Talking tech since 2003

Google’s email service, Gmail, is a truly awesome email service.  With its revolutionary spam filters, message sorting, conversation grouping, and integrated Google Talk client, Gmail has quickly become my favorite email platform.  However, I have several additional email accounts that I use for various other projects and organizations (work, school, personal webpages, etc).  I even have an old AOL account from way-back-when that I still get a significant amount of email sent to.

This how-to will go through the process of turning Gmail into your one-stop mailbox that will ultimately allow you to send and receive all of your emails in one place.  This ultimately proves to be a time-saver, because it means you only need to maintain one address book (which becomes especially handy for Google Voice users), and you don’t have to keep multiple email accounts open at once (webmail or otherwise).

When it comes to creating a “unified inbox” with Gmail, there are two ways you can go about it; the first would be to download the messages via the “Post Office Protocol”, and the second would be to auto-forward your emails into your Gmail account.  Both work to achieve the same goal; however Gmail has a limit of five POP3 accounts you can have configured.

Downloading From POP3

POP3, also known as the “Post Office Protocol”, is the protocol which many email providers use to allow their users to download their emails from the server and into their email client.  Gmail allows its users to use a “mail collector” feature, which acts as an email client and downloads emails from third party servers into your Gmail inbox.  This, combined with the ability to send email from other accounts, allows for you to combine multiple email accounts into one.

  • To download your emails from your POP3 accounts (we will cover sending and receiving from other Gmail and Google Apps accounts in a bit), you will want to log into your Gmail account, and select the “Settings” button in the upper-right hand corner.
  • From within the “Settings” page, navigate to the “Accounts and Import” tab.
  • Once you are in the “Accounts and Import” tab, scroll down to the “Check mail using POP3” selection, and press the “Add POP3 email account” button.  This will open another browser window, so you will need to ensure that any pop-up blockers are either disabled or configured to allow pop-ups from
  • In the window that opens, you will need to type the email account that you want to send and receive mail for from Gmail.  Enter this information in the “Email address” box, and select “Next Step”.
  • One of the great things that makes this process so streamlined is Gmail’s ability to determine the appropriate server and connection information for your POP3 account.  With this done for you, the only thing you need to do is enter your password in the space provided, choose whether or not you wish for the emails to be automatically labeled, and then click the “Add Account” button.
  • The next step will ask you if you wish to be able to send email from the account which you configured.  If you select “Yes”, you will receive a dropdown from the email composer every time you send an email.  This dropdown will allow you to choose which email address to send your email as.  Select your option and click “Next”.
  • If you choose “Yes” at the previous screen, you will be asked what name you want outgoing messages from the given email address to appear from.  Fill in the dialog (which should show your name by default), and click “Next”.
  • At this point, you are almost done.  If you opted to be able to send outgoing email from your Gmail account, you will be presented with the option to either use Gmail’s SMTP (outgoing mail) servers, or to enter server and credential information for your provider’s SMTP servers.  In most cases, you can simply use Gmail’s SMTP servers, however if you are using a corporate domain (e.g. for work), you may find it necessary to configure your SMTP server manually.  For the purposes of this tutorial, we are simply going to use Gmail’s SMTP servers.  Make your selection, and click “Next Step”.
  • The next step is simply to click the “Send Conformation Email” button, and exit the dialog by clicking the “Close window” button on the next screen.
  • Lastly, you will need to go into your Gmail inbox, and find the conformation email.  Open said email, and click on the confirmation link to verify ownership of your email address.
  • With these steps completed, you should be able to successfully send and receive emails from another email account via Gmail.

If you have multiple POP3 accounts, you will need to repeat this process for each of them.  It is also important to note that Gmail only allow you to download from five external POP3 accounts.

I also recommend using the “Refresh POP Accounts” lab, as it allows you to manually re-download your POP3 messages by using the “Refresh” button in the main inbox.

Auto-Forwarding Emails into Your Gmail Account

Auto-forwarding is simply configuring your email provider to automatically forward any email it receives to a different email address.  While not many free providers offer this feature, Gmail (as well as Google Apps) provide this feature for all of their users.  Using this method does not require use of the POP3 protocol, and thus does not have a limit to how many accounts you can use.

  • The first step in this process will be to sign into the email account which you will auto-forward from.  In this example, we are going to use a Google Apps account.  Once forwarding is complete, any emails sent to the Google Apps account will be automatically sent to the Gmail account.
  • From within the Google Apps account, select “Settings” in the upper-right hand corner, then select “Forwarding and POP/IMAP”, and check the radio box labeled “Forward a copy of incoming mail to”.
  • Enter your email address (your Gmail account) in the box provided, and choose whether to keep your emails in your Apps account, or to delete them once they have been forwarded.  Keeping them is helpful in the sense that it provides a backup of the email, however if you receive a lot of email and do not return to your Apps account frequently, your old mail will begin to pile up and potentially “overfill” your email inbox.
  • Once you apply your settings, the email from the Apps account will automatically be forwarded over you your main email account.  Nothing else needs to be done, unless you wish to be able to send emails from your Apps account.
    • If you wish to do this, simply access your Gmail account, and select “Settings”, then “Accounts and Import”, and click on the “Send mail from another address” button.
    • Once you do this, you will be prompted to enter the email address and display name as we did earlier.
    • Again, the last step to this procedure is to check your Gmail inbox and click on the link in the confirmation email.

Using Gmail as a unified email inbox ultimately allows you to enjoy all the wonderful features Gmail has to offer, without the need to keep multiple email accounts open.  Thus, having all of your email in one place allows you never miss a beat, and help to keep your life that much more organized.

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