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How to Access Your Email Remotely From Multiple Computers and Locations

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Your mail in Mozilla Thunderbird, Outlook, Windows Mail, Outlook Express, Eudora or whichever email program you prefer is, unquestionably, great — unless, of course, you are not at the computer holding your mail but still want or need to access it. What options do you have for retrieving your messages at multiple different locations and computers?

You Have an IMAP Account

If you access your mail using IMAP, you are all set and done. All your mail is stored at the server.

To access your mail from another computer using IMAP:

  • Make sure you remember your IMAP server name, SMTP server name, user name and password as well as any ports and SSL requirements (heck, just copy what the account settings from your email program).
  • Set up a new account with your access data in an IMAP-capable program such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Outlook or Eudora at the remote computer.
  • Alternatively use a service like mail2web, which lets you access IMAP accounts via a web interface.
  • Don't forget to delete the account from the email program when you leave.

You can get a free IMAP account with many a web-based email service (including Gmail and AIM Mail). Many services can retrieve mail from POP accounts — and thus provide ubiquitous IMAP access to the account's mail —, too.

You Are Using POP to Retrieve Your Mail - Accessing New Mail

If you are using POP to download your mail (the more likely case), getting to newly arriving mail that you have not yet downloaded at your mail computer is still easy. You can read and reply to new messages but still download them safely when you are back at home or work.

To access messages arrived since you last checked mail on your main computer from any location:

  • Make sure you remember your POP server name and port as well as your user name and password.
  • Use a site like mail2web (there are others with similar features) to read newly arrived messages in your email account. Note that you cannot access mail already downloaded at your main computer via this route.

You Are Using POP to Retrieve Your Mail - Accessing All Mail

Unfortunately, getting to mail you have already downloaded is a bit tricky and cumbersome if you use POP. It is not, though, impossible.

If you use Outlook, you can turn it into an IMAP server and access your mail remotely like above with

  • MailRelayer.
    • Make sure the computer on which your messages are is running and connected to the internet, and that you know its IP address (see below). In your firewall, open port 143 for traffic and make sure MailRelayer is allowed to accept it.

If you use an email program other than Outlook, you can use the same basic strategy by turning your computer into an IMAP server:

  • Install a mail server such as Mercury/32 and set up an account on it for your mail.
    • Mac OS X comes with an IMAP server. Using Postfix Enabler, you can turn it on easily.
    • Linux and other Unix operating systems typically come with an IMAP server readily installed and configured as well.
  • Configure your email program to access, separately from your main POP account, the IMAP account you just created.
  • Move all mail you want to be available remotely to the IMAP account.
  • Make sure your computer is connected to the internet and that you know its IP address when accessing mail remotely via IMAP (see below).
  • In your firewall, open port 143 for traffic and make sure your mail server is allowed to accept it.

As a portable alternative, consider Mozilla Thunderbird - Portable Edition. All your settings and messages are kept together with Mozilla Thunderbird itself on a USB medium, which you just connect to any computer to get to your mail. It's easy to copy existing Mozilla Thunderbird data to Mozilla Thunderbird - Portable Edition, too.

You Are Using POP or IMAP and Want Total Control

If the options mentioned so far are not for you, and you like the thought of accessing not only your mail but also other data and applications on your home or work computer from anywhere with but an internet connection,

Know Your IP Address

To access your computer (running an IMAP server or a remote access server), you need to know its address on the internet. When you log on with your internet service provider, you get such an address — either a static or a dynamic IP address.

If your address is dynamic, which you can assume unless you know it to be static, you get assigned a slightly different address each time you log on. You cannot know the address you will get beforehand, but you can

Using that domain name, you can access your computer from anywhere on the internet.

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