Want Gmail emails and folders in your email program? Find out below how to enable IMAP in Gmail and let services, programs, mobile devices and more connect to your account.

First, It Is Easier to Swim in the Arctic

than to swim in the tropical seas, but not by much.

This is because one factor that contributes to buoyancy is the water’s temperature. Colder water is slightly denser and helps you float.

Want your emails to swim to your email programs, services and mobile devices (on that trip to the Arctic)? First, enable IMAP in Gmail. Let’s get go… swimming!

How to Enable IMAP in Gmail

To enable IMAP access for Gmail so you can set up your account in any IMAP email program (with seamless access to all your labels):

  1. Open Gmail in a desktop browser.
  2. Click the Settings gear icon () near your Gmail’s top right corner.
  3. Select Settings from the menu that has appeared.
  4. Go to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab.
  5. Under IMAP Access:, make sure Enable IMAP is selected.
    • See below for the Gmail IMAP settings also available on this page.
  6. Click Save Changes.

Note: as a simple alternative, Gmail also supports POP access, designed for simple download of incoming emails without synchronization.

Obscure Gmail IMAP Settings Explained

When I mark a message in IMAP as deleted:

When you delete an email using IMAP, it is not immediately removed (or moved to a “Trash” folder); instead, it is marked with a “deleted” flag. Only when the email program sends the IMAP “expunge” command, all emails flagged as “deleted” are actually removed. Many email programs do this automatically when you switch folders, for example, or close the program.

With Gmail, this safety net is not normally necessary. Most email programs will copy messages to the Gmail “Trash” folder before marking them deleted. It is then save to expunge them.

  • Auto-Expunge on is the same as expunging every time a message is marked “deleted”. Gmail is always up to date. This is the recommended setting.
  • Auto-Expunge off means Gmail operates like a traditional IMAP account and honors the commands sent by email programs literally and wait for the “expunge” command to delete messages.

When a message is marked as deleted and expunged from the last visible IMAP folder:

This setting is available only when auto-expunge is disabled. It defines what happens to an email when is is removed from the last folder in which it appeared. With Gmail IMAP, every Gmail label corresponds to an IMAP folder, and every message appears in all the folders that correspond to its labels plus the “[Gmail]/All Mail” folder. All Gmail messages that are not deleted or spam show in the “All Mail” folder.

Not all Gmail folders need be visible to email programs via IMAP, though; you can turn off IMAP access to specific labels to make Gmail IMAP more lightweight and faster. Only the Inbox is always visible.

This setting only applies to folders available via IMAP.

  • Archive the message (default) means emails deleted from the last visible folder (including the Inbox) are still available in Gmail under All Mail (as well as all labels not accessible via IMAP).
  • Move the message to the Trash means emails deleted from the last visible folder are moved to the Gmail Trash label (corresponding to the “[Gmail]/Trash” folder. They will be automatically deleted forever after some 30 days in the Trash label; you can also empty the Gmail Trash manually, of course.
  • Immediately delete the message forever means emails deleted from the last visible folder are removed altogether. With this setting, Gmail works like a traditional IMAP account.
    If you do not see the message in the email program, it is gone beyond recovery. This is true even if the message was tagged with a label in Gmail that is not visible via Gmail IMAP.
    If you have Gmail IMAP enabled for the All Mail label, you cannot expunge an email from the “[Gmail]/All Mail” folder while it is still in another visible folder.

Folder Size Limit

Folder Size Limit lets you restrict the number of messages Gmail makes available via IMAP in each folder. IMAP folders can get large and unwieldy, and if your email program or mobile device insists on keeping a local copy of each message, they can take up a large amount of space—all for reading and working on last week’s emails.

With Limit IMAP folders to contain no more than this many messages, you can prevent overly large Gmail IMAP folders. All emails are always available in Gmail on the web and in the Gmail apps, of course.

(How to enable IMAP in Gmail tested with Gmail in a desktop browser; updated November 2017; title image: StockUnlimited)