In my Mac Mail I have all my emails saved to my Mac, as opposed to on my mail server using iMap.

All the emails are organised with a large number of folders and sub folders, again all of which are saved straight to my Mac.

I wish to save all of the individual emails in a folder on an external hard drive as I am moving to a new Mac and want to have access to these emails, but not import them to Mac Mail on my new Mac.

If you select an individual email in Mac Mail, then drag and drop it to a desktop folder, for example, it saves it as an email which you can open from the desktop folder without it having to be stored in your Mac Mail. If you select multiple emails and drag and drop, only one email is transferred.

How can I do this drag and drop method for all the folders and all emails within those folders, to save them on an external hard drive.

I don't want to export all the emails from my current Mac, then reimport them to my new Mac Mail. I want to be able to access all the emails in their structure, but through my hard drive instead of having them show in Mac Mail.

Guidance appreciated

4 Answers 4


To save all mails individually in the Finder, use a little trickery:

In Mail, select all messages you want and right-click + choose Forward as Attachment. This creates a new e-mail which you then send to yourself.

When the e-mail has arrived, bring it to the front and press Cmd-A to select all attachments in the e-mail. Click the Save button and choose Save All… from the drop-down menu, then select or create a folder in the file dialog.

The e-mails will be saved as individual .eml files, which you can quickview in the Finder or open in Mail or Thunderbird.

The downside is that the files are saved with the subject line as file name. So there is no date or sender to organize the files in the Finder. You'd have to pre-organize in Mail.

  • Foliovision's answer did help a lot, as I will be using Thunderbird as my solution. However, this answer helped the most as it found a way to bulk save a large selection of emails and put them directly into a folder on an external hard drive. Unfortunately I can only award the bounty to 1 answer! Mar 19, 2016 at 11:50
  • 1
    Well I have to say given the time I put into my answer and that you are using my answer for your solution, I'm very surprised at your decision. The method above is not useful for bulk archiving which is the only case where it's worth the trouble to move mails out of Apple Mail. Thank you for at least the apology and thank you to the people who did upvote my answer. Mar 19, 2016 at 18:44

Email archiving is hard. I've used all of the solutions above and many more (see below).

In the end, I partially gave up after making several archives and decided to keep a structured master archive on my main work computer (we're talking about 20 GB of email) just to be sure that I have a single copy in a very standard format Apple Mail 4.6 (Snow Leopard edition) with more or less attachments still attached for the last seven years (most Eudora attachments are listed and are findable but are not directly attached to the email). The other advantage of keeping all your mail in Apple Mail is that it's a single archive to search. Surprisingly often I do find that I want to find and review a conversation from 2003 or 2006.

Emailchemy does work although I used Eudora Mailbox Cleaner for my own migration from Eudora (read the notes there and at Tidbits to fully understand just how hard email migration/archiving is). The Weird Kid licenses are so expensive (imagine that if you are using at work, you should be paying about $300 for the privilege, even if you only have a few computers/accounts to migrate).

The simplest solution would be to migrate your Apple Mail account to Thunderbird and the use Thunderbird's built-in archiving tool which does offer unencrypted structured archiving:

Beginning with version 3.x, Thunderbird has built-in support for archiving e-mail. The "archived" messages are moved to a dedicated folder (or hierarchy of folders) within the Thunderbird profile. These are ordinary mail folders (using either mbox or maildir files, depending upon how the account is configured), not compressed files.

Paid alternative options

  • EagleFiler with its fair $40 license let you do pretty much whatever you like. Great documentation and support available from Michael Tsai is personal and of high quality (I've had good answers myself as well as seeing much public praise for the support). There is an option for storing messages in mbox or eml files:

    EagleFiler can also store messages as individual .eml message files, one per message. This is less efficient (for EagleFiler, Spotlight, Time Machine, etc.) but is more flexible because you can drag and drop the messages to different folders to rearrange them. Message files can also be mixed in the same folder with other files of different types, e.g. PDF or Word documents that are related to those messages. You can double-click a message file to open it in Apple Mail.

  • Mailsteward Pro uses full MySQL (i.e. open source but a bit tricky to install) and costs $100. You can export and merge databases and automate archiving. John Seward's application is pretty geeky. While support is gruff, it is available and personal. As it's MySQL, you'll always be able to get your data out in the format you want.

  • MailSteward normal is $50 but uses MySQL Lite so is not suited for large archives.
  • Devonthink Professional is $150 and does a good job of providing an archive but foregoes opens source standard mail message or mailbox structure and loses attachments. That said, search is fast, fine grained. Devonthink looks great for a text application. I've owned Devonthink and have the opportunity to use the pro mail import but have chosen not to. With my large archive, I've not been happy with it and have never liked that Devonthink import is truly a one way street.


First I'd try Thunderbird and see if I like its archive format. Then I'd go to EagleFiler. If I was more persnickety and there were still issues bothering me about EagleFiler, I'd then consider full Mailsteward.

I would not fiddle with fragile Apple scripts or Automator which would need regular renewal and maintenance and are subject to immediate Apple style deprecation.

I'm going to follow my own advice take another go myself with EagleFiler and consider removing any mail older than 5 years from Apple Mail.

  • I was having some issues with EagleFiler yesterday (after following my own advice). The indexes wouldn't rebuild on my old archives. I submitted an automated bug report. Michael Tsai had a beta with a fix waiting for me in the morning, with a personalised note addressing me by name. That's great support. We'll have to work even harder on our own support to match him. Mar 17, 2016 at 21:09

The easiest way to do this is to use Emailchemy:


The workflow is pretty self-explanatory. The one thing worth mentioning is that the format that will work best for export is EML Files (RFC-2822 format). You can open them with Mail (without importing them) and you can preview them with Quicklook.

You could also accomplish this using an Applescript or Javascript script, but that would require a little more work.


"If you select multiple emails and drag and drop, only one email is transferred."

This used to be the behavior on my machine for a long long time and when I asked about it I'd hear from others that they could drag and drop many emails at once and have all of them transfer as individual emails. Well, unfortunately, I don't what changed but suddenly (it might have be an OS upgrade over the last year) I was also able to drag multiple emails out from mail to the desktop or any folder and get an individual email for each email dragged.

Once this multiple item drag and drop was available, I was able to use a Keyboard Maestro macro to do the drag and drop to the desktop part and Hazel to move the emails to their respective Finder folders leaving just the odd email without a Hazel rule to handle moving manually or create a new Hazel rule for.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .