How to Move From One Email Hosting Provider to Another

A new hosting provider. I needed that really badly. The one I’d been using was sliding in quality and the support staff didn’t seem to care. It was time to go. Problem was that I had a lot of really important info in folders on my mail server, so I had to preserve it somehow.

There are no standard client-side email storage formats. In the old days most clients would use an ASCII-based sendmail file format, but that was hard to search and didn’t lend itself to a lot of the new email use cases, so almost all email clients now use their own proprietary binary formats to store email.

Fortunately I use the IMAP protocol to download to my clients, which leaves the messages on the server, so as long as I didn’t send the wrong commands to the old IMAP server I would be OK. In fact, IMAP is what makes this all much easier than I feared.

A few days before the domains moved, I created the same email boxes on the new hosting company’s email server that I had on the old one. I used different passwords but that was just because I figured it would be a good time to roll passwords anyway. I used the same names as the old ones, and the control panel allowed me to do it because the domains were already registered at the new location, so the necessary domain lines were saved by their tools, ready to go once the transfer completed. They were inactive, but ready to go.

On the day of the transfer (Xmas day!) mail was already arriving in the new inboxes so I knew the domain transfer and its records were all working too. I have a MacBook Pro, 2 Windows laptops and a Windows desktop all using the “Postbox” client, so these next steps were a bit tedious. On one of the clients I left the old account definitions intact but I deleted their SMTP settings so nothing would send out of those old Lunarpages servers. Then on all the clients I created new accounts for the new mailboxes with the new IMAP & SMTP servers & passwords. I verified that each could send and receive messages which let me catch one parameter entry error I’d made, so yeah, test before shipping please.

Using one of the clients I recreated all the folders in my new accounts that I’d set up in the old ones. Because this was all IMAP, my other clients would see these folders too, so yay, I only had to set them up once! Since mail was already coming in I figured I’d better get the message filters (AKA “rules”) working for the new accounts. It was pretty easy. The rules already existed so all I had to do was redefine the destination folders. It did give me a chance to change some of them around but that was it.

The next thing to do was get the old messages over to the new accounts to make searching easier. I use my email folders to hold some pretty important info so this was important, especially since I was going to delete everything on the old servers too, before I shut down my old hosting account.

This is where IMAP really made life easy. In the client that I’d left set up with both the new email accounts and the old ones, I was able to simply copy all the messages in the old mail folder and drag them over to the corresponding new folder, and boom! All transferred! Yeah, I had to do it a couple a dozen times but it was permanent and worked with the new stuff just fine.

And that was it! Since everything old is now on the new hosts along with the new, I’m ready to clean off all the files & folders from my old hosts & and shut them down.