IMAP Tip: Use a backup-all mailbox

For years I've been using servers-side filters to sort my incoming email into mailboxes1 named something like this:
  • list1
  • list2
  • listN
  • green
  • MaybeSpam
For details about my server-side filters and why I've colored these blue, green, & red, see my Reverse Spam Filtering page. One of the great things about IMAP is that you can use many different IMAP clients to access your mailboxes. For example, I often use one or more of the following to access and manage my email:
  • Pine running on my local system
  • Pine running on a remote system (in an ssh window)
  • Mulberry running on my local system
  • Opera Mail running on my local system
  • Horde/IMP running in my web browser
One of the problems with IMAP is that it is often hard to monitor all your incoming mailboxes for RECENT2 messages, especially when you are simultaneously using multiple IMAP clients. When I used Procmail for server-side filtering, I tracked my incoming messages by using the tail command to monitor my Procmail log. Ever since I switched from Procmail to Sieve, I've been looking for a good way to monitor all my incoming mailboxes. There are a number of options, for example I could:
I finally decided to simply copy all my incoming messages to a mailbox named backup-all before I do any other server-side sorting. Since my IMAP service provider, Tuffmail, supports the Sieve copy extension, all I needed to do was put the following two lines at the beginning of my Sieve script:
require ["fileinto", "copy"];
fileinto :copy "backup-all";
And now I always have an instance of Pine viewing my backup-all mailbox. In addition to notifying me about all my email as it arrives, this backup-all mailbox provides me with:
  • a backup of all my email
  • an easy way to search all my email when I'm using an IMAP client, such as Pine, that is good at searching one mailbox, but not especially useful when searching across multiple mailboxes.
  • a good way to test various IMAP clients' ability to handle a mailbox with 50,000+ messages!
I hope that using a backup-all mailbox is as useful to you as it is to me. I'm curious to hear how you monitor your incoming IMAP mailboxes and if (and in what way) a backup-all mailbox is useful to you. Please don't be shy about leaving a comment!

1 In the IMAP world, the word "mailbox" means a container of messages and each IMAP user will usually have multiple IMAP-accessible mailboxes, for example INBOX, Sent, Drafts, ListN, Green, and MaybeSpam. I discuss "mailbox" and other email terminology in the Terminology section of my IMAP Service Providers page.

2 To learn about what the term "RECENT" means in the context of IMAP, see the Terminology section of my Power Pine page.
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Sounds like a good idea. However, you are essentially doubling the size of your account. Isn't it?


Hi Thomas, Yes you are essentially doubling your disk space use (except for the messages you delete in your non backup-all boxes*). But, this is not really a problem anymore thanks to all the IMAP service providers who offer 1 or more gigs of space -- thanks to cheap disk space, Gmail, and Web 2.0 in general for all this essentially unlimited hosted disk space! Thank you for your comment.

(*) I don't delete anything, even spam, from my backup-all box.


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