Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Email Troubleshooting

Import/Export | Outlook | Gmail | Mac Mail | IMAP

Email tips and troubleshooting.

Dealing with Email Issues

If you have issues connecting with the Internet generally, you'll be unable to send or receive email. See Internet Connection Issues for troubleshooting tips.

See Computer Basics & Terminology for help with technical terms.

Importing/Exporting Mail, Contacts & Settings

When changing email programs, you'll want to import the mail, contacts and settings from the old program to the new one.

Many programs will import this information from the most common current programs and even a few of the older ones.

  • Thunderbird can natively import/export address books, mail and settings in a number of formats.
  • The Bat! imports and exports email messages in .MSG, .EML and UNIX mailbox formats and now supports Exchange Web Services (EWS) protocol. See Moving to The Bat! for help moving from Pocomail.
  • Outlook see Outlook Resources for help in importing/exporting with Outlook.

Third-Party Import/Export Programs

However, many obsolete programs (like Pocomail and Barca or Outlook Express) might need an intermediary program when moving to a more recent email client.

These programs match the format of the data from program you're exporting from and convert it to the one you're importing this information into.

  • Aid4Mail MBOX Converter (free edition) converts mbox-type mailboxes to EML files.
  • Aid4Mail (from US$29.95) is an easy-to-use migration tool that can also archive mail.

Email Backup Software

You can use email backup software to both secure your important emails from loss as well as to restore it to another installation.

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Outlook Resources

If you decide to move to Outlook, be aware that I neither use nor recommend Outlook and therefore cannot provide the level of support I can with my recommended email programs. You'll need to find alternative support.

You need to be aware of the winmail.dat issue that affects users of many non-Microsoft email program users because it is invisible to you but can affect many of those you send emails to unless you're restricted to an office environment entirely composed of Outlook users.

Issues with Unsupported Versions

Don't use unsupported versions of Outlook. Like any program, the end of support means that the program no longer receives security fixes. There can also be compatibility issues with Microsoft servers.

Starting on November 1, 2021, only Office 2013 Service Pack 1, with up-to-date patches, and later Office releases will connect to Microsoft-hosted mailboxes.


Earlier versions of Office/Outlook, including Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010, and Office 2013 (before SP1) won't be able to connect. Office 2007 and Office 2010 are already out of support. Office 2013 extended support ends in April 2023. — Ask Woody Newsletter

Outlook Support Resources

I've provided the following external resources to help you learn more about using Outlook and dealing with its issues.

Using Outlook

Backing Up Outlook

Troubleshooting Outlook

Outlook Utilities

  • The OutlookAddressBookView displays the details of all recipients stored in the address books of Microsoft Outlook.
  • Aid4Mail (from US$19.95) can migrate, archive and analyze the messages in all your email programs. It does this without modifying the original messages.

Moving To/From Outlook

You may need to use a third-party import/export solution.

Dealing with "winmail.dat" Attachments

If you receive a message with an attached file called winmail.dat you probably will be unable to open it.

Invisible to Outlook Users

The winmail.dat is invisible to users of Outlook and Outlook Express (an obsolete email program), so such users may not know what you are referring to when you mention it to them.

Other email clients, like Thunderbird, The Bat!, or webmail programs can all send enhanced HTML-based email without any problems for the recipient. This issue is specific to Microsoft's email clients.

Microsoft Documentation

Other Explanations

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Gmail Issues

Subscription Lists Broken

Gmail made changes that broke how subscription lists were dealt with. This created problems for people subscribed to lists.

What Happened?

Gmail changed how email subscriptions were sorted. The Primary category was designed so you could quickly find your most important emails easier.

Mail deemed less-important was moved into either the Social (Facebook notifications, etc.) or Promotions (bulk mail such as ads but also subscriptions, updates and more) categories.

Unfortunately, subscription lists and update notices were categorized as Promotions, along with “junk” ads.

How to Fix It

  1. Click on the Promotions tab and select messages you wish to go into your primary mailbox.
  2. Drag the selected message onto the Primary tab.
  3. A pop-up message will ask if you wish to do this for all future messages from the addressee of the dragged message. Say “Yes.”
  4. Continue to monitor the Promotions inbox to ensure that other messages aren't getting left behind.

Alternatively, you can turn off the new tabs completely by going to the settings, click on the Inbox tab and deselect the tabs you don't want to use (e.g. Promotions) then save the changes.

Gmail Spam and Email Programs

Gmail has a very effective spam filtering system — sometimes too efficient. To compound this issue, third-party email clients like Thunderbird and The Bat! are not permitted to download mail from Gmail's Spam folder.

To resolve this issue, you'll need to log into your Gmail account using your browser.

Go to the Spam folder then select all your legitimate email messages and click on Not Spam to train Gmail's spam filters to accept mail from these addresses.

You may need to continue to check the Spam folder over time so that Gmail improves its recognition of legitimate emails rather than labelling them as spam in the future.

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Mac Mail Issues

These resources may help you to resolve Apple MacIntosh:


IMAP Issues

Traditionally, people had only a single computer and downloaded all message to that one computer, storing important messages forever using POP/SMTP settings.

However things have changed.

We Want Anywhere Access

Today people want copies of their messages on their computer, laptop, smartphone and tablet.

Most ISPs (e.g. Shaw, Telus, Gmail, etc.) simply give people what they ask for, without explaining the issues or potential problems.

So they tell their customers to set up their email using IMAP usually without any current reference to POP/SMTP settings.


IMAP, POP and SMTP are email protocols and important only when configuring email retrieval.

Once setup, email will be managed transparently if the settings are correct.

IMAP then mirrors the messages on the server AND on all IMAP-connected devices.

That means you have simultaneous access to your email on multiple computers and other devices — including sent messages.

Sounds perfect, doesn't it? But there are potential downsides if you're not careful.

The IMAP Downside

You need to understand how IMAP works and what is different from traditional POP/SMTP email protocols to understand what you're trading for that any time/everywhere access to all your mail.

IMAP Not Great for Archiving

Email clients using POP/SMTP downloaded email messages from the server and retained them indefinitely on our computers unless we manually delete them. This included copies of sent messages (but only on that one computer).

With IMAP, when you delete a message it deletes in on that device, the server and all other IMAP-connected devices.

So, you need to leave ALL your messages on the server, rather than deleting them from the server when they've successfully downloaded to your computer.

  • Most email accounts have limits on how much you can store on their servers.
  • Once you pass that limit the ISP may simply delete the oldest messages OR “bounce” all new incoming messages (often arbitrarily and without warning).
  • You can purchase extras storage, but some ISPs limit the amount of space you can purchase even though their costs to provide storage has greatly decreased.

Essentially, IMAP means that you could potentially lose important emails by deleting them on one of your devices, running out of server space or simple user errors.

Primary Account POP/SMTP

One possible solution is to use a POP/SMTP primary account with other devices using IMAP when you're away from your computer. If you only use your phone for mail, this issue won't work.

Set up and use a primary account (using POP/SMTP) so that you can retain your important email on your main computer — archiving important messages over the long term.

That primary account should NOT be an IMAP account.

Of course, you'll need to create regular backups of the mail on that computer in case of computer failures or viruses.

IMAP for Secondary Accounts Only

Use IMAP only on a secondary email account for messages on all your portable devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, secondary laptops).

You can still access the mail on your primary account on your remote devices provided this account is configured for POP/SMTP. You'll be able to access NEW message as long as the primary computer has not accessed them.

If you need more, you can change the settings on your primary computer to leave mail on the server for 10 days (or another setting that works for you). That way the primary computer controls what is left on the server and for how long.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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Updated: September 27, 2021