Android on Gmail logo.

Backing up your text messages from your Android phone to your Gmail account is so simple, there’s no reason to not back them up and make them search-friendly in the process. Read on to see how you can turn your Gmail account into an SMS vault.

What You’ll Need

It’s easy to lose your text messages. Everything from switching phones to fumble fingers can drop your messages in front of the digital reaper—just last night I managed to accidentally delete a massive SMS thread when I really only intended to delete a single message that refused to send.

Backing up your SMS messages to your Gmail account is so simple, however, there’s no good reason not to do it. For this tutorial you’ll need three things:

Update, 3/15/22: As of September 14, 2020, Google no longer allows this app to access your Gmail account. Fortunately, there is a workaround available in March 2022.)

Got all that? Let’s get started!

Note: Technically, you can dig around the advanced settings of SMS Backup+ to reconfigure it to work with any IMAP-enabled email server. However, since it was designed to work with Gmail and works so well with Gmail’s search, threading, and starring functionality, we’re not going to mess with a good thing.

Step One: Configure Your Gmail Account for IMAP Access

SMS Backup+ requires IMAP access to your Gmail account to function. Let’s take a moment and hop over to the Gmail account we’re planning on using with the application and check the status.

Log in to your Gmail account and navigate to Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP. Check “Enable IMAP.” Scroll down and click “Save Changes.”

Proceed to the Google Security page and set up two-factor authentication, if you’re not using it already.

Note: The tutorial for two-factor authentication includes instructions for using an authenticator app. It isn’t necessary for this.

Click “App Passwords” and provide your login information.

Click the drop-down box named”Select Apps” and set it to “Other (Custom Name).”

Set the name to something descriptive — like SMS Backup+ — and click “Generate.”

You’ll be provided with a password. Keep the window open, or temporarily save this password somewhere safe. You’ll need it in just a minute.

Step Two: Install and Configure SMS Backup+

With our Gmail account IMAP features toggled on, it’s time to install SMS Backup+. Hit up the Google Play Store and download the app.  After the application is installed, it’s time to get configuring. Launch the application.

The first step is to set up the connection to your Gmail account. Tap “Advanced Settings.”

Tap "Advanced Settings."

Next, tap “Custom IMAP Server.”

Tap "Custom IMAP Server."

There is a lot to enter here. Tap “Authentication” and change it from “XOAuth2 (Gmail)” to “Plain Text.”

Select "Plain Text."

Tap “Server Address,” set the IMAP server address to “imap.gmail.com:933” and click “OK.”

Then go through the rest of the options — enter your email, the password you just generated, and make sure the “Security” is set to TLS. You don’t have to tick “Trust All Certificates,” so leave it unticked.

Go back to the main menu, and click “Backup”. We didn’t come all this way not to back things up!

Tap "Backup."

The backup process will start, and depending on how many messages you have, will take anywhere from a minute to a half hour (or longer!) to complete. It chugs along at a few messages per second.

SMS Syncing to Gmail.

You don’t even have to wait until the process is finished to jump over to the Gmail account and check the progress. Log in to your Gmail account from a web browser. You’ll see a new label in the sidebar: “SMS”. Click on it.

SMS/MMS shown in the gmail inbox.

Success! SMS Backup+ automatically backs up your SMS messages as well as your MMS messages. Not only are all of our text messages there but the pictures we’ve sent back and forth are backup up to Gmail along with the messages. Now that we’ve got everything humming along, let’s look at some advanced options.

Step Three (Optional): Turn On Automatic Backups

If you do nothing else before leaving this tutorial, you need to turn on the automatic backup feature. Leaving things up to manual backup in a surefire way to forget. From the main screen, tap “Auto backup” to turn it on, and then tap on “Auto backup settings” to configure the frequency. The default configuration is a bit aggressive. You may wish to, as we did, decrease the frequency of backups.

Options to decrease sync frequency.

You can even set it to only backup over Wi-Fi. That way, if you’re backing up a lot of MMS, you won’t burn through your mobile data.

Tick "Require Wifi."

After you’ve set up the automatic backup, return to the main screen and head into Advanced Settings. There, you can change the settings for backing up, restoring, and notifications. Under “Backup”, there are some useful settings you may wish to toggle, including turning off MMS backup (again, to save on data consumption), and creating a whitelist of contacts you want backed up (instead of the default where every single message is backed up).

Advanced backup settings,

There isn’t much to look at under the Restore settings, but you can take advantage of a handy Gmail-centric trick. When SMS Backup+ stores your messages in Gmail it creates a thread for each contact. You can tell SMS Backup+ to only restore the contacts with starred threads which allows you to quickly select which conversations are important enough to restore via the star system in Gmail.

Restore options menu,

There you have it! All your text messages (including multimedia attachments) are backed up within Gmail where you can easily search them and restore them to your handset should the need arise.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »
Profile Photo for Nick Lewis Nick Lewis
Nick Lewis is a staff writer for How-To Geek. He has been using computers for 20 years --- tinkering with everything from the UI to the Windows registry to device firmware. Before How-To Geek, he used Python and C++ as a freelance programmer. In college, Nick made extensive use of Fortran while pursuing a physics degree.
Read Full Bio »