Gmail Allows for Viewing of Emails Offline

John Lister's picture

Google has added an offline mode for Gmail. It lets users read, reply and even search through Gmail messages without being online.

The mode will be familiar to users of a certain age, though it's mainly aimed at people in places where Internet connections are unreliable such as in some remote areas or developing nations.

Though the offline mode might seem like wizardry, it's an extremely simple setup with some clear limitations. It uses some of the user's hard drive to store copies of messages that are normally only kept on Google's servers.

The mode only works for users running the Chrome browser and doesn't work in Incognito mode. To switch it on, users should visit the Gmail site (, go to the settings menu and then See All Settings and click on the tab marked Offline.

From here, users should click the checkbox marked "Enable offline mail" and then select how many days of messages they want to store on their machine. This should be limited only by the available disk space. (Source:

Data Deletion Option

Users will also need to decide whether to have the data on their machine automatically deleted if they ever sign out of their Google Account. Doing so would improve security, for example if a machine is accessed without permission, but would mean they'd have to resync with Google next time they were online to download data again. (Source:

Despite some media reports, users can't send a message while in the offline mode. Instead they can write messages and have them ready to send next time they are online. They can also read and search through any messages they have synced (i.e. downloaded) to their machine.

Old-School Approach

This is, of course, how most people used email before the emergence of webmail services such as Hotmail and later Gmail. The original form of email involved connecting to the Internet to download messages on to a computer, a little like emptying a physical mailbox.

The webmail approach proved more useful once broadband offered permanent connections to the Internet and people began using multiple devices to connect rather than just one home PC.

Google adding this feature now isn't so much about dial-up versus broadband. Instead, it's aimed at winning over users in areas where connections aren't reliable, particularly those who use mobile data connections with varying signal strength.

What's Your Opinion?

Is this a useful addition? Do you remember the days of "dialing up" to collect emails? Would an offline mode change the way you handle emails?

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Phil's picture

I go back to the initial days of the internet in the 1980s, when everyone used Post Office Protocol (POP3) to download emails to read them locally and Simple Mail Transport Protocol (STMP) to upload messages to send them. (IMAP is a variant of POP3 that deletes messages from every client machine if they're deleted on any of them - too dangerous for my taste.)

I still use POP3 and SMTP on my own machines - Thunderbird on my Windows PCs (it's a sister program to Firefox) and Maildroid (a maladroit choice of name, if ever there was one) on my Android phone. I only use webmail through a browser when I'm on someone else's machine.

The big advantage of POP3 - at least with Thunderbird - is that you can protect yourself against web bugs and beacons - automatic (and frequently invisible) links in an email that pull in dangerous downloads or send information out.

Automatic links are used everyday to bring in graphics but have huge dangers, as just described. Thunderbird can be set to not act on automatic links in emails unless you (1) tell it to open all links in a particular email or (2) approve all mails from that sender.

When I see an email in a webmail app from an unknown sender, I won't open it at all until I'm in Thunderbird, which will show me just the text of it so I can decide whether to open its links.

Microsoft finally allowed POP3 access to its Outlook (nee "Hotmail") servers - as does Gmail. What's being discussed in this article is a half measure that omits the important safety feature of blocking auto links in emails from unknown senders that I'm talking about.