How to Open MBOX Files on Mac

If you have some old archived email stored in a mbox file, and you need some information from it, you may be wondering how you can open that file. In reality, a mbox file is just a text file so any text editor can open it, but it may be difficult to read due to the formatting.

While the text formatting of this file type may be hard to read and make it difficult to find individual emails, don’t worry too much. These files can easily be imported and read with Apple Mail.

My name is Eric and as a software engineer, I often have the need to process and open different types of files. Mbox files are a pretty simple one and I will be glad to show you how to handle these.

Just follow along if you would like to learn more!

What is a Mbox File?

Before we go any further, let’s first find out what mbox files are. They are actually a fairly simple format and knowing what they are may help you to be able to look at the plain text version of it if you wish to do so.

Mbox is a file format that is used to keep a group of emails in one file. These could be from your inbox or any other email folder that email was stored in. The format was originally used on old UNIX systems and was then carried over to many other email systems and tools.

The file basically strings together or concatenates each email into one text file. Each email in the files starts with the text From. Keeping all of these emails in one large file in a text format makes it easy to search for specific strings of characters in order to find an email.

The Easiest Way to Open Mbox Files on Mac

The quickest and easiest way to open one of these is with a simple text editor. This can be done on your Mac right in Finder. Just follow these steps.

Step 1: Locate the mbox file in Finder.

Step 2: Right-click on the mbox file and select Open With > TextEdit.app.

Step 3: View the file. When it opens in the text editor you will see the contents and all the emails strung together.

Open Mbox Files with Apple Mail

If you would rather just see the emails in your mbox file as normal email messages in your Mail application, then all you need to do is import the file into Apple Mail. Once imported it will look just like all the other emails you see in there. This makes it much easier to read and work with.

Opening the file with the Mail application is almost as easy as opening it with a text editor. There are only a few extra steps. Take a look at them below.

Step 1: Open the Mail application.

Step 2: Go to the File menu and select Import Mailboxes.

Step 3: On the initial import window select the Files in mbox format option and then hit the Continue button.

Step 4: Navigate to your mbox file, select it, and then click on Choose.

Step 5: You will get a pop-up message showing you where the emails will be located in a new folder that will be created in your mail application.

Step 6: Click on Done to complete the process.

Step 7: In the Mail app you can then navigate to the new import folder and see your emails there in the same kind of format you normally see them in.

Do Mbox Files Keep Email Attachments?

This is a great question because as we all know, many of our emails contain attachments. The answer is, yes they do. The mbox file will keep attachments, images, videos, music, or whatever is contained within the specific email.

The mbox file keeps it as characters and if you look at the file with a text editor, you will just see a bunch of random characters that make no sense and look like garbage. An email reader that supports mbox can translate that garbage back into an attachment, image, or whatever it was.

This is one of the drawbacks of just looking at the file with a text viewer. You will not be able to open attachments, see images, or experience other types of media. For this reason, I would recommend importing it into Apple Mail and looking at it there.

An email client such as Apple Mail allows you to view more than just the text, but it also makes it easy to find, look at, read, reply and perform any other email functions that you may need to do.

Are There Other Email Readers That Can Import Mbox Files?

Since it was created for UNIX systems many years ago, it is quite an old format, but because of this it is a very popular format and many email readers still support it. So, yes there are lots of email readers that do still support it but I’m not going to list all of them here.

For systems that do not support it, there are also mbox readers or converters that can be used and they are dedicated to just reading and translating mbox files. There are also ways to convert them using email readers that still support this format.

Import the file into a compatible email reader, then export the email into a format that the incompatible reader can read, and now you’re in business.

How Do I Create a Mbox File?

Creating a mbox file on a Mac is just as simple ( if not simpler ) than reading one. All you have to do is select the email folder you wish to convert and do an export. Just follow the quick steps below.

Step 1: Select the email folder you wish to export as a mbox file.

Step 2: Right-click on the email folder and from the context menu select Export Mailbox.

Step 3: Select the location or folder where you want the mbox file to be saved, click on the Choose button and it will create it there.

Final Words

As you can see from the steps we have shown above, opening a mbox file is not that difficult and there are multiple ways to do it. Using a text editor is very quick and easy, but may be difficult to read and work with. 

Importing it into Apple Mail or another email client is also easy and is the preferred way to do this since it gives you the full power of an email reader when working with the emails contained in it.

Let us know your thoughts on this file format. Have more questions? Let us know. Either way, I would love to hear from you!

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