Troubleshooting Apple Mail in OS X 10.11 El Capitan

The Apple Mail upgrade process in OS X 10.11 El Capitan has been problematic for many users. Let’s look at what has changed and optons to fix a bad upgrade.

Apple Mail is stored in your User’s Library. Apple hides User’s Library by default. You’ll need to unhide in order to continue. How to enable the User’s Library folder

Since OS X 10.7 (Lion), Mail has been stored in the User’s Library > Mail > V2 folder. Starting in OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Mail is stored in User’s Library > Mail > V3 folder.

This screen shot shows my V2 folder compared to V3 folder.

Compare V2 folder to V3

This is an example of a V3 folder with a bad upgrade. As you can see, it’s a mix of old folders with new.


To Repair Mail in El Capitan follow these steps.

Step 1: Make sure you have backup. If you have Time Machine or clone backup you are covered. If not, be sure to duplicate your Mail folder in the User’s Library.

Step 2: Quit Mail

  • In System Preferences > Internet Accounts, uncheck Mail for each account.
  • Go to the User’s Library
    • Scroll to Containers. Drag the folder to the trash.
    • Scroll to Mail. Drag Mail folder to the trash.
    • Scroll to Preferences. Drag any files to the trash
  • Log out under the Apple in the Menu bar
  • Log in
  • Empty the Trash. If not, Mail will continue to try and use data in the Mail folder.
  • Open System Preferences > Internet Accounts and check Mail for your primary account. I suggest adding one email account at a time.
  • Open Mail and test account.
  • For IMAP and Exchange users with no local messages under “On My Mac” there is no step 3 required.

Step 3: Import messages stored under “On My Mac”

Option 1) Use a Time Machine backup. Go back in time just prior to OS X 10.11 El Capitan upgrade. You should only see a V2 folder in Mail.

  • If you are in your User’s Library > Mail folder, enter Time Machine.  Restore the V2 folder to the Desktop. Follow step 2 to import the data into Mail.


  • If you are in Mail under “On My Mac” folders (you’ll need to create a folder if one does not exist to see “On My Mac”) you can enter Time Machine in this view then go back in time and select to restore your folders.

restore from tm

Option 2)  Under File in the Menu bar select Import Mailboxes…


Select Apple Mail


Navigate to your Mail backup folder. Select Mailboxes folder in V2 > Import.

(Most users did not export mailboxes prior to upgrading but if you did, navigate to your exported folders)

Your messages will show up under “On My Mac” in a folder named Import. It will most likely be at the bottom of your folder list and not listed alphabetically.


Occassionally, I have seen importing from V2 to show messages formatted incorrectly. If you cannot export from Mail in a prior version of OS X, you can use Emailchemy to convert these to mbox files that will import in the correct format. Emailchemy has a demo you can try first. $29.95 to purchase.

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128 thoughts on “Troubleshooting Apple Mail in OS X 10.11 El Capitan

  1. THANK YOU for this.

    My OS X El Capital Mail HELL is finally concluded. May the author of this piece be blessed with massive wealth, happiness and great health!!



    This really helped!!

    Although I still cannot import mailboxes to On My Mac, but I can now create mailbox there and rebuild it one by one. (I didn’t have Time Machine back up but I used to keep my mail database on external hard drive and use Symbolic Link to put the V2 folder back in ~libary/mail/…)

  3. Hi there. My question is this.
    I upgraded to El Capitan on my office computer and my macbook. When I travel, I’ve been copying and replacing the mail and mail download folders on my notebook with those from my office computer, and then the other way around when I return. I use a lot of ‘on my mac’ folders to store a lot of email – I like to have it available as a database for searching old conversations and contacts etc.

    Since upgrading, copying those 2 folders over to the macbook doesn’t work. All folders on the servers and on my mac appear completely empty.

    What’s the best way to resolve that? I just want to take my email DB with me and work from the same interface (mac mail) when I’m on the road, update as I go, then put it all back on the office computer.

    currently I’m crippled with my workflow, so I’d be very thankful for suggestions.

    • First, the Mail Downloads folder is no longer used by Mail in El Capitan.
      Second, you can’t just copy over Mail folder. Your data works with other folders. Trying to switch out folders is not advised.

      I’m guessing you have POP account. I would switch to IMAP. That way both macs would have the same data.

      Options for “On My Mac” local folders:
      1) Export the “On My Mac” folders. If you have a lot of folders, I would advise using Emailchemy. Mail only allows you to export one folder at a time.
      Emailchemy $29.95
      You can import into Mail on the laptop. (Not a good option IMHO)
      2) Export your emails into one of these third party apps: EagleFiler, DevonThink Pro (again this requires you to move the data from one mac to the other)
      3) Upload to an IMAP account like Gmail, iCloud,, Yahoo. (Best option. Once you get the data online any new messages can be easily added. No more move/replace folders.)

      Hope this helps!

      • Hi again. Actually I do have an IMAP account. But a move emails to “On My Mac” as it’s become a very large database (approx. 76GB), and this way I can have it and use it, even if I’m offline.

        I used to have rules do this for me, but that’s a whole other problem I won’t get into here.

        If I use the software you suggest, it will handle all folders and sub folders for On My Mac back and forth? I would also assume I could skip step 2 and three of the above? That would do the job, also for setting up a new mac, I think.

        The export will get everything including your IMAP. When you go to import just select the “On My Mac” mbox files.

        • Yes, Emailchemy will handle all your folders and subfolders. It looks for your data in the User’s Library/Mail folder by default. You can navigate to the files on your Desktop or put the V2 folder in Mail to run. Often when it’s in a different location, EC will give you a warning error before starting.

          • You might need to recover the V2 folder from Time Machine.

            EmailChemy will get everything in the Mail folder. You can then choose the folders you want to import back into Mail.

  4. Hey, that’s quite a useful article. I had on question though, do we still need the v2 folder or can we delete it? I though El Capitan saves it’s mail only in a v3 folder now?


  5. Pingback: Clean up Mail folder to free up space from your drive | Need Help 4 Mac

  6. My scroll bars in Mail have disappeared. I tried going into General, but the scroll bars option is gone.

    • Have you restarted your Mac? If yes, try deleting the file in your User’s Libary/Preferences folder.
      Log out/in and then check System Preferences > General to see if the scroll bar option is now visible.

      If you have ‘Full Screen’ checked, it will eliminate scroll bars. Uncheck this and have a look.

      Make sure all your apps are fully updated.

  7. thanks a million for this article Diane
    i has been a gruesome four days without any mail
    almost everything is up and running again except for one (kind of important) thing
    all the accounts are working fine, but i’ve lost all the mailbox structure i had made before (mailboxes with folders and subfolders) including the messages in them
    i’ve tried the importing part (out of the V3-folder in my old Mail-folder i had copied – where i can see all those mailboxes) but none of them seem to import
    any ideas would mean a lot

    • Without actually seeing the contents of the folders, it’s hard to guess. I’m assuming these are your local “On My Mac” folders. Check the size to be sure they actually contain your data.

      You could try importing the V2 folder and place it in your Mail folder then see if the demo of Emailchemy can convert the files. Select to save as .mbox not Apple mbox file. If it works you would need to purchase then run again.

      • yes, as far as i remember they were under “on my mac” (they were just new mailboxes i created so they must have been there i guess)
        the V2 folder only has one maildata map in it with one accounts.plist file in there (and is only about 40Kb)
        the V3 mailbox folder that has all the mailboxes and subfolders in it (a bit like the picture you’ve posted above) and is about 4.5GB
        this is all a bit of the territory i never go to with computers so things are already starting to sound like strange foreign language
        is there any screenshots or anything i could post here that would help?
        can i try that Emailchemy on the mailboxes in the V3 folder?


  8. helpful and I have restored my four email accounts, but I have lost the hierarchical Mailboxes, with subfolders, in ‘On My Mac’ that I had decanted my mail into over a 10 year period. I had backed up with: Time Machine, Carbon Copy Cloner and manually from User/Me/Library/Mail, under Yosemite

    I have used ™, CCC and manual restoration and can get the hierarchical structure, BUT there are no emails inside. I have tried to import the V2 folder, as described and get the error: No valid box files were found, despite them on my Ext HDs.

    How do I proceed ? This is driving me nuts, am I missing something?

    (Update from Yosemite to El Capitan- iMac 27 late 2013)

  9. I have tried for a third time, having placed a copy of my backed up (Yosemite) V2 folder on the desktop and followed steps 1, 2 & 3. I now find my hierarchical folders ‘On My Mac’ under ‘Import’. Now if I open a folder, say ‘BMJ’, I see a sub-folder 78734BE7-ABCA-4EE7-9DF7-657DFDE278B7, click on that and there is a ‘DATA’ folder, within which is a sub-folder ‘4’, then there is a sub-folder ‘2’ and to my surprise email messages are here. Select them and drop them into the BMJ folder and delete everything below this.

    Oh dear Apple this is so tedious!!! What happened to the term seamless transition. You may tell me that I am doing something wrong?????

    Regards from a very frustrated UK customer

      • Hi Diane,

        Thanks for your recommendation.
        Emailchemy was the solution to my problem with mailboxes created ” On My Mac ” .

        Recovered whole structure and all messages.

        Thanks thanks thanks.

  10. Hi Diane

    Thanks for this, but one should be able to easily export/import such mailboxes, which only appear to work in a V2, not V3 folder. Apple need to know this. I am not prepared to go through this trauma every time there is an OS X upgrade. I am looking to move away from Mac Mail and use Thunderbird.

    Kind regards


  11. I have tried the suggestions and I am still seeing it randomly downloading thousands of messages then roll back like it i erasing them an hour or two later then download them again. this is with a domain using imap and I am stumped. It just deleted everything back to October and now is re-downloading them from my provider.

    any suggestions?

    • Create a folder in the problem account. Name it the name of the account. We’ll use this to identify the folder that contains the data for the account. The new naming scheme makes it harder to identify what folder contains the account.

      V3 names:

      V2 names

      Completely remove the IMAP account from Mail and in System Preferences > Internet Accounts (uncheck Mail for the account). Then with Mail quit, delete the folder in Containers. Restart your Mac. Do not open Mail yet. Next, in the Mail folder in your User’s Library, identify the folder that contains the data for the problem account. Delete this folder. Empty the trash. In System Preferences > Internet Accounts, check Mail for the account. Open Mail and let the account download.

      Make sure your Inbox doesn’t contain thousands of messages. You might want to archive to an IMAP folder or move to a local “On My Mac” folder. Do the same for your Sent folder. If you use Mail’s Archive, it will create an Archive folder on the IMAP account. If your IMAP has limits you would be better off moving the messages to a local “On My Mac” folder.

      Let me know if this helps.

  12. Hi Diane,
    I don’t have a backup from the Yosemite period left… An Apple “expert” “solved” my mail problem by cleaning my hard disk. So, no V2-data on my Mac.
    I don’t know exactly what you mean with “Mail backup folder?”.
    All my mails are also forwarded to a gmail mail address. Maybe I can get the V2-data from gmail? Do you have any suggestion?
    Many thanks.

    • I’m assuming you have no Time Machine or clone backup.

      You would be able to get any messages you forwarded to Gmail. Simply add the Gmail email to System Preferences > Internet Accounts then open Mail. Depending on your setup, they could have a label applied or the messages could be in the All Mail folder.

      In the future before letting anyone, wipe your drive, be sure you have a backup. Apple notifies you when you make a genius appointment that you should backup first since a common fix is to wipe a drive. However most users either don’t notice it or don’t fully appreciate the consequences of not doing a backup first.

  13. Hi Diane,

    I’m inn the El Capitan Upgrade From Hell situation. Was unable to connect to my mail server (a POP server if it matters) after the “upgrade”. Before I found this thread, I heard that deleting the mail account and then setting it up again might work. So I deleted the account under “Internet Accounts”. When I tried setting it up again, it told me the account already exists.

    So when I found this thread I attempted to follow your steps, deleting the Mail folder, plist files, etc. But when I get to adding the account again, it still tells me the account exists already. It doesn’t show up in Mail. HOWEVER, when I look at the iCloud account at the top of the list, it shows my email address sitting there. (I have not been using iCloud for mail, and the Mail checkbox is not checked.)

    Can you please point me in the right direction? I can still access my mail via my iPhone or webmail, so I’m not panicked just yet. But I’m pretty confused….

    • Rather than unchecking Mail in System Preferences > Internet Accounts, remove the account. Also in the Mail folder in your User’s library, find the folder that contains that account and delete the folder. Make sure the folder is removed in User’s Library/Containers. Restart, empty the trash then add the accounts back in System Preferences > Internet Accounts.

      Note: if possible I would add the account back as IMAP instead of POP.

  14. Thank you so much! Many people have posted possible solutions to the Mail/El Capitan crash problem, but nothing helped me until your clear directions. My only question during the process was when I got to deleting the last file(s) in the Preferences folder in the Library: you said to delete any “” files. I also had an “” file. Wasn’t sure if I should delete it, but decided not to since you didn’t say to specifically delete it. Glad I didn’t, since following your directions to the letter worked! Thank you, thank you!

    • Most .plist files can be safely deleted and created new without issue. Some will contain data that is necessary like a registration key. If you have the necessary info it’s safe to delete those files as well.

  15. Hi, It became time to redo my computer, which had El Capitan on it but was getting very slow and unsteady after many non-standard re-starts.. I made a bootable thumb drive with El Capitan on it, erased my hard drive, re-installed El Capitan, and did my best to restore everything from Time Machine. My Mail mailboxes are all present, but there is no content/no email messages in them; they are all empty. I used Time Machine to restore all of V2 and V3 Mail from Library, and also recovered the Containers and Preferences folders. How can I fix the empty mailboxes? BTW, the V3 folder is of size 1.5 Gb for 18,000 items, so I think the messages are there…. TIA.

    • Time Machine restore often brings back the problems you had that would be fixed by a clean install. Containers folder does not contain your data. You should be able to recover from Time Machine V2 folder before you upgraded. Some users have lost data when El Capitan Mail imported.

      Download the demo for Emailchemy. Select to recover from Apple Mail. It wants to look in the User’s Library/Mail folder for the data. Select to export as .mbox file. Import the results back into Mail. If you see your data, you’ll need to purchase and run again to remove the demo watermark.

      Emailchemy $29.95

      If you need personal assistance, you can contact me for help.

      • I have followed the above steps but lost all my “on my mac ” mailboxes which is where all my mail usually is. Now I just have what is in my inbox. I have tried emailchemy but they have not been restored. How do I use emailchemy to do this?

        • If you look in the User’s Library/Mail > Mailboxes, do you see any folders? If not, then go back into Time Machine and restore the Mailboxes folder.

          Emailchemey cannot export what is not there.

  16. Hello Diane
    I changed machines like Bill above, from a macbook pro 2011 to a Macbook pro retina mid 2015 just a few days ago. My old machine had upgraded to El Captain and my email was working just fine. When I migrated, one of my emails stopped working. I tried to follow instructions from my service provider but mail freezes at some stage and I cannot get past that. My Gmail works but all the mailboxes that I had created on my previous mac did not come along. Please assist.

    • Is the account that is not working POP or IMAP? If IMAP, delete from Mail. This takes you to System Preferences > Internet Account. Uncheck Mail for that account. Next in the User’s Library, find the folder in v3 for that account. You’ll have to check folder names or check an email to identify if it has the new naming structure. Delete that enter folder if IMAP.

      In MailData, delete the files with envelope in the name. Open Mail. It will reindex your files.
      When Mail opens, go to System Preferences > Internet Accounts and check mail for that account. It should download correctly now. If not we would need to look at removing containers folder and other possible repairs.

      • Hello Diane

        Did you get my last email? I’m still waiting for a response. Thank you.

        • I replied to your gmail account on the 10th.

          Not enough info to guess. I doubt it would be less than an hour but most likely not more than two hours.

          How many accounts?
          What type of account(s)? (POP, IMAP, Exchange)
          What Email Provider? Comcast, Earthlink, Cox, ATT, Yahoo, iCloud, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail (other)

          Once I hear back I’ll have a better idea what is involved.

          • Looks like I’m having problems sending mail from even my gmail. My other account seems to be preventing sending mail from this mac. Let me try from my iPhone. If I fail, I had said my problem email service provider is zol (from Zimbabwe, Africa) My time is zone is +2hours GMT. I had said let’s try for not more than 2hrs.

          • I received your reply and sent times to connect via email. You can also contact me via Skype. My Skype name is dianeoforegon

  17. Hello – you seem to really know your stuff. My issue is that my godaddy email keeps redownloading over and over. I tried everything deleting account etc… Basically my gmail imports fine but my imap godaddy email starts downloading and syncs fine an hour later all emails disappear and it redownloading again ??
    Any ideas ? I just want a clean setup. Since it it IMAP it will download again

    Thank you

    • When you delete the account in Mail, the actual folder with the messages is not deleted.Try the following:
      Select to remove the Gmail account in Mail. This should take you to System Preferences > Internet Accounts. Uncheck Mail in Go Daddy. (this does not delete the data already downloaded)

      Quit Mail.

      Go to your User’s Library > Mail folder

      Delete the folder in V3 (ElCap) folder that has the Go Daddy messages. You can tell by looking in the folders. If you can’t tell by the folders it contains, you can drill down to messages and hit space bar to view a message to see account. (This will give us a fresh start and not try to sync up the changes.)

      Then in the MailData folder, delete the files with envelope in the name.

      Next in the User’s Library go to Containers folder. Delete the folder.

      Log out.
      Log in and empty the trash.
      Open System Preferences > Internet Accounts and check Mail in Go Daddy.
      Open Mail. This reindex your mail first.
      After Mail opens your Go Daddy account should download correctly.

      • IT WORKED!!! I am hugging you through the phone. not even Apple tech bar could help me! thank you!!!

          • I’ve seen several report regarding Go Daddy. I’m suspicious that the problem is on their end.

            How many messages in Inbox and Sent folders? If over 10K you might want to archive by moving them to either local “On My Mac” folders or to a separate folder on IMAP (depends on your storage limit).

  18. THANK YOU!!! After many failures using other suggestions, this method has finally enabled El Capitan Mail to download all my Gmail emails.

  19. Hi Diane,

    I have not begun to attempt this, yet, but before I start down this road — I have lots of backups from before the upgrade, but I have also (with great difficulty), filed many emails between that time (around mid-December) and now, into folders “On My Mac.” So, restoring those folders from a month ago, will miss the last month’s worth of organized emails. I am creating regular backups on a near-daily basis, so I will have access to TM backups after importing the original V2 folder… Would you recommend somehow identifying and exporting messages that have been filed since the upgrade, then importing them separately? Or is it possible to go back after “fixing” this mail problem into a recent TM back-up and pulling those individual messages back into my folders? I am waiting to try this fix until I have a good idea of how to handle this, but with every day, the number of filed messages grows (as I have rules created to do this automatically.

    Also, should I export and reimport my rules and signatures? Or will those import with the V2 import?

    Thanks for any help!

    • It’s not clear if the daily backups to “On My Mac” folders are missing emails. If yes, I would use the Mailbox > Export Mailbox… to save the current “On My Mac” folders.

      When you import, use the File > Import > Apple Mail option. Each Import is saved under a folder named Import, Import-1, etc

      If these folders are missing older emails then you will need to restore from an older Time Machine backup. I would save to the Desktop and use the import function File > Import > Apple Mail.

      Now you have two Import folders with duplicates. This is were it can be a bit tricky…merging two folders. I would note the newest email from the December backup in each folder. Find that email in the newer folders and delete all the older emails. Now you can move all from newer into the older folder.

      Rules and Signatures are best created new. Take screen shots of your Rules and copy your signatures to a text file to paste into your new El Capitan Preferences > Signature.

      Another option would be to move the “On My Mac” folders to an IMAP account so they simply download again when you do the El Capitan upgrade. Gmail offers 10GB free, iCloud 5GB, offers virtually unlimited storage. that expands.

      You can always move off the server after you complete the upgrade.

      • This is very unfortunate to hear. I literally have scores of very specific rules, and about 15 years of sorted/filed emails “On My Mac,” in subfolders within subfolders within folders, etc… All of these things are essential to my work and income (of which I’ve already lost days-worth due to this problem) and will probably take weeks to rebuild, sort, and restore.

        I don’t see how this is in ANY way an upgrade, from Apple, not to mention, where is the safety in back-ups and storing things on the computer, if this is the outcome?

        I sincerely appreciate your help and timely responses, but it sounds like I’m better off dealing with a crashing mail program and working off of my phone and iPad, when necessary.

        • Rules even in Microsoft Outlook for Mac, don’t transfer via an upgrade well. They do not export at all.

          It’s possible that the import can bring over the rules, but you might have to reset all the folder destinations.

          Rules use ID numbers for the folders. These can change thus breaking a rule.

          • Interestingly, the rules upgraded and imported well, as did the signatures, the first time I upgraded to El Capitan.

            Nevertheless, I followed your directions to the letter, and strangely enough, the rules and signatures are actually still there, without importing again. Since I trashed the “Mail” folder after logging out and back in, I don’t know how this is possible. All rules were unchecked (i.e. inactive) and the signatures are not assigned to any email addresses, however they are indeed there, and function properly when I recheck the rules.

            So, I began the task of importing “On My Mac” messages (from Time Machine), something that takes HOURS for each one, and here’s the debacle that ensued: Mail “quit unexpectedly” after importing one folder, but they all seem to be there when I check. The remaining 4 high-level mail folders took their subsequent hours “importing” and I could see messages building in the mail folder, but then when the import was done, nothing is there. Anywhere. No folder, no messages, no nothing. Further, all of the problems I was having with MacMail before, are still there: Organize by Thread no longer seems to work, and I’ve got completely random and correspondences that I have to use “Find” to group and look at in context; and two of my IMAP emails don’t load new messages or sync unless I quit and reboot Mac Mail, and one no longer uses Junk, Trash, or Sent folders as it did (and all others do) before the El Capitan upgrade.

            So, all things considered, I’m going to restore the things I deleted from the back-up I made right before embarking on this process, and just deal with it as is until I can find a way to use a different program, or Apple stands behind their product (something they don’t seem very good at anymore) and fixes their bugs. I have already spent countless hours on this and frustrating isn’t even the right word. Perhaps I will try the Genius Bar in a couple of weeks when I am in a better headspace about it all.

            Thanks again, for all of your help and advice.

  20. Hi, I have a related issue, and I am looking for help.

    Had to reinstall from scratch a machine that went through many upgrades, last to El Capitan. In the backup I have post El Capitan upgrade the emails are in a V3 folder although they use the old V2 naming.

    I need to move the “On My Mac” folders from the backup to the new setup. Traditionally I would have moved the folder and waited for Apple Mail to rebuild and check it all, but this time it does not happen. The copied folders are simply ignored.

    No problem with the IMAP email, I know how to handle that…

    If you can explain how to make the transfer that would be great

    • You won’t be able to see the Library folder if is was hidden. You’ll have to enter via Time Machine app.

      If hidden….
      In the Finder, go to the User’s Library > Mail.
      Enter Time Machine
      Select the Mailboxes folder. Select Restore to “under the gear in the Menu bar” the Desktop.
      In Mail, try importing the “On My Mac” folders.
      (I’ve seen import oddly. In that case you would need to convert with Emailchemy then import the new mbox files.)

      If Library is not hidden in the Finder….
      If you have Time Machine on an external drive were you can see Backups.backupdb, you can drill down to find the Mail > V2 > Mailboxes
      Drag Mailboxes folder over to the Desktop.

  21. I experienced a lot of Mail problems after upgrading to El Capitan. A number of people suggested rebuilding mailboxes, which doesn’t fix all problems but may fix some. Others suggested removing the evelope index and rebuilding the database This is probably a good idea. It didn’t fix Mail for me which sometimes gets caught in a loop of “apparently” downloading huge numbers of messages (which don’t exist). I found a fix… 

    1. Quit mail
    2. Go to web mail (access your inbox via a browser with same login as in Mail)
    3. Delete one message (preferably spam)
    4. Open Mail

    It should be functoning normally. So far this has worked for me, but as they say, the mileage varies. Good luck. 

    PS It doesn’t have to be web mail, it can be any access to your mail where you can actually see the inbox with messages in it. I set up mail on an older Mac (leaving messages on the server so as not to lose them) and I could see the real messages in the inbox and delete one. After doing this I restarted El Capitan Mail and it worked. 

  22. Hi my husbands mac has multiple email accounts within mac mail which all worked fine until upgrading to El Capitan and even after a second full reinstall its still not working correctly, and very slow often causing the computer to freeze, emails end up being saved in drafts multiple times, emails wont clear off the server, progress bar states emails are being downloaded when there are none to download, etc etc. His laptop is about 4 years old and we are now going back to Yosemite. My question is will the Mboxes import back to Yosemite after being used in El Capitan, what I mean is can you go back to V2 from V3.

    We are in the process of backing up the Mboxes by copying the V3 folder and by also exporting the mboxes through the application – which is very lengthy as there are mxboes within mboxes (folders within folders in the folder hierarchy that we have created in on my mac) Why mac just cant provide a single export button to export absolutely everything in one go and preserve the hierarchy is beyond me, unless there is a way you can export everything that I dont know about?
    Outlook is so much easier just copy the pst file, all folders and structures within are preserved, job done. Please can you let me know if once mboxes have been used within El Capitan (V3) can you re imported them back into Yosemite (V2)

    One final question – if we cannot get mac mail to work is there a way or importing mboxes into Outlook to create a pst file.

    • The answer to reverting is not simple and I will address this in another post with detailed info. You might find the tips in this article to be helpful.

      You asked

      if we cannot get mac mail to work is there a way or importing mboxes into Outlook to create a pst file.

      Outlook for Mac can only import a .pst file. You cannot create .pst files in Outlook. If you are using POP accounts you should stick with Mail. Only use Outlook with IMAP and Exchange accounts. Outlook does not sync to iCloud contacts and calendars so if you want to sync to your iPhone you will have to get an Exchange account if you use Outlook.

  23. I could seriously hug you right now! After nearly two weeks of searching for a solution (I knew it had to be something simple), this worked like a charm! THANK YOU!!!!!!

  24. Just updated to El Capitan, reluctantly after reading about the many potential problems. sure enough, I found all Gmail account not functioning. Searched forums, including Apple’s nothing worked. Following yours, step by step, and all mailboxes, (except for On My Mac, not important right now) and accounts functioning again!
    Many, many thanks for your time, much much appreciated!

  25. I went through all of the steps. iCloud internet account is still listed as inactive (“This is not your primary iCloud account”).
    Any suggestions?

    • In System Preferences > Internet Accounts do you have two iCloud accounts? You can have two iCloud accounts but only the primary will have all the options available. However the secondary account connects to Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders and Notes.

      I would guess that you have preferences that are corrupt in User’s Library/Preferences,

  26. I was hopeful that this solution would fix my el cap mail problems, but no such luck. Mail still regularly fails to download new messages unless I take accounts offline and then back online to force a connection. Then when it does download the messages, it frequently fails to sync the account, so deleted and read messages do not get updated on the IMAP server, my phone retains or downloads the deleted messages, and mail on the mac often re-downloads the messages I have already deleted. Interestingly, the first account I set up after deleting the mail folder and emptying the trash still has the V2 folder name structure (IMAP-***@***.com@mail.***.com).

    • I’m seeing mixed results in user’s V3 folder where it mixes the old naming and new naming scheme. It doesn’t seem to be a problem, but it’s sloppy and confusing.

  27. The following problem description is not really a reply to the last post but it might be helpful for others – and there still is sth. unsolved:

    I’ve got a new MB Pro (OS X 10.11.2) and decided not to clone the old user / surrounding (OS X 10.9.5) but to copy piece by piece. Therefore I had to import mails „manually”. First I tried to import via “Apple Mail / V2” (see your description above) but it did not work. Therefore I imported by “ Import”. As the import menu does not show the hidden library I created an alias of “V2” that could be selected. As I have a lot of mails, the import took some hours. Finally the mails were imported and in the library there was the new folder “V3” containing the imported mailboxes.

    The problems:
    1.) “V2” on the old computer is empty (Mail “stole” them from old system). Normally importing does not harm the Computer that provides data.
    2.) “V3” multiplied the amount of data (V2 had 17 GB, V3 has 60 GB), but it does not show more mails (if there were 30 mails in the old surrounding, there still are 30 in V3, but the data is much bigger)

    Explanation to 1.): After a long chat with the apple support I came to the conclusion that the loss of mails on the old computer is due to the Alias. This made the system identify with two computers at once. Therefore I will never again import from the original but from a copy.

    Explanation to 2.) The system created duplicates that are not used by mail but stored in “V3” too. After deleting these additional files, V3 is now about 30 GB.

    Is there any way of decreasing “V3” to the old “V2” size of about 17 GB?
    Thank’s for any information (and Sorry for the poor English)

    • First, I never try importing from another drive. Always copy over the data to the boot drive before trying to import.

      It sounds like you might have IMAP accounts. You imported the old IMAP that are not actually connecting but taking up space. Without actually seeing your files, I could only guess.

  28. Have El Capitain 10.11.3 was working fine – updated last weekend – seemed to work great till yesterday evening – outgoing smtp wouldn’t work – mail crashed in the midst of trying to sort it – finally sorted by re-entering one line at a time under pop account (without deleting it ) and smtp – it worked – but then found the sent folder is not saving anymore. – unfortunately i don’t have a backup – or time capsule. Is there a way I can get the sent to work – checked library and noticed all the sent mail had only yesterdays date where as the other folders inbox etc had different dates for the mail – Can you help by any chance? I would be so grateful – am grateful that you serve so much to dissolve frustration and problems here for people. thanks

    • When you have a complex issue like you are describing, trying to explain how to troubleshoot is a bit like a surgeon explaining how to do the surgery.

      If you open Connection Doctor under Window in the Menu bar, do you see any red icons to indicate a failure to connect?
      How many accounts do you have?
      Have you checked the contents of your V3 folder?

  29. Hello
    I recently upgraded to 10.11.3 from 10.6.8 and my apple mail has not worked since then. I am now working my way through your instructions. Can you please advise where my old emails are stored as I do not have a V2 folder in my mail folder.

    • Did you upgrade OVER your Snow Leopard files or did you do a clean install?
      Did you backup prior to doing the upgrade?
      Are you sure you are looking in the right Library. The User’s Library is hidden by default.
      Do you see the V3 folder?

      • Upgraded OVER Snow Leopard (don’t know what a clean install is!). I did the install based on a set of instructions I found on the Internet. They did not mention anything about mail accounts.
        Did a complete backup with Time Machine prior to upgrade.
        Unhid the Library using the instructions at the top of the article.
        There is a V3 folder in my Mail Folder.

        Was progressing with the instructions and testing my mail accounts as per Step 2. Only ‘send’ was working.

        Since posting this comment, Apple Care advised me to re-create my mail account. I have done this and it has imported approx 3000 emails into my inbox; nothing into my sent mail. I don’t understand this as I religiously delete email and only save those I need into folders on the hard drive (I only had approx 25 emails in my inbox and 15 in my sent mail). Do I have to manually sort through 3000 emails which I had previously done? Is there a way to easily identify the emails that were in my inbox and sent mail prior to the upgrade? How do I get my sent mail back? Not sure what to do now ….

        • Your problems are a result of how POP accounts work. Did Apple Care ask you what type account? They should have advised you differently. Most likely they assumed you had an IMAP account. IMAP keeps all folders on the server and everything downloads again after you remove and add back the account.

          A little about POP accounts….
          Mail only communicates with the Inbox.
          If you move a message to a folder, depending on your settings under Advanced tab the message could be deleted or left on the server.

          POP does not see your custom folders.

          If you send a message with POP, the message is saved locally. It is not saved on the server.

          When you delete a POP account in Apple Mail, it deletes all the default folders and their emails.

          It’s a good thing you have a Time Machine backup, but was it run before you removed the POP account or only when you did the upgrade to El Capitan?

          You’ll need to restore from Time Machine and import back into Mail. I suggest saving the Mail data to the Desktop and use File > Import Mailboxes… > Apple Mail.

          Depending on your skill level you might need assistance.

          • The Time Machine backup was prior to the El Capitan upgrade. I removed the POP account after the upgrade but the mail data should be exactly the same, as mail did not work at all after the upgrade. Is this correct?
            Re restoring mail from Time Machine – are you referring to Library\Mail or do I need to specify a folder/s in Library/Mail?
            When I import the mailboxes, will they overwrite my existing inbox and sent mail OR will they append to the existing inbox and sent mail OR will they appear as new folders in my mail? Just want to understand what the end result will be as I do not want to lose any of my new emails received when I created the new mail account (should I export my ‘new’ inbox just in case?)

          • You asked “Is this correct”?

            No, when you remove a POP account in Apple Mail, it deletes all the default folders (Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Trash, Junk). It does not delete any personal folders.

            I suggest you restore the entire Mail folder from Time Machine. You can select to restore to the Desktop if you use the gear option in the Time Machine window toolbar. Otherwise, you’ll need to select to not override your current Mail but to keep both. Drag the imported folder to the Desktop. Navigate to this folder when selecting to Import Mailboxes… You can select all or just the folder you want.

            When you import correctly it imports into a folder named Import with all your data as subfolders. It does not overwrite.

  30. I did a clean install onto a new MBP and it is going well. I have old emails that are shown in Mail as being in a folder called “” that did not transfer over when I moved the Mail folder. I cannot locate that folder. Any ideas where to find “”?

  31. A million of Thanks.
    Your article allow me to end a problem where the Mail App , under El Capitan 10.11.3, was using a lot of Power, and also doing lots of access to the SSD disk, writing Gigabytes of some kind of Data.
    I follow your instructions and worked fine. All the above mentioned problems , ended.
    Thanks again .

  32. Hi Diane
    Thank you very much for your help and patience. All is OK now – I have re-created my mail accounts and restored my inbox and sent mail (prior to upgrade) from Time Machine.
    I have also found the setting in Mail/Preferences to remove the email from the server once it has downloaded (should be OK as I only use a single device to access my emails).
    One last question – what is the best website to refer to when executing an upgrade? I did do some research prior to upgrading to El Capitan but it seemed that relevant information was spread across many sites and difficult to collate to a single set of instructions!

    • There is no easy answer to one site. In general, stay away from a new version of OS X until at least v3 is released. THEN start doing research. Email is important to everyone, so I would search for issues with email first. I try to keep this site updated with the newest issues. If you use Microsoft Office, Adobe CS then you would need to search their forums. Apple Discussions can offer some insight on Apple’s apps. Remember only people that are having problems visit the forums so you don’t get a balanced view of problems.

      The upgrade process is not the same for everyone. It depends on hardware, type of install (clean or over current files) applications used and skill level of the user.

      TidBITS puts out Take Control ebooks for reasonable prices. Usually each ebook has a free chapter sample.
      El Capitan Catalog

      Hope this helps!

  33. Hello. Running MB Retina (2012), OS 10.11.3 and Mail app (9.2).

    Cannot import mbox from a Mac Outlook 2016 export.

    Any latest tip, apart from great info above?

    Maybe a suggestion of a good alternative mail program. I use Exchange.

    Thanks so much.


    • There is a problem creating mbox file by dragging from Outlook 2016 at this time. I suggest you move that folder to Exchange or an IMAP account. Add the account to Apple Mail and the data will download. You can then move off the server if desired.

      Another option would be to purchase Emailchemy $29.95. You can export data from Outlook 2016 as .mbox file. This will import correctly.

  34. Good sir

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, it has been most helpful.
    You have saved lives.


  35. Hi Diane,

    Thanks for this. A colleague and I tried it a couple of times, and initially Mail would work, but soon we would see a “Downloading Messages… 1 new message” and it would never receive the email. If Mail was quit and restarted, the new message would appear. The account is an exchange account, which worked very well until the switch to El C. Any ideas?

    • You need to give Mail a bit to settle out after the initial download. Spotlight has to have time to index your messages. Your Spotlight index might be corrupt. You could reindex your entire drive. Drag the drive to Privacy in Spotlight then remove. This can take hours. Until it’s finished search will not work.

      I suggest that you look at your Exchange Inbox. If you have thousands of messages, you need to archive/move messages to a custom folder. Often until you quit and restart Mail, some folders and/or items will not be seen.

      Exchange Basics

      The Inbox syncs more frequently than any other and should be kept as clean as possible. (this is the number one cause of problems with sync). Do NOT make subfolders under the Inbox.

      Any folder with more than a few thousand messages is going to take some time to fully come down when you first sync your account. Due to the design of sync engine (and how exchange works), you will see the 512 newest messages in a folder at the initial start of sync then the rest of the folder’s contents will be back filled before you see any mail that arrives after this point. This is why it will look like you are not getting new mail when a folder is still going through initial sync. This is also further exacerbated by an Exchange issue where it gets unnecessary change events before the newer mail arrives. If you carefully watch the progress during the sync of a folder with greater than a couple thousand messages, you will see “Updating local…” a lot before the newer mail starts arriving (newer than the initial 512 that come down).

      The Inbox does get high priority so it will generally sync before other folders that also need to sync.

  36. Hello,

    I’m have issues with Mail after migration from an maverick iMac to a new iMac with el cap. Mail does not make a sending or receiving sounds and in only one account the emails will not print. Apple tech recommend to stop using that account in mail and switch to thunderbird so I can print. Which worked but doesn’t solve the problem. Any experience or ideas to help would be appreciated. FYI I still have the old iMac and it has none of these issues but still on maverick.

    • I suggest you test in a new User. You can setup the problem account in this clean environment and see if you experience the same issues.

      Go to System Preferences –> Create a New User in Users & Groups.
      Switch to the New User by logging out under the Apple in the Menu Bar.
      Log into the new User.
      You can skip logging in with an Apple ID. Hit continue then skip.

      Mail will be in the Dock. Open Mail and add your account.
      To test print, you’ll need to add your printer in System Preferences.

  37. Thanks for the help. Reindexing and waiting for the restore to settle seems to have done the trick.

  38. After upgrading to El Capitan 10.11.3 this week, my MAIL program does not work correctly. When I try to reply to a message, a totally blank message window pops up and I cannot close it. I have to quit Mail and reopen it. Then I can close the message window. But the same happens again when I try to reply again. I have three POP accounts and have never had this problem until this upgrade. This problem is intermittent. Sometimes ‘Reply’ works.
    I must add that I created a gmail account after I upgraded but deleted it because I assumed that it was causing this problem. However, even after deleting the gmail account, it is still not working properly.
    I would appreciate your help. Thanks. Vic

  39. hi there, thank you SO MUCH for this. It fixed may main problem which was that all of my e-mails were getting stuck in the outbox and not sending. It’s strange, it was working fine, then suddenly it stopped.

    My one question is that after I did this, the option to select which e-mail address I am sending from disappeared. I have about 6 different e-mail addresses for my businesses and it’s important I send from the right one, but now I can’t choose. Can you advise please?

    Well darnit and now since I wrote this it’s doing the same thing piling them up in the outbox and not sending. I KNOW I have all my usernames and passwords right and setup correctly through my host (dreamhost) as I’ve chatted with them about this. Arg!!

    Thank you so much!! This is a lifesaver!!

    • Under Window in the Menu bar, select Connection Doctor. I suspect you’ll see red symbols for your SMTP settings. This usually means Mail has lost the password for the account in SMTP settings. It’s not uncommon to have to enter the password several times before it sticks. However, it could mean your keychain has issues. You can try deleting the account passwords in Keychain Access, but sometimes you need to start with a new keychain. Before we go there, let’s be sure it’s a password not remembered issue.

  40. Hello
    I am using an iMac 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB 1067MHz DDR3 memory and 500GB storage (190GB free). OS X is El Capitan (10.11.4) . Apple mail is version 9.3.

    My mail account is POP (am happy for emails to download to this computer). I want the emails to be deleted from the server. This is not working since upgrading to El Capitan (though may have been a problem previously as well). I have the following settings under ‘advanced’:
    not ticked – automatically detect and maintain account settings
    ticked – include when automatically checking for new message
    ticked – remove copy from server after retrieving a message (when moved from inbox)

    When I receive an email I move it to ‘drafts’. When I check the same email account on the server, the inbox messages are still present. I have tried the following:
    1. setting the ‘remove from server’ to ‘immediately’. No change in behaviour.
    2. turning my Avast mail security shield ‘off’. No change in behaviour.
    3. deleting the email from my inbox in apple mail. No change in behaviour.
    4. contacting my ISP to clarify if there are any server settings that may overwrite my choices. There are none.

    I am at a loss. Any ideas how to fix this?


    • I just tested with my Comcast POP account and I’m seeing the same behavior. There have been other issues with POP accounts in El Capitan Mail. For a while no sounds would work with POP accounts. It’s speculated that Apple is trying to phase out POP accounts. It’s probable that their efforts are going to IMAP and little attention is being paid to POP.

  41. Thanks for such a quick reply! And it’s great that you can replicate the problem (that’s if having a problem is good!). Anyway is my only course of action to contact Apple Support?

  42. I can not read old mail after upgraded to 10.11.4

    What can i do for next ? I got the “Mail backup folder V3” i checked it had lots of informations but the Mail app can not read

    Or anythings i can do to solve this issue ?

    Thank you very much if you can help me on this

      • In principle I have a similar problem after upgrading from 10.11.3 to 10.11.4.

        With 10.11.3 everything works fine and all emails were stored in the V3 folder. After the upgrade to 10.11.4 the V3 folder isn’t used anymore (and doesn’t show the emails) and I can find a new v2 folder with the old naming scheme for each email account (!!!).

        I quit and I removed ~/Library/Mail. After restarting all IMAP accounts below the v2 folders showed up again. on another account on the same computer works fine and it uses only the v3 folder.

        As I have a lot of emails stored locally in the v3 folder, I can’t access them anymore.

        Do you have any ideas?

        Thanks so much!

          • Hi Diane,

            this is the point: “El Capitan Mail should only use the V3 folder.”

            But since the upgrade from 10.11.3 to 10.11.4 it is using V2 again. It’s a miracle …

          • I’ve seen this same behavior before. This should be impossible, but it does occassinally happen. I’ve even seen one account’s folder saved outside of V3 in Mail folder. When this happens you have to do a clean install to fix.

  43. hi

    another question with this nightmare made by apple:

    i’ve cloned my old 10.8 system and updated the clone to 10.11.4.
    now on these cloned system all accounts, mails, folders seems ok.
    they are under the v3 folder with the exact same names like under the v2 one.

    so is it now possible to just copy the v3 folder to my main (future) 10.11.4 system?

    thx a lot and kind regards


    • You can copy over the V3 folder, but it works with the folder in Containers as well as some other files scattered in the User’s Library. I would try coping over v3 and the Container’s file and see if that works.

      Disable your accounts for Mail in System Preferences > Internet Accounts first.

  44. Apologies for being off topic … but it’s slightly related. How does one re-sort alphabetically the Mailboxes in the side panel of Mac Mail (v9.3) once they have been manually sorted. Could do it in earlier from memory (Like 10.7).
    So that when one creates a New Mailbox it sorts automatically in alpha order instead of sitting at the bottom. (In iCloud Mail they show in alpha, but on my Mac they are in the order I manually moved them).
    My only solution is to delete the account and re-install it. But there must be a .plist file somewhere???
    Also, does an Exchange Account get treated differently?

    • Hopefully, I understand your question correctly….

      In your browser, you have only one account. As a result the way you view folders is different than in

      In Mail, the default folders are at the top with the custom folders below. Each account will have it’s own set of custom folders. Even if you have only one account, the default folders will be at the top with custom folders below.

      All accounts including Exchange will be the same in Mail.

      Hope this helps!

      • Hi Diane, Thank you for the your response. I’ll re-phrase the question as my query hasn’t been answered.
        How do I get the Mail app to automatically re-sort the “custom” folders/mailboxes into alpha order (after I have manually sorted them)?
        It seems once the sort order of the sub-accounts has been done manually, any new folders/mailboxes are added to the bottom of the list and stay as unsorted.
        Does explain my question better?

        • Could you take a screen shot and send that to me. I’ll email you so you can reply directly.

          Command-Shift-4 takes a portion of the screen.

  45. Hello.
    I don’t use Mail usually, but when I clicked on a “contact me” link in an article, it started Mail and then I realized that it doesn’t work.
    For example: the File menu is completely greyed out.
    I am trying for hours to google and find a solution but have no idea where to start.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance.

    • The link went to Mail because whatever app you are using for email is not set as the default. Some email apps will allow you to set it as default in it’s preferences.

      If you open Mail Preferences, under General tab it will allow you to select a default app. Mail is grayed out because you have no email account set.

  46. Hello Diane,
    Thanks for emailing me off line. I’ve posted your information here for anyone following my query.
    As you noted…
    If you drag a folder onto the header (in the Mac Mail sub-folder Mailbox List), for example “On My Mac”, it will sort alphabetically. If you drag a folder you can drop a folder out of alphabetical order. You’ll see a blue line with a small circle. The folder will sort where it’s dragged.
    Drop a folder on the header “On My Mac”. You’ll see the line where it will be dropped alphabetically.
    Drag a folder out of order to where you want it located. It will sort out of order.
    I’ve also noted that if I create a new folder it will appear on the bottom of the list, but after some moments/minutes (or perhaps some other activity) it will move up the list into its alpha order.
    Thanks for you help. 🙂

  47. Thank you SO much for this. My OS X version of Mail (unlike the one on my iPhone) wasn’t just getting the spool from the IMAP server, it was clinging to hundreds of thousands of messages I’d long ago deleted. I tried over and over to delete them as Mail got slower and balkier, and finally just followed your directions and deleted ALL mailboxes and related files on the Mac. (I don’t usually handle mail on my Mac, anyway — I do quick reads on my iPhone but the bulk of my management on a Unix server; OS X Mail is only useful for shipping out Word files and other attachments.)

    Worked like a charm. You’ve greatly improved my week. 🙂

  48. Hi,
    We have upgraded to El Captain long time back and everything was working fine.
    Yesterday all the mail folders under on my mac disappeared. Only when a email is received that folder appears based on the rule set for that person.
    When I checked under the mail folders v2 and v3 new folders are created under v2 folder and mail reads from v2 folder instead of v3 folder. all the mailboxes are present under v3 folder. How can we make mail to read from the v3 folder instead of v2 folder.
    Thanks for your help

    • Mail has certainly gone “off the rails” in your situation. Go to this article that explains how to do a clean install of Mail.

      Before upgrading to El Capitan Mail

      The type of accounts your have POP or IMAP as well as storing messages under “On My Mac” folders will determine the steps you need to take.

      Once Mail is working properly, you can import any local “On My Mac” folders.

      • Hi Diane,
        Thanks for your suggestion,
        Mail was off the rails, We restored the Mac pro from one more machine which was updated correctly.
        Thank you for your help.
        thanks and regards

  49. hi, i have made all you say, sort from 0, still get smtp error, can`t send mails from my gmail account. If I connect sharing internet from my iPhone, it works, but connected to my home wifi don’t
    Please help

    • This sounds more like a Networking error than a Mail problem. Here are some options to try but if your network still fails, I suggest asking for help on Apple Discussions.

      • Reboot the Mac in the Safe Mode, then reboot again (this dumps caches)
      • Reboot the Wi-Fi router the Mac connects to
      • Update the Wi-Fi router firmware if an update is available
      • System Preferences > Network, click on Assist Me to help troubleshoot
      • Reset the Mac SMC

      Safe Boot

      * shutdown
      * start the Mac and *wait* for the startup chime to sound
      * after the sound, press and hold down the shift key
      * keep holding and *wait* until the grey  Apple logo appears (if you are unsure when to let go, just hold to you get to the login screen)
      * now release the shift key and just wait (it could take a few minutes)
      * eventually the login screen appears with the words SAFE BOOT in red at the top right hand corner of the window
      * restart normally

      Reset the System Management Controller (SMC)

      Turn off your Mac
      Plug in your Mac power cord into the wall socket
      Hold down the Left Shift + Option + Control + Power Button, simultaneously, for about 10 seconds
      By doing the key presses listed above, your Mac won’t power on but the reset will be done
      Release all keys after about 10 seconds and turn on and run your Mac normally

  50. Hi Diane,
    I have three mac machines, we are using pop mail on all the machines.
    We have to create folders and rules on each machine.
    Can you let me a way how we can sync all the folders and rules on all machines?
    Also if we want to copy the mail folder from one machine to other machine will it work?
    thanks for your help

    • POP account do NOT sync. While you could move the account folders over to another Mac they would not continue to be in sync once moved.

      Have you checked to see if you can switch the account to IMAP?

      If not, then you can drop the account and start using a different account that supports IMAP or you can move the local folders to an IMAP account so at least those folders are synced. Your Inbox, Drafts and Sent will never be in sync.

  51. Pingback: Export Apple Mail | Need Help 4 Mac

  52. Hi Diane,
    Thanks for your mail, we have issues switching over to IMAP.
    How can we copy mail from one machine to another?
    We dont want to use restore from back up.

    • You can copy over the Mail folder in the User’s Library, but there are other files that contain data for your accounts and preferences. I suggest you delete the folder in Containers and let that recreate.

  53. Pingback: Probleme mit Apple Mail nach Update auf El Capitan

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