Mac Mail App: Likelihood of a Crash

by Derrick Story

I just saw a note on the David Farber mailing list where Dave mentioned that his Mac OS X mail client crashed, and as a result, he lost a month's worth of messages. I was a little surprised to see that because my impression of Mail.app was that its database was relatively stable and able to withstand loss due to crashing.



One of the reasons that I switched from Entourage to Mail.app was to prevent this very occurrence. I have a combination of IMAP and POP accounts, feeling a little more secure with IMAP because the server stores my mail (in addition to the copies I keep on my PowerBook and backup weekly).



Since I don't have any details about David Farber's crash, I thought I'd broach the subject within our community to see if this type of data loss is more widespread than I had realized.



What's your experience?


15 Comments

will_macdonald
2005-11-15 13:29:27
how to make sure this doesn't happen again, losing mail anyway
I recently switched from using IMAP to Gmail.


I simply set up a forward at my host to send everything to my Gmail account. I also changed the from to show my normal non-gmail address.


Another advantage is that I can use the same SMTP regardless of how I connect, all sent and received emails are now on gmai and my laptop. If I do need to check my mail from a cyber cafe it is all set up too.


The fact that all communication with gmail is over SSL is very nice too.


Will

hdittmer
2005-11-15 14:58:43
Mail.app is very stable except for...
I to have found Mail.app to be very stable and have not experienced any crashes. I have also found no loss of messages when I have crashed for other reasons. However I have had a couple of users that provide realy challenges for the program. I have one user on a Pismo Powerbook running 10.3 that has been an ongoing problem. He insists on never deleting or filing any email. He recently started experiencing problems with Mail.app and when I checked I found that he had over 3,800 email messages in his inbox. At that point Mail.app started crashing and finally I was unable to do anything other than remove the mbox assocated with his inbox in order for mail to start working again. I did an import on the removed mbox which was successful but then if you view the imported mailbox Mail.app crashes. So no go.


So, Mail.app is a very stable program but for every application there seems to be a user out there who can break it.


Howard Dittmer

fspeirs
2005-11-15 15:17:19
Super reliable for me
I've used every iteration of Mail.app since 10.0 and haven't had any data loss problems (which I know about - can't say I visit every mailbox frequently!). I've always used IMAP accounts too.


Just one data point, I know.

roger69
2005-11-15 15:32:14
I've seen it crash
...but never lose data.


As a sys/network admin for a small ISP, I get the occasional phone tech question about some weird mail client behavior.


We have occasional reports of Mail crashing, but nothing that caused catastrophic data loss.


However, there is one thing that keeps showing up over and over: repeat downloads of POP3 email.


We have users who check the "Leave Mail on Server" option, and at some random point which we can't determine, some of these users suddenly re-download several hundred or thousand messages as if they were new.


The POP3 client is the one that sets this flag, so it's nothing going on with our mail server. But the incidence of this occuring is almost always with OS X and Mail, only a couple of occurences with M$ mail products.

jonblock
2005-11-15 15:34:20
Mail.app is very stable except for...
I don't file anything from my personal mailbox, though I do occasionally offload old messages from a server to a main archive in Eudora on an old Mac. But I'm pretty sure I've been over the 3,500 message mark without problems. I'm near 2,400 right now. It may be the Pismo's capacity that's giving that user trouble.


Just in case those messages were critical and deemed lost: An mbox file is plain text. I haven't had to try this myself, but I'm pretty sure it will work: Make two copies, open them in BBEdit or something similar, and delete alternate halves of the full mailbox from each copy. How he then imports the two halves without crashing Mail again will depend on the user's needs.

skot.nelson
2005-11-15 18:23:13
how to make sure this doesn't happen again, losing mail anyway
GMAIL is not a protocol. You can't "switch" from IMAP to Gmail. You've switched from IMAP to SMTP


There's a wrinkle with gmail SMTP which can be problematic. All of your mail gets tagged as "from" your gmail account. For those of us who use multiple accounts, this can be problematic.


On the other hand, it's been great for my mom. Gradually, over time, everybody who gets mail from her is starting to use her gmail account, and when she travels she can use the web interface to check it.

skot.nelson
2005-11-15 18:30:34
Much More Benign Reasons
I always recommend Mail and aggressively against Entourage, which I will configure reluctantly. The reason is quite simple:


By using Mail, you're always certain that your OS and Email app are in sync.


Entourage hasn't manifested severe compatibility problems YET, but it will: upcoming Intel machines will NOT be able to use current versions of Entourage. Buy an Intel machine and you need to buy a new copy of Office just because you're using Entourage


This is an extreme example, but there was always the possibility that Entourage would have major problems with Tiger, or some other revision. If this happened, you could be hosed.


Mail is Very Good. There may be compelling reasons to use Something Else, but you should balance these reaons against this.


On OS 9, I always like Mailsmith because it was zippy, reliable, and easy to use. I'm sure this continues, but I've never really looked at it on OS X.

ejalbert
2005-11-15 23:12:14
Much More Benign Reasons
Entourage will run fine under Rosetta on Intel-based Macs. You won't have to replace your current copy of Office.
mnystedt
2005-11-15 23:43:57
Works great
Sure it's crashed a few times, or stopped responding (which I guess we bundle in with crashing), but I cannot remember ever loosing any emails because of it. I use Mail with one IMAP service, DotMac, and a SMTP service and it works great. Mail has in my experience been more stable and reliable than any other email software I've used (and I go back to pre-Jaguar days with Mac OS X).
jduska
2005-11-16 06:23:26
Mac Mail

I can say it is not the size of the database, because I have over 20,000 emails and works fine. It has crashed a few times, but I've never lost data in it.


Is the SSL link to gmail secure enought to use mail at a public hotspot?

derrick
2005-11-16 07:28:53
I'm Going to Pile On Here...
So, I switched to Mail.app when I upgraded to Tiger, back when it was first released. I'm running the app on a PowerBook 17" 1.5 GHz with 1.5 GB Ram. I keep tons of apps open at once, including Mail, and to be honest, Mail has been the least of my problems.


I've had to relaunch it maybe 2 or 3 times. No data loss. The Junk filter (properly trained) is fabulous. I keep a Gmail account for when I'm on the road, because SMTP can be problematic with some hotel and conference ISP services.


I have no plans to return to Entourage or any other email client. Two thumbs up here for Mail.app.

__Jon__
2005-11-17 10:52:11
Sending from other accounts
GMail lets you setup additional 'from' addresses.
http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?ctx=%67mail&hl=en&answer=20616
mikko@jarvenpaa.org
2005-12-20 03:41:41
Very likely to crash
I'm happy to hear there are mainly positive experiences with the app. Mine, however, is much more negative. I've found Mail to become consistenly unstable on higher email volumes, forcing me to fiddle with IMAP folders to fool the app into thinking I've less email. I have three times reached the limit of about 21K messages at which point the application starts crashing. There is some consistency to this - at first it seems to crash when I try to view the last unread message, for example, but detoriarates quite rapidly from there. Currently, Mail stays up for less than a second at launch, not giving me enough time to try any remedial action. Before that, purging messages or syncing the account offer a temporary respite. Even permanently deleting thousands of messages has only bought me an extra week before the crashes start again.


There has been no data loss as of yet, fingers crossed, but reinstalling the application doesn't help me either - the behaviour persists. I'm in the process of goign back to Thunderbird, but this of course takes time thanks to not being able to import the folders directly from Mail 2.0, but instead having to do a massive IMAP suck.


Good luck.

Rick Seireeni
2006-02-03 05:22:22
I've found Mac Mail to be extremely unstable. I've concluded that the problem happens when there is too much mail with too many attachments. At first Mail acts buggy. Mail will open without a message and asks you to take the account online. Or the application suddenly and consistenty quits. Then the inbox just empties itself of everything and there is no easy way to get the lost mail back.


Apple is clearly aware of the problem and simply refuses to acknowledge it. Like all Apple problems, they refuse to admit anything. Apple has a serious honesty problem. I'm been an avid Mac fan, but my trust in them has been eroding over the last few years.

Zack Noble
2006-03-18 00:26:14
I use Mozilla Thunderbird... There are a few bugs and issues, but overall I find it very easy to use, troubleshoot, and configure.


try it out, it's free (among other things)