Sunday, April 24, 2011

I lost my mail (IMAP)

It is a constant complaint, that mail just disappears from the thunderbird folders.  I have used the program for years without any issue but one.  So why has my experience been so different! the answer to that is I understand the email process and go looking for the obvious traps that other don't know to look for.

Todays I am going to look at the things that make mail disappear in IMAP accounts.

The first of these is inherently linked to the fundamental difference between IMAP and POP mail and for those that are used to POP, it is a real trap.  Most Mail providers, (excluding the free ones, ironic huh), only offer limited mail storage on the server and instead institute an aging process which will automatically delete mails when they reach a certain time from the date delivered.  If your mail is consistently disappearing if it is 30 days old, this is most likely the cause. The time frame may vary, but it will be consistent accross all of your folders.

It has become common for people to access their mail on more than one device often a mobile phone and a computer.  Mobile phones almost ALL use the IMAP protocol to get mail.  This is partially as people rarely want to do more email on their phone than they have to, and using IMAP leaves a copy on the server to be downloaded onto the computer, but mainly because it provides synchronization of mail between devices.  This synchronization is all good, until you throw a mail client into the mix that is configured as POP.   What happens is that POP deletes the mail off the server as soon as it downloads it,  or in the case of Thunderbird 7 days latter.  The net result is that the mail inexplicably disappears from the other devices as soon as it is deleted by the POP client.  Welcome to the wonderful world of synchronized mail on devices.

The third of the I lost my mail is simply not understanding the synchronized nature of IMAP.  The phone memory is getting full so delete some mail to free space. I have a copy on the desktop anyway.  Not any more you don't.  Deleting it on the phone with automatically lead to it being deleted on the server and the other connected devices as soon as they connect to the server.


  1. I am having same problem after updating today from prompt to do so...

    really bad situation

    cant solve it

    tried everything

    constantly gong to "edit" folder prperties and even that does not work..

    this is a royal (not wedding) screw up!

  2. post a support request on get satisfaction someone (it might even be me) will try and sort it out with you.

  3. I've carefully read through your article but I can't see anything to explain what's been happening to my account. Periodically, the oldest kept emails disappear from my Inbox. This has happened twice that I know of, in the 3 months that I have been using Thunderbird.

    I have checked both the Inbox folder settings and Account settings to ensure the 'automatically delete after X Days' boxes are not ticked - they are not. In both cases, the 'Never Delete' boxes are ticked.

    I have Thunderbird set to leave email messages on the server, but strangely, I noticed today that the date of the oldest messages on the server (June 3) coincides with the date of the oldest messages in my Thunderbird Inbox (June 3). How could this be, when I had already downloaded messages dating back to 16 May, and had them stored in my Inbox? It seems in sone way that the server and Thunderbird Inbox are sychronised - but this doesn't make sense to me. How could they be?

    I've searched all over the web for answers to this dilemma, but can't find anything that equates with my current issue. If you have any advice, I would be most appreciative.


    1. The same thing is happening to me now, have you found the solution?

  4. Ross, as you might have guessed, I don't read comments very often. Your problem is quite likely that you have an IMAP account

    and you service provider has some sort of automatic aging and deletion policy.

    For help post a question at Get Satisfaction