Stop Gmail downloading thousands of emails to Mac Mail

Do you access Google Mail using the Mail app on your Apple Mac? It could be downloading tens of thousands of email messages that take forever to sync. There is a way to stop it doing this.

If you are a heavy user of Google Mail and have had your account for a long time, you could have a very large number of email messages stored in your account. Gmail handles it without any problems, but if you use Mail on your Mac or some other email client then there is the potential for problems to arise.

Where you might run into difficulties is when setting up Gmail in the Mail app. After adding your account, Mail will download every email ever, and that could be a lot. Some people have 30, 40 or even 50,000 emails going back years.

Perform a clean install of OS X El Capitan or buy a new Mac and all those thousands of emails will be synced by Mail, and it takes a long time. Mail does seem to cope with high volumes of email messages, but not all email clients do so well. Even with Mail, it is worth limiting the number of messages it downloads.

Start the Mail app on your Mac, right click the Google inbox and select Get Account Info.

Mail on the Mac

The Quota Limits tab shows how much space is used in your Gmail account and the green bar is a quick way to see whether you are near your limit.

Below is a list of the mailboxes (Google uses labels, but they work like folders in Mail). The number of messages and the size in megabytes is shown for each one. You may be surprised by the numbers.

Mac Mail account info

If you had to set up Mail again on a new Mac, every single one would download and that is thousands of messages and gigabytes of data. Let's limit this.

Open a browser window and go to your Gmail account. Click the gear button at the right side of the page to show the menu and click Settings.

Gmail settings

Select the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab at the top, and down near the bottom of the page is this:

Gmail IMAP settings

The default setting is Do not limit the number of messages in an IMAP folder. This means that Mail will download everything. Select the setting below, Limit IMAP folders to contain no more than this many messages. There is a pop-up menu with 1,000, 2,000, 5000 and 10,000.

If you set a limit, no emails will be lost or deleted. It just means that Mail will sync only the most recent 1, 2, 5 or 10,000. You can still open a web browser, go to Gmail and access every email ever. It means that setting up Mail (or another email client) doesn't take forever to sync.






Hi, Thanks so much for this super useful article. Can I ask, once the changes suggested above have been made, will the synchronise remove other/excess emails already in the folder on my local drive, or does that need to be done separately? Thanks, Paul

Extremely helpful article. Thanks so much.

I looked everywhere for a solution to this. Thank you so much.

Thank you very much. This worked for me.

you saved my day and Macs space. thanks so much for creating the webpage with nice documentation.

Sometimes I want to keep a conversation. I want to reference old e's from and to what has been done before. Or just keeping the fact that we talked about this. i.e. when getting help from Apple, I need the old Apple reference number and what we did. Same with other Computer help. I send the emails to a box by rules.Thats where I want to keep them. This also applies to email I don't have time to read and explore. I just clear the inbox and keep it open to new emails in my Sierra email boxes.

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