How to Restore Mac Mail Folders Disappeared on Big Sur, Catalina, etc.

Rosa Reyes
time November 18, 2020 Preview 102.9K
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Apple Mail files are typically stored in ~/Library/Mail/ folder on Mac. Many Mac users have experienced or are experiencing the Mac Mail folders disappeared issue. The issue may be due to an accidental deletion of the Mail folder, an upgrade from macOS Catalina to latest macOS 11 Big Sur,  Mojave to latest macOS 10.15 Catalina, from High Sierra to Mojave, or from macOS Sierra to High Sierra, or among other situations. This article will show you different ways to restore Mac mail and make folders show up again.

In some cases, you need to restore the missing Mail folders from Time Machine backup (if available) or with the help of data recovery software for Mac. In other cases, the Mac Mail mailboxes, folders or subfolders only disappear from the sidebar in the application. They are still there on your computer. If so, different methods will be needed. All the methods provided in this article are applicable to macOS Big Sur, Catalina, Mojave, High Sierra, Sierra and some older versions.

Method 1. Restore Mail with data recovery software if no backup is available

I lost all of my Mail files but I didn't backup system by Time Machine, and also didn’t do any other backups, how can I restore my Mail files?” ― Asked by a Mac user

Not all Mac users back up their Macs with Time Machine. Also, sometimes, restoring Mail from Time Machine just doesn’t work. Is there a universal way to restore the disappeared Mac Mail folders?

Cisdem Data Recovery for Mac is an easy-to-use and powerful app to recover lost, deleted or formatted photos, videos, documents and other types of files on Mac. It can also recover data from external hard drive, SD card, USB flash drive, digital cameras, iPods, etc. If some important data, say Mac Mail mailboxes, have disappeared, don’t panic. This app will be able to recover them efficiently. A free trial is available for all Mac users.

Compared with restoring Mail folder from Time Machine, it’s a lot easier to restore deleted or lost Mail using Cisdem Data Recovery. Below are the steps.

Step 1. Download and install Cisdem Data Recovery on your Mac. Launch it.

Free Download

Step 2. Five data recovery solutions are provided, which covers all of the file formats on your Mac. Here, we select Advanced File Recovery.

data recovery solutions

Step 3. Select a disk. Since there may be several disks on your Mac, you need to choose the one where your Mail files are stored.

Step 4. Click the Scan button. Once the scan finishes, all the lost Mail files will be discovered and listed. Just find the email files in .mbox format, select them and get them restored on your Mac.

preview

Step 5. Open the Mail app. Go to File > Import Mailboxes > Files in mbox format. Click Continue. Navigate to your Mail folder restored in above step, click Choose, and then click Import. Mail should import the .mbox files stored in the Mailboxes folder. Click Continue to import the restored files into Apple Mail. Once it finishes, click Done.

import data to Apple Mail on Mac

It is the easiest way to restore Mac Mail files. There is nothing complicated. All the Mail files can be recovered without loss. This data recovery app is easy and safe to use.

Method 2. Restore email account through setting preferences

Here’s a scenario. When opening mail, you find that all the folders previously associated with your iCloud account are not showing. When you select “Get Account Info”, they are all listed. They just don’t display in the mailbox. If it’s your case, you can go to "Preferences" and change the settings. By doing so, you will restore the Mail folders. This method works in many cases.

1. Open the Mail app on your Mac. From the top menu bar, and then you should go to "Mail" on the top bar. Select Mail > Preferences.

2. Go to the Accounts tab.

3. Unselect the "Enable this account" option and then select it again.

Mac Mail settings

4. Just save settings and close this window. Go back to the main interface to see if the Mac Mail folder disappeared issue still exist.

If the steps above are useless in your situation, just try the other methods.

Method 3. Re-index to fix the Mac Mail folders disappeared problem

If the Email accounts are working, but the mailboxes have disappeared, the second method will probably be of little help. That being said, you can still try it out. On the Apple discussions forum, there are a number of threads about Mac Mail mailboxes disappearing. With situation like this, you can try re-indexing the mailboxes to do email recovery on Mac. A Mac veteran provided this method on the forum. Many users have tried it and successfully recovered hundreds of emails by re-indexing. As for how to re-index the mailboxes, you can following the instructions below.

1. From the menu bar on the top of Mac screen, select System Preferences > Spotlight.

2. In the Spotlight window, go to the Privacy tab. And then you can drag a folder or an entire volume (such as your hard drive) to the list. If prompted for confirmation, just click OK.

3. After selecting, you will go to another interface, you need to click the Privacy tab. And then you can drag a folder or an entire volume (such as your hard drive) to the list. If prompted for confirmation, just click OK.

4. Next, you should remove the item or volume you just added to the list, you need to click it and then click the minus ("-") button on the bottom. And close "Spotlight preferences". The Spotlight will re-index the contents of the folder or volume.

Spotlight settings

Hopefully this method can work. But there are some users to whom this method is not useful. They rebuilt the mailbox and still can't get the messages to appear. The re-indexing will not work if the Mail folders files don’t exist on the computer anymore. If it’s the case, it means t hat your Mail folder is lost and you need to use a different way to restore your Mail folder.

Method 4. Restore Mac Mail from Time Machine backup

Many Mac users back up their Macs with Time Machine. If you are one of them and you have lost Mail messages recently, you can restore Mail from Time Machine. An article on macissues.com provides three options to manually restore disappeared Mail folder from Time Machine.

recover Mail from Time Machine

1. Open Finder on your Mac. Enter Enter Time Machine.

2. From the top menu bar, select Go > Go to Folder. Enter ~/Library/Mail/. Find the folder starting with V, say V5. Open it.

3. Apart from the folder MailData, there are several folders with long names. Open them one by one to find the mail account that has the mailbox you need to restore.

4. Find the files with the name of the mailboxes that have disappeared. Restore them to desktop. Exit Time Machine.

5. Import the .mbox file into Apple Mail on your Mac. From the Import mailbox, drag the email messages into the mailbox you want them to go to.

Sometimes, restoring missing Mac Mail folders from Time Machine is just able to recover a few messages. This approach may simply not work in some cases. And if you want to restore your entire system to a prior backup, you need to guess what if something terrible happen and we need to give up one of the three. Because the whole process of the full system restore will take you some time, and you lose some third-party application registrations, which will take some terrible things for you. You'd better have a mental preparation. What’s more, it is not an easy thing if you want to perform this process, although this article provides detailed steps for you, many users still don't know how to operate. If you are a Mac newbie, it's better not to attempt that.

Tips for backing up Mail folder on Mac

  • The Mac mail folder that contains email accounts, mailboxes, messages, etc. is entitled Mail. Access it by going to Go > Go to Folder and typing ~/Library/Mail/.
  • Before backing up Mail folder, you should quit the Mail app. Go to the Mail folder, copy and store it to a different storage device.
  • When you restore Mail folder by simply copying and pasting, the system will ask if you want to replace the existing folder with it. If you have lost all of your messages, simply confirm by clicking the Yes button.
  • It’s sensible to backup Mail folder or other important files of yours on a regular basis.
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Rosa Reyes
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Rosa has worked in Mac software industry for more than eight years. She believes that the purpose of software is to make life better and work more productively. In addition to writing, Rosa is also an avid runner.

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Comments (5) Leave a Reply

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  • uniontom

    I was lucky the 1st explanation was the correct one for me.

    3 years ago Reply

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    • fabrice

      Yup, for me too. Nice; simple and quick! Thank you!!

      3 years ago
  • Jinnie Baizley

    Thank heavens for your site - the first action - preferences unchecking and checking the little box worked for me - thank you

    4 years ago Reply

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  • Kevin

    I love you! Seriously. I have been dying here since 7 am (It's almost one in the afternoon now) All my mailboxes saved disappeared when I launched Mail this morning. My airline and hotel reservation for my SEMA trip to Vegas. Everything gone. And it's all back!! Yeah!!!

    5 years ago Reply

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    • Brett

      Hi Kevin, what was the code for recovering your mailboxes or what did you restore? I am panicking for the same reason! Please help.

      5 years ago
  • Anonymous

    Excellent article. A big thank you

    5 years ago Reply

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  • Sade

    Hey, your article is excellent. And i tried cisdem data recovery, the scanning process was smooth, but the trial version didn't allow me to restore, and i consider to buy one. Thank you.

    5 years ago Reply

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