How to configure Apple Mail for the best IMAP GMail experience

Huzzah! Google (finally) updated GMail for free IMAP support. However, their setup instructions for Apple Mail stop short of actually completeing the configuration in a way that makes using GMail’s IMAP service feel seamless. Sure, everything will work fine, but how do you archive a message?

The answer is tricky: you have to drag the message into your “[GMail]/All Mail” folder way down hidden inside the nested list of IMAP mailboxes on the left-hand side of the Mail Viewer window. That’s hardly as easy as pushing GMail’s “Archive” button. So, if you really want to get the most of your GMail over IMAP in Apple Mail experience, you have to do all of the following:

  1. First, of course enable IMAP for your account.
  2. Second, follow all of Google’s instructions on their own configuration for Apple Mail page.
  3. Next, set your account’s Mailbox Preferences in Mail to never delete email automatically and to store all messages of all types on GMail’s servers, as shown in the screenshot below:
    Screenshot: Never Delete IMAP Mail

    When this is done, close the Preferences window and save your changes.

  4. Finally, these last few steps involve telling Apple Mail which GMail folders should be used for which purpose, such as your drafting folder, your sent mail folder, and so on. This is how you will map Apple Mail-native commands like “Delete” to GMail-native commands like “Archive.” To complete this process, perform the following steps:
    • Expand your GMail IMAP account in the list of mailboxes and also expand your “[GMail]” folder. You’ll see a third list of folders that include “All Mail,” “Drafts,” “Sent Mail,” “Spam,” “Starred,” and “Trash.”
    • Select the “Drafts” folder, and then choose Mailbox → Use This Mailbox For → Drafts from the menu bar.
    • Select the “Sent Mail” folder and then choose Mailbox → Use This Mailbox For → Sent from the menu bar.
    • Select the “Spam” folder and then choose Mailbox → Use This Mailbox For → Junk from the menu bar.
    • You’ve now mapped Drafts, Sent, and Junk to the proper GMail mailboxes, but still have Apple’s notion of the Trash mailbox. You can map this in one of two ways. Either you can map it to the “Trash” folder in which case you when you delete a message in Apple Mail you will also delete it from GMail, or you can map it to the “All Mail” folder in which case when you a delete a message in Apple Mail you will archive it in GMail. The choice is up to you.

That’s all. Now you have a much more Apple-like GMail over IMAP experience.

Update: Google have now added a support article in their GMail help that documents Google’s recommended GMail client settings for best performance. These are helpful supplemental tips for getting the most out of your Apple Mail-as-GMail-IMAP client.

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