Configuring IMAP for Gmail, Apple Mail.app, and iPhone (and iPod touch) (and probably iPad)

By Noah | Add a comment | 

Update 5, December 2011: This appears to work for Apple Mail 5 under Lion / OSX 10.7 as well.

Update 4: Step 1.1 is no longer necessary, due to updates in gmail.

Update 3: Sounds like iOS4 addresses some of this with an archive/delete toggle for gmail, as pointed out in the comments.

Update 2: I suspect these instructions will work on an iPad as well as iPhones and iPod touches, but they haven’t been verified. If anyone with an iPad can verify, please post. Thanks!

Update: This post is all about how to get messages to actually delete from gmail when you delete them in Maill.app or on your iPhone, rather than having deleted messages saved in the archive, As Google Intended. If you like the idea of saving every message forever in the gmail archives, their setup instructions are 100% correct and you don’t need this post.


This post was spawned by my frustrations with gmail, and my inclinations to save other people the effort of having to figure it out on their own.

Introduction: IMAP, Gmail, and You
IMAP is a mail protocol that allows continuous synchronization between a mail host and one or many clients; this is a Very Good Thing. For more on IMAP and why you should want to use it, see Google’s introduction, and the first part of this post at TechnoLawyer.

Gmail approaches mail differently than most mail hosts/providers. Rather than filing messages into single folders, messages can be tagged with any number of tags. The advantage of tags over folders is that a single message can be filed in multiple places, each one associated with a different tag. The Inbox is treated as another tag by Gmail. An unfortunate side-effect of this is that when most IMAP clients (mail applications) attempt to delete a message, Gmail removes the Inbox tag, but does not delete the message. The message remains in the archive for that account, and can been seen in the All Mail view. The only exceptions to this behavior are messages in Gmail’s Trash or Spam views; these messages do not appear anywhere else. When they are deleted from Trash or Spam they are gone forever. (Here’s a conceptually useful table of Gmail’s default interactions with IMAP client actions)

It is possible to configure Gmail and Apple’s Mail application to appropriately delete messages from Gmail when they are deleted in Mail. These instructions also show how to store all drafts and saved messages on the Gmail server, and how to configure your iPhone for the same behaviors. keep reading…

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