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Does anyone have experience restoring email from a Time Machine backup? This was easier in earlier versions of MacOS, when Time Machine provided a UI through the Mail program itself. Now it seems to be necessary to go spelunking through the ~/Library/Mail folder. This almost works for me, but I've run into an odd problem.

Here's what I've done (running MacOS 13.1):

  1. Go to ~/Library/Mail/V10 in Finder.
  2. Enter Time Machine.
  3. Go to the last backup that contains deleted messages.
  4. Restore the V10 subdirectory corresponding to the account in question.
  5. Exit Time Machine.
  6. Open Mail.
  7. Select File/Import.
  8. Select format: Apple Mail
  9. Select the restored V10 subdirectory.
  10. Select one or more mailboxes from the account to import.

At this point, everything looks good. The selected mailbox(es) are restored to a local folder named Import, and when I browse through them, everything seems to be in order.

The problem appears when I try to move selected messages to another mailbox. (I want to do this because the messages are restored to a local mailbox, but originally came from a mailbox on an IMAP server.) After the move, every message that contained attachments appears to have lost all its content. The message body is blank, and even View ... Raw Source is blank. View ... All Headers shows only (No Subject). Most messages without attachments are unaffected, but a few of these may be lost as well. Oddly enough, the same losage occurs when I just rebuild the imported mailbox. It's not clear if this is a bug, or if I'm doing something wrong.

I'm sure I'm not the first person who's wanted to restore email from a backup, but I'm finding very little useful documentation on how to deal with this.

Any suggestions much appreciated!

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  • 1
    Yes, Apple removed the functionality to browse in Mail some years ago. Send feedback to Apple if you want it restored!
    – benwiggy
    Jan 13, 2023 at 17:35
  • Yeah, that was another of those "we can't fix it so we'll remove it" decisions. It stopped working properly in Mojave [though it still theoretically should]. It failed entirely when they went to APFS for TM.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 15, 2023 at 19:32

2 Answers 2

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I recently did a similar recovery and had the same problem. In a recovered mailbox with about 1500 mails I had some 50 blank messages. My solution is probably not suitable if hundreds of messages are affected, since it is a one-by-one procedure, but I absolutely needed the content of these 50 messages back:

  • Recover the V10 (or a subdirectory) to the desktop via Time Machine.
  • In Mail.app, check the date of a blank message.
  • In Finder, search inside the V10 for .emlx files with the corresponding creation date. In my case, interestingly, all the messages concerned were not Filename.emlx but Filename.partial.emlx. At this point, QuickLook can be used to prove that the messages in the backup are still intact and only degenerate when they are re-imported into Mail.app via the app's import function. Therefore my unofficial method as follows:
  • Edit the filename, delete the .partial part.
  • Double-click the Filename.emlx, it opens in Mail.
  • Move it to the desired mailbox via the pull-down in the top right of the message window.
  • With some delay, for a mysterious reason a few of the messages were automatically moved again to a newly created Recovered E-Mail mailbox, but when I dragged them back, they stayed where they should.

Later I realized, that the process can be speeded up a bit, if you directly search for .partial.emlx in Finder and sort them by creation date. In my case, the number of hits was pretty much the same as the number of blank messages in Mail.app.

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@PeeWee has the right solution. However, if you have a lot of emails, it can easily get tedious to rename several files manually. For future reference, you could use the following command from the terminal to do the renaming in batch.

find <directory_containing_the_emails> -type f -name '*partial*' -exec rename 's/.partial//' {} +

Please install rename from Homebrew if you don't have that already.

Hope Apple fixes this bug in future releases of Mail.

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