Gmail goes offline

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Google’s online email service Gmail can now be used in your web browser even if you don’t have an Internet connection. We show you how to do it and why using Outlook is still a good first choice.

Google’s online email service Gmail can now be used in your web browser even if you don’t have an Internet connection.

This means you can work on your email whether the Wi-Fi is working or not. Google’s online word processor and spreadsheet system ‘Google Docs’ has an offline option for some time. Doing the same for email is trickier but the Google technicians feel they have it working to the extent that they’re offering it to Gmail users via the test area called ‘Labs’.

Even if you have a reliable Internet connection, Offline Gmail is a useful safety feature in case your net connection dies. It can be frustrating to lose a partly written email because the connection dies … offline Gmail can help avoid that particular annoyance.

Going offline with Gmail

Switching Gmail to offline mode is simple. Go to Settings | Labs, Enable the Offline option then click ‘Save Changes’ way down at the bottom of that page.

An ‘Offline’ option will appear on the top line of the Gmail browser window (next to Settings). Click on that to see a dialog that will install Google Gears (if necessary) and authorize Gmail to use Gears.

Then you’ll see a progress bar as your email and settings are first replicated to your computer. After a short time the progress dialog will show you how far back in time the offline storage has saved messages (e.g. “If you disconnect now you will access to mail back to September 21, 2007”). Messages are downloaded first then any attachments.

Depending on your Gmail storage and connection speed, the initial sync could take a few minutes or an hour. It is best to get offline working and fully synchronized well before you need it (ie get it working before your next trip, not at the airport during the final call to board).

Offline Settings

Under Settings | Offline you can tweak some offline settings:

  • Turn offline synchronization on or off.

  • Date Range. By default the last five years of mail is downloaded for offline access plus all Starred messages no matter the age. Messages in the Junk E-mail, Spam and Trash folders are not available offline. There is no option to change these settings, yet.

  • Make a desktop shortcut to Gmail from your desktop.

  • A link to offline Gmail troubleshooting details and help (remember this is a test system).

Gmail can store up to 7GB of email. If you make heavy use of Gmail have enough disk space to handle offline storage.

On the top of the Gmail page there’s an offline icon which changes according to the connection status:

  • Green tick – online and fully synched

  • Green spiral – online and synchronizing

  • Grey icon – offline

  • Blue arrow – Flaky connection mode

Gmail - offline icon and options.jpg image from Gmail goes offline at


Flakey Connection Mode is good when you are on a slow, erratic or expensive link. It will force Gmail to use the offline storage copy of messages instead of looking online first. Synchronization still happens in the background.

It’s nice to have options to sync immediately (useful if you’re about to jump on a plane or train) and also ‘snooze’ the sync for an hour (if you want to save bandwidth).

Using Gmail offline

To use Gmail offline simply open up your browser and go to the Gmail page as usual. The desktop shortcut to Gmail makes this simple.

Messages you read, compose, forward etc are stored on your computer and sent off when you are next connected to the Internet with the Gmail browser window open.

Offline Gmail is stated to work with Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 2 and 3 – strangely no mention of Google’s own browser Chrome (fast becoming our favorite browser). We can confirm Gmail offline works with Chrome, as you’d expect.

More than one computer

There is no reason why you can’t install the Gmail offline option on more than one computer for the same account. Any and all changes on each offline instance will be copied to the central storage and then replicated to other offline instances.

This means you can access Gmail offline from a desktop and portable computer, home or work etc.

Offline alternatives

Offline Gmail is a great addition to the product but we don’t feel it’s a good alternative to having your own email program to store email locally.

Gmail has IMAP support so you can easily synchronize your online account with local storage via Outlook, Outlook Express or any other IMAP capable email software (most are).

Gmail also has standard POP/SMTP support which lets your email program get and send email. However POP doesn’t fully synchronize your online folders with storage on a local computer.

Using your own email program with Gmail and IMAP lets you store messages in a known format that can be backed up or migrated to another program. You can continue to use familiar software instead of the web interface.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you using email software connected to Gmail at home then accessing the same email account via the web or mobile device elsewhere. That’s the power of centralized storage of your email.

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