Taking Control of your Gmail IMAP Experience

Gmail has quietly added a new layer of functionality to its IMAP protocol. The announcement somehow slipped by me — I must have had my Google Goggles on at the time — but it’s well-worth checking out if you use or are considering using Gmail with IMAP (which, incidentally, is something I’d wholeheartedly recommend).

The new Advanced IMAP Controls Labs feature, found under the “Labs” tab within Gmail’s Web interface, lets you customize some useful options for your account’s IMAP settings. First, you can check off which folders you want to have synched up with your mail client, thereby cutting out all the random crap you probably never use and boosting your operating speed.

“This can be very handy if, for example, you find your mail client choking on a big [Gmail]/All Mail folder,” says Gmail engineer Jamie Nicolson.

A heads-up: Once you’ve enabled the tool, the folder selection option is found under the “Labels” tab in your Gmail settings, not under the “IMAP” tab.

Another option lets you turn off auto-expunge, an atypical IMAP feature the Gmail folks used to require. As Nicholson explains it:

“The IMAP protocol allows messages to be marked for deletion, a sort of limbo state where a message is still present in the folder but is slated to be deleted the next time the folder is expunged or compacted. When we launched Gmail IMAP, we thought it would confuse people to have messages in this state, since there’s nothing like it in the web interface (the Trash label works differently). So in our IMAP implementation, when you mark a message as deleted, Gmail doesn’t let it linger in that state — it goes ahead and deletes it from the folder completely. We call this auto-expunge. This may have saved some people from confusion, but other users still wanted the two-stage delete process. Now with this setting, all users have a choice.”

Finally, the new Advanced IMAP Controls let you specify that all deleted messages should go straight to the [Gmail]/Trash folder, rather than to the [Gmail]/All Mail folder (as is the default). That default is something that’s always irritated me, personally — in fact, I created a complex macro/hotkey configuration to get around it in my Outlook. With the new option, though, you can set your deleted mail to go to Trash on its own when you delete it. A novel idea!