail server IP addresses and corresponding port nos. Note that the DNS change may or may not have propagated in your network. So, you cannot use the fully qualified address names for the mail servers. For both source and destination email accounts, use the IP addresses of the incoming and outgoing mail servers. If you do not know the IP addresses ask the respective hosting providers.

To learn how to setup your IMAP accounts in outlook, read this article on how to access your mails using Microsoft Outlook via IMAP.

Step 3 - Move Emails folder by folder

The moment your setup for the two IMAP accounts is complete, you will see their mail folders appear in your outlook. Now, you can simply drag and drop the emails from one inbox folder to another.

Select a folder on the source mail box. All the emails in that folder will show up in outlook's right pane. Drag-and-drop mails (a few at a time) to corresponding folder in the new mail box. If that folder does not exist in the new mail box, create the same using standard outlook features. Note that custom folders created by you in the old mail box will not exist in the new mail box.

It is important that you handle a few emails at a time. Trying to move too many emails at the same time may crash outlook. After each drag-drop operation, wait for some time for outlook to download the mails from old server to the local disk and then push them from local disk to the new server. The amount of waiting would depend largely upon the speed of your internet connection.

Once you have moved all emails from all folders on the old mail box, you are done.

Step 4 - Repeat the process after 4 days

You must retain your old email accounts for at least 4 days. Since full DNS propagation takes 4 days time, during this period some of your emails may land in your old mail box. Hence, you must repeat all of the above steps after 4 days. Thereafter, you can safely delete your old email accounts on the old server.

Now, you can remove the two IMAP accounts you created in outlook. Go to Tools » Account Settings, select the account configuration that you wish to delete and click at Remove button.


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About the Author

Rajeev Kumar
CEO, Computer Solutions
Jamshedpur, India

Rajeev Kumar is the primary author of How2Lab. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur with several years of experience in IT education and Software development. He has taught a wide spectrum of people including fresh young talents, students of XLRI, industry professionals, and govt. officials.

Rajeev has founded Computer Solutions & WebServicesWorldwide.com, and has hands-on experience of building variety of web applications and portals, that include - SAAS based ERP & e-commerce systems, independent B2B, B2C, Matrimonial & Job portals, and many more.

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