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How to Migrate Emails (the stress free way)

Just in case you were thinking: Yes! This website has a new look to it (at long flipping last!). It also sits on a new and more reliable server. As a result I have had to go through the whole migration procedure.

The last time I had to migrate servers was back in 2005 and I believe this was a task during my maternity leave (my son is now 15).

A website migration for a web developer is pretty straightforward, but 15 years worth of emails is anything but. In the days of POP mail accounts, where mail was received from the server for you to keep forever, it was easy but a majority of email is now set up as IMAP which syncs to your PC, tablet and/or snartphone. This means that once you move servers, the emails sitting on that server are lost forever. So it makes sense to back up everything you value.

I have read a lot of how to guides over the years and even directed a few of my customers to use these guides, all with mixed results, but I found this method the easiest (and less stressful) to backup and restore my emails across servers. It will be a bit time consuming, but for argument’s sake, so is any website migration.

So let’s delve into what I have found to be to be the best way to seamlessly migrate your emails between servers.

1. Make sure you have an overlap

By this I mean make sure that both your old and new servers are active for about 7 days. This allows you enough time for the migration process (which takes up to 72 hours) and also allows for checking and double checking for anomalies.

2. Set up your new email settings alongside the old

You do, of course have to set up your email addresses on the new server. Make a note of the password and the new mail settings (these can normally be found under email and client configuration on your new server or your web/I T person can provide you with this). Add these new accounts to your email browser.

I tested this method using Outlook 2016 and I was alerted that I was setting up a duplicate email address. I got around this by adding the suffix ‘(1)’ which was accepted. This apparently also works in Mozilla Thunderbird and other popular email browsers. But I can say from experience that this doesn’t work on Windows Live Mail.

So now you have both your current email address and your new email address, sitting side by side. So lets get onto the third stage:

3. Get Organised.

And what do I mean by that? Two things really: First of all create new folders in your new email account for everything that you would like to keep. So for example, you might create a folder to keep all your new customer enquiries together; or a folder to collate all emails from your accountant, and so on.

Now would also be a good time to remove all the emails that you do not want to keep. This just makes things easier, as does Shift and click or Ctrl and click.

4. Get dragging and dropping

This is the fun part: basically select the emails that you want to move and then drag and drop them onto the folder on your new account.

This will take time, depending on how many emails you have, but keep vigilant, for example when you drop the email into the wrong folder.

Ideally you should be left with no emails in the old account and everything you need in the new.

5. Test a few emails

So now we have all the new emails ready to view in your email browser. But just to be sure, test a few random emails to ensure that they appear and haven’t been mislaid or deleted.

Last step: switch the Domain

When you are ready, change the nameserver (DNS) address. Your hosting provider will be able to give you the necessary information. And then sit tight for 3 days while the new server details update across the globe.

A word to the wise on that last bit: For up to 72 hours, your website will look weird:

you may see both the old and new versions of it; so will other people (who won’t hesitate to inform you about it); Email will struggle to verify; you may not receive email straight away or you may get a constant alert that your server identity cannot be identified.

If any of this happens to you, the best advice I can give to you is either sit it out or pick the migration over a long weekend or a time where you are away from your PC.


So there we have it! Migrations are unavoidable and also advisable if your current hosting provider has gone downhill or if you are upgrading or moving to a more affordable or better managed hosting provider. This guide is a more user-friendly and non technical way to retain your vital emails when you do have to make the change.

I do welcome any feedback as I would like to perfect this guide and use it as a resource, especially for my customers.


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