Restore IMAP mail from local cache via Time Machine

I had a real scary moment last night. I was cleaning off my server and deleted the home directory for my databasically email account. I don't host the website on that server, so I thought removing the home directory would be fine. However, I do host the mail on that server and it's stored in the home directory.

I had Apple Mail.app running and connected to that mailbox. I didn't really notice it until a few minutes later when a message came in on another account.

My work account was blank. Empty. Also, I had a nice exclamation point saying the account couldn't be found.

Whoops. Oh hell.

I have my computer hooked to an external hard drive which I'm using as my Time Machine (the built-in Mac backup software) drive. I poked through the folders from an hour ago and found all my mail.

The mail is stored in ~/Library/Mail/, where each IMAP account has a folder called IMAP-user@host. This folder contains many folders with the .imapmbox extension.

Here's how I restored my mailbox:
  • Recreated my home directory and made sure that the email address still worked. You may want to set up a new account if you're moving hosts or whatever. Get a working IMAP account up and running.
  • Put the IMAP-user@host folder to my Desktop. Actually, I restored it from Time Machine and then copied it to the Desktop. I selected "Keep both" when doing the Time Machine restore which renamed my existing folder to end in "(original)". I moved the restored folder to my Desktop and removed the "(original)".
  • Renamed each folders' extension from .imapmbox to .mbox . Make sure you get any subfolders as well.
  • Import the file: File > Import Mailboxes > Mail for Mac OS X
  • Select the parent folder (IMAP-user@host) containing all your .mbox files.
  • Your mail will be imported to a folder named Import inside the On My Mac folder.
  • Drag your mail to your new/restored IMAP mailbox. I copied 5000 messages at a time without an issue.
Hopefully you never need this information.

If it helped you out or if you have any other information, please let me know in the comments.

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