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How to Move your Local Folders into your IMAP account

This document explains in general terms how to move “local” mail folders onto the mail server.  By “local” we mean mail folders that are listed only in your client software (e.g. Thunderbird, Outlook, Apple Mail) and do not appear when you login to the Hamilton mail server.  Local folders are typically used to store old mail, excess mail or mail you don’t need to access when you are away from campus.  It resides strictly on the hard drive of your computer.

Thunderbird IMAP folder diagram

Example:   Thunderbird (Windows & Macintosh)

These are the folders that appear in your client software (e.g. Thunderbird) and will also appear on the mail server.  These are typically referred to as your IMAP folders.

These are the folders in which you may have stored old mail, excess mail or mail you don’t need to see when you are away from campus.  The folders are located only on the hard drive of your computer and are therefore not visible when you login to the Hamilton web mail server.

NOTE: In Microsoft Outlook, the local folders are called Personal Folders and appear at the top of the list of folders.  In Mac Mail your local folders will appear at the top of your list of folders and may be in a section labeled “On My Mac”.

Gmail provides 40 gigabytes (GB) of storage, which should accommodate most peoples’ needs.  You can easily determine your exact quota usage by logging in to your Gmail account and then look to the bottom of the screen.

Example quota in Gmail.
Gmail quota

Moving Your Local Mail to Gmail

How to move a folder

Regardless of the client software you use, the process of moving a folder is essentially the same. Note that in some e-mail software (e.g. MS Outlook), a “move folder” feature exists, which makes the process very easy. It assumes you wish to move the entire content of a mail folder. However, ITS recommends you copy your local folders first to Gmail and then compare the folders in your client and Gmail to ensure the local folders have all been copied. See below for instructions. You can move a folder back to your local folders if you change your mind.  Moving only selected messages is described below in the Problems? section.

  1. Start by clicking once on the folder name.  This is usually sufficient to highlight the folder in the list of folders. 
  2. With the folder name highlighted, click on it once more but do not release the mouse button. 
  3. With the mouse button still held down, carefully move the folder to the name of your account (which typically appears above your first IMAP mail folder).  In the example above, the IMAP account is called NOTE: If the folders are very far apart you can move the mouse to the top of (or bottom) until the list starts to scroll.  If it fails to scroll you may have to move the folder in stages.
  4. When you are directly over the name of your IMAP account, the name will highlight (darken).  This is how you know you are “on” it.  Now it is safe to release the mouse button. Doing so will start transferring a copy of the folder.
  5. Depending on how much mail is in the folder you moved, the time it takes to create the new folder and copy its contents may be brief or may take several seconds.  It is important to be patient.
  6. After the folder has been successfully copied to your IMAP account, you can compare its contents to the copy that remains in your local folders.  When you feel comfortable they are the same, it is safe to delete the folder in your local folders.  Be sure to open a few messages that may contain attachments to confirm whether the attachments will open.
  7. After you have moved each folder, you should click on the “get mail” icon (or “send/receive” in Outlook) to see whether you’ve received a quota warning. You can also check your quota using the method described above on page one.


If you are unable to move a folder because the mail it contains is corrupted or not formatted correctly for the server, you may receive a warning like the following.  The text may differ slightly from one mail program to another but the essence of the message will be that the mail cannot be moved. 

Alert message

Unfortunately, the only remedy is to manually move messages one (or a few) at a time.  To do this, you must first create the new folder in your IMAP account that will receive the messages.  Next, open the local folder containing the corrupted mail and then highlight (select) one (or a few) of the messages it contains and drag them onto the name of the new folder as described above.  If the message copies successfully, repeat the process until you discover the message (or messages) that cannot be copied.  Skip the faulty message and continue with the remainder.

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Last updated: November 30, 2022


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