Gmail Setup Tweaks for Apple Mail Perfection

It’s a pretty safe bet that you have a Gmail account for at least one of your email addresses. With over 425 million Gmail accounts active today, pretty much everyone has one.

Being a Mac user, your ideal situation is to have Gmail work seamlessly inside the native OSX Apple Mail app, but even when you set up your account in OSX correctly, things don’t always jive just how you would like.

There are a few tweaks you can apply to both Gmail and Apple Mail to get them working together as deliciously as peanut butter and jelly but with 100% less napkins needed. It’s not hard to do as long as you know where to look. This article will show you how to make that happen.

IMAP and You

The default for setting up email accounts in mail clients has historically been the POP protocol. While this is perfectly fine for receiving messages, once you start syncing messages between mail clients, phones, and the web interface, POP starts to lose its luster.

This is why IMAP exists. This mail protocol allows for message syncing which keeps everything running smoothly. To use IMAP, you first have to turn it on inside the Gmail web interface. To do this, go to and log in with the account you are setting up. Next, click the gear icon in the top right corner.


In the drop-down menu that appears, select Settings. This will take you to all of the settings related to Gmail. Click on the Forwarding and POP/IMAP menu item to continue.


Make sure under IMAP Access, the status is set to Enable IMAP. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Save Changes button.


Now you can set up Gmail inside of Apple Mail as an IMAP inbox.

Labels vs. Folders

You are probably used to putting emails into folders just as you would file text documents or other files on your Mac. When you use Gmail’s web interface, you have the ability to use Labels (also known as Tags) instead of the regular folders you have grown accustomed to.

Labels allow you to put an email into multiple “folders” so it can be found multiple ways. To make sure that emails don’t show up in multiple folders inside of Apple Mail, you can tweak what labels appear inside of IMAP clients.

To do this, first go back to Gmail Settings, but this time click on Labels instead of IMAP/POP. Here, you will see a list of the labels that Gmail uses. Un-check the labels you don’t want to see populated inside of Apple Mail, and they will be hidden. A few good labels to un-check are Chats and Important.

It is worth noting here that with All Mail enabled, the emails are still downloaded multiple times to Apple Mail, but the duplicates are hidden. While this will still use disk space, it is easier for you to view.


To Delete or Not To Delete

When you delete a message inside of Apple Mail, what happens to it inside of the Gmail server and web app? Well, with IMAP you have a few options. How you choose to set this up depends on how often you use the Gmail website and how many emails you want to save. These settings are found on the Forwarding and POP/IMAP page of your Gmail settings.

With IMAP turned on, the first option you get is to instantly delete messages on the server that are deleted inside of Apple Mail, or to wait for you to tell Gmail it’s OK to delete. This feature is called “Auto-Expunge“. For the best syncing experience, it is recommend leaving this option turned ON.


The next option to consider is what happens to that deleted message. You can choose to have Gmail archive the message on the server, move the message to the trash, or delete it forever. Once again, this all depends on how you use Apple Mail versus the Gmail web client. For safety’s sake, leaving this set to the default of Archive the message is best. This means that any time you hit the Delete button in Apple Mail on your Mac, the email on the server gets dumped in the archive folder inside of Gmail.

The email is gone from your computer, but is backed up and archived in your Gmail account in case you ever need it again. If you care about privacy and need to make sure deleted emails are really deleted, choose the Immediately delete the message forever option. Now, when you delete an email on your Mac, it will be deleted from Gmail as well.



It can be very tricky getting multiple services created by separate companies to play nicely with one another, but with a few settings tweaks and a little attention to detail, you can get your Mac and your Gmail accounts to live in harmony.


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