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Back Up Your Email Box Before It is Too Late

By Bill Platt
Posted Monday, November 22, 2004

When so many of us rely so much on our email to operate our businesses or our personal lives, it is important to take preventative measures to avoid the ultimate disaster of unrecoverable email.

I come to this subject as a matter of multiple events on my machine where one day I would open my mail to discover that all has been lost. The pit that wells in your stomach upon realization of this occurrence can be overwhelming. To recover in the event of future losses, each of us should learn the basics of maintaining and backing up our email.

One of the important things to do in preventative maintenance, is to clean your folders and to empty your trash. Most people do not realize that when the number of messages in a specific folder exceeds a certain threshold that they begin running on borrowed time.

Exactly where that threshold is varies from email client to email client, so what may be true for mine may be different for yours. Personally, I use the Netscape 4.x Email Client for security reasons more than anything. The Netscape 4.x Email Client is less susceptible to JavaScript attacks than any other email client I have used.

What I do know is that I have repeatedly pushed my client to its limits to see where the threshold might be. The Netscape 4.x Email Client will generally break at around 4,500 email messages in one folder, though it will become shaky at around 2,000 messages.

For users of other clients such as Outlook Express, Eudora and others, I cannot tell you the top end of how well the software will perform.

If there are more than 2,000 messages you wish to hang on to, you should begin filing your messages in separate folders below the Inbox. This will help you to find your messages quicker and it will provide more stability to your email client.

There are three folders that you must pay regular attention to. They are the Inbox, Sent Mail Folder and Trash Folder.

Most people fail to remember that their client is pre-configured to save a copy of all outgoing email. As a result, this folder can grow to unbelievable sizes before anyone thinks to clean it out.

It is important to mention the Trash Folder in more detail since most people do not realize how it works.

Most email clients follow a general principle in their operation. Each email box is generally represented by two files. The first is a text rendering of all messages in the box. The second is an indexing file that lists the title of the email and other identifying characteristics relative to each individual message.

When you look at the contents of your email box, you are actually seeing the contents of the indexing file. When you pull up the text of an actual message, the software is finding the message in the message file according to the software assigned Email ID as listed in the indexing file.

Now, when you move a message from one folder to another, including into the Trash Folder, the only thing that actually moves is the listing in the indexing file! This is important to understand. A message moved to the Trash Folder has not been deleted from the origination folder. In fact, the message is just where it originated until you do the command Compress Folders or Empty Trash Folder.

The Empty Trash Folder command will only compress the messages for the item that is in the Trash Folder. In order to do the same for your entire email system, you must use the command Compress Folders.

The simple action of sending email to the trash without compressing the folders or simply emptying the trash can also lead to great destabilization of your email client. So please take great care to maintain your email client software as it should be.

If there is one thing that I have learned with computers, one should always prepare for the worst case scenario. Always! In order to be fully prepared for the worst case scenario with your email, you should do regular backups of your mail folders.

Here I will explain how to do that outside of the email client's process for this purpose. I am also explaining how to do so only for Outlook Express and Netscape Mail. I have never ran an Eudora client at the times I was exploring this scenario.


In your windows Explorer, you will find a folder, most likely with this precise name. The only difference you might see is in the Application Key as noted between the {}.

C:WINDOWSApplication DataIdentities {B074ABA0-9FFF-11D4-AE87-FE1E7BFD5248}MicrosoftOutlook Express

When you navigate to this folder, this is the default location where your Outlook Express Email is stored. Simply highlight the last folder, "Outlook Express" and copy it to another location. In most cases, this folder will be way too large to copy to a Floppy Drive. Most likely, you will need to copy it to a Zip drive or another location on your hard drive.

You can also save the individual *.dbx files, which outline the contents of each of your mail boxes, the Inbox, the Outbox, etc.

If you are really bored, you can send the *.dbx file to Wordpad to view the actual format of a mailbox from a text standpoint. You can use this only in a worst case scenario to attempt to rebuild a broken mail box. Always make backups of the file before trying to repair it by hand --- Always!!!


The location of the mail storage is: C:Program FilesNetscapeUsersusernameMail

Of course, replace "username" with your username.

Within the Netscape Mail system, you will discover three file types: *.sbd, *.snm, and (blank).

The *.sbd is a folder that contains all of your sub-folders. The *.snm is the indexing file of your email. The (blank), ie. "Inbox" without an extension, is your actual mail messages recorded in plain text. You can also send these files to your Wordpad application to view the contents. Do not save this file when you close it unless you are trying to rebuild your box, and if so, always make sure you have a backup before doing so.

If you delete the *.snm, the *.snm file will rebuild itself the next time you open your Netscape Mail application.

Taking these precautions and knowing this information, you will never have to chance losing all of your important emails again. The time you take today to backup your email box can save you the worst nightmare ever. Trust me, I have been there.

About the Author
Bill Platt owns The Phantom Writers, a company committed to helping people to establish an Internet presence & promote their businesses through the use of Free-Reprint Articles. Through June 1st, 2002, you can save $150 on our normal subscription rates. All articles are distributed to 6,500+ publishers & web- masters as part of the package. (,27)


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