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macrumors newbie
Original poster
Feb 23, 2021
Hello all,

I have a long question regarding using local storage in Apple Mail vs "cloud" or "server" storage. My mom has several email accounts that are active in Apple Mail. She has several gmail and one icloud account. She has all of her subfolders like a folder called personal, family, receipts, online orders, etc. listed under the section called "on my mac" in Apple Mail. Inside each of those folders, she has several emails from multiple email accounts. How can I, in a simple way, explain to her A.) what icloud is and what it does, and B.). how she can get her emails out of those locally stored folders and move them to cloud folders for each account? Am I correct that she would have to move all of her emails out of those folders back to the inbox, create those folders for each email account, and then move the emails back in to those folders under the server account in the appropriate folders per email account? In other words, she has, for example, a folder called online orders, however, she has an email from an online order that was sent to "X" email address and an email from an online order that was sent to "Y" email address. Am I correct that she'd have to make sure she puts the "X" email from her online orders folder to the online orders folder under "X" email address and then the email from an online order that was sent to "Y" email address and drag that email to the online orders folder under "Y" email account? In other words, she'd have to do that for every single email that's stored locally in those folders under the "On My Mac" section so that she'd be using cloud based folders and be able to download her entire email account, sub folders and all, on any device she has? By the way, she is not able to search for any email via portal, whether it be for gmail or icloud, because all of her emails that aren't in her inbox are stored locally on her laptop under "On My Mac". She'd have to move any email to her inbox to be able to search for it via web portal, correct?


macrumors G3
Jul 3, 2011
Happy Jack, AZ
The short answer is maybe, and maybe not. It depends on the type of email account (IMAP or POP3) and if IMAP, if the email still remains on the original IMAP server.

I had a similar setup that kind of evolved over time... much of my email was POP3, and so downloading it gave me a copy on my local machine. The POP3 structure is typically configured to delete the email from the server after some specified time frame (most of mine was set to 30 days). In that case, the copy on my local machine was all there was... and the original copy that was left on the server was deleted after 30 days.

Additionally, I had a couple of IMAP accounts. As you may know, IMAP keeps the email stored on the server until it's deleted, and when you have an IMAP client configured to read an email, you are reading the original email from the IMAP server. When the email is deleted in this case, it's *POOF* deleted everywhere (because there's only one copy that all clients access to view the single copy of the email).

I my case, I was so locked into the "On My Mac" folders and the way that I had my mail configured, I set up filters in MAIL to COPY the incoming email into the appropriate folder (personal, friends, receipts, etc).

Fast forward several (ok, more than 10) years... I find it much easier to just set labels on my GMAIL IMAP account and leave the email on the GMAIL IMAP servers... I was able to do that with the mail that was still on the IMAP servers going all the way back... but I was stuck with no options for the POP3 stuff that I had "filed away" in folders ON MY MAC. Fortunately, over the past 10+ years, ALL of my email accounts had converted to IMAP, so while I did lose some old emails, everything for the past probably 8 years or so is IMAP and now totally accessible via my macOS mail client (Postbox).

With regard to your final question, IF the email is hosted on an IMAP server, it can be accessed where ever it is (archive, inbox, specific folders/labels) within that email structure ON THE IMAP server - it would not necessarily need to be in the INBOX.

I can almost guarantee that any mail hosted in a POP3 account is gone after 30 days since first read (or less). The reason that she may not be able to find email on the server (IMAP accounts) would be because the email no longer exists on the server...


macrumors G3
Feb 13, 2011
Baltimore, Maryland
The IMAP question is important for the Gmail accounts. First, make sure that they're set up as IMAP and not POP3.

If everything is set up as IMAP then your mom can move any mail from any account or "On My Mac" folder to any folder on any account. She doesn't have to go through any Inbox or worry about in which account they arrived.

As long as she has enough storage on a Gmail account she can create folders with the same names as the ones she has "On My Mac" and move/copy those emails to the new folders.

This copying can take some time, depending on her internet upload speed, as the emails and attachments are actually being uploaded to Google's servers.

Be patient with this uploading and heed this:

One caveat is that an occasional email can be corrupt and cause a hiccup/failure in the copying process. So, if there are hundreds of emails that need to be copied do them in smaller groups (such as date ranges) of 50 or so. If a particular group keeps failing to copy properly then a corrupt email in that group is probably the issue…narrow down the group to pinpoint the bad email.

Once you're satisfied that all the emails are now online in a Gmail account you can delete the "On My Mac" emails.
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