Gmail Tip: Trick Gmail Into Checking Your POP3 Accounts Often

I recently moved away from MobileMe as my primary Inbox, to which I had a few other e-mail accounts forward e-mail to. I was happy with MobileMe as my e-mail provider, except for the fact that some e-mails never arrived, not even in my spam/junk folder. I investigated and found out that the sending SMTP server actually did deliver the e-mail(s) to MobileMe (and they were accepted), and still, they never reached me. So the spamfilter at MobileMe is simply too effective sometimes – even with certain mails that are not even spam.

So I moved to Gmail. Well, to Google Apps, to be precise. Since the interface and the features of Google Apps e-mail is the same as Gmail (more or less), I’ll just call it Gmail from now on.

Setting up Google Apps and Gmail for my domain name was really easy, Google does a great job at telling you what to do etc. Did I mention Google Apps is free? Well, it is. How great is that?

With Gmail, you can check up to five POP3 accounts. After checking your POP3 accounts, Gmail will put the e-mails into your Gmail Inbox and label them accordingly (if you want). By doing that, you can actually stick with just one Inbox for several e-mail addresses. Use IMAP on your Gmail account and you have the same Inbox for multiple e-mail addresses across all your devices / web mail. I love it!

The problem with Gmail’s POP3 Mail Fetcher is the fact that you can’t decide how often their Mail Fetcher will search for new mail on your POP3 accounts. It can even take 24 hours (I tried that a few times) between checks. Mail Fetcher will figure out your e-mail receiving patterns by itself and check accordingly there after. But when I noticed that it could take several hours between checks, I decided to do something about it…

Here’s what Google writes about Mail Fetcher:

Gmail checks individual accounts for new messages at different rates, depending on previous mail fetch attempts. At this time you can’t customize the frequency of automatic mail fetches.

And here’s what it means: If you want us to check your POP3 accounts more often, you gotta receive more e-mail. That’s what I decided to do, so I set up a cronjob (scheduled task) on my web host server, telling it to e-mail my POP3 accounts once every 15 minutes between 8am and 6pm on business days. And it works. Within Gmail, just set up a Filter to put those e-mails into trash or somewhere else, so they don’t clutter your Inbox.

Here’s how Gmail fetched my POP3 e-mails before I applied this little trick:

As you can see, it can easily be up to an hour between checks. I even saw 24 hours and 25 hours between checks.

Here’s how it looks on my other POP3 account which is receiving a “wake-up call” approximately every 15 minutes:

A clear difference.

You could of course also just forward your e-mail to your Gmail address / Google Apps address, but you increase the risk of getting the e-mails flagged as SPAM, since mail forwarding often breaks SPF. I won’t go into technical details here, but in most cases, forwarding e-mail is just fine. But if you want to use Gmail’s POP3 Mail Fetcher feature and have it check more often than “what it think is enough”, just set up a script to e-mail you frequently.

Hope it helps!

74 thoughts on “Gmail Tip: Trick Gmail Into Checking Your POP3 Accounts Often”

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    • If you have POP3 accounts and Gmail too, collecting it all at Gmail is certainly going to make things easier. I hope it works!
      .-= Klaus @ TechPatio´s last blog ..Conan O’Brien On Twitter: Sarah Killen, Your Life Is About To Change =-.

      • I have a POP3 account which is hard to look always, and obviously a Gmail account…..

        I’ll try merging them….Anyways, thanks for the pick !

    • You can’t control it Ricky, but you can trick it into thinking you’re getting e-mails more frequent than you are, and thus Gmail will automatically check more often 🙂
      .-= Klaus @ TechPatio´s last blog ..Conan O’Brien On Twitter: Sarah Killen, Your Life Is About To Change =-.

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  5. Hi Klaus really excellent tips, thanks, retweeted the post.
    .-= chandan´s last blog ..Few quality link can help you for get rank on search engine =-.

  6. I have GMail but don’t use it all that often, so when I do check it there is always mail there waiting for it. I notice their is a refresh link there and was wondering if that would force a new mail scan?
    .-= Sire´s last blog ..In Defence Of A Bloggers Right To Review A Product =-.

    • Hi Sire. New gravatar? 🙂 Yes there’s a “refresh”-link (or something like that) in the Settings – Accounts page of Gmail. But if you use POP3 or IMAP (recommended) to access your Gmail rather than using the web interface, then it sucks having to go into the settings to force Gmail to check your POP3 accounts every now and then, if you can’t stand to wait a few hours for it to automatically do so.
      .-= Klaus @ TechPatio´s last blog ..Conan O’Brien On Twitter: Sarah Killen, Your Life Is About To Change =-.

  7. As I don’t have an iPhone I’m not sure how that part of it works, but when I log onto GMail using Firefox it’s right there on the front page. Maybe I should set it up on my iPod Touch and play around with it some.
    .-= Sire´s last blog ..In Defence Of A Bloggers Right To Review A Product =-.

    • I never use the Gmail web interface (because I have access to my mail on the iPhone using IMAP at Gmail). And when I’m at the computer, I use my local client from Apple. That’s what I like about the IMAP technology: You have one inbox that’s the same on all devices/browsers. Read/send one email one place, and it shows up everywhere else automatically.

      If you only use the Gmail interface then you probably have no use for IMAP, unless of course you want to use mail on your iPod touch or mobile 🙂

  8. Great tip! Right now my main use of Google Apps is by changing my MX and CNAME records on my web host to point to my apps account for my main email, and then I just forward my secondary accounts there, but I like your method better for the secondary accounts.

    • Hi Evan. I’m glad you liked it. This one is ‘safer’ than using forwarding, as forwarding often breaks the SPF and it gives you one or two more spamfilters the mail has to get through. Depending on what kind of mails/newsletter you receive and what business you’re in, this may or may not be an issue. In my case however, I’ve lost a few mails on that account and had a few “didn’t you get my email?”-cases.
      .-= Klaus @ TechPatio´s last blog ..Google’s Phone, Nexus One, Doesn’t Sell As Expected =-.

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  10. this is a great tip.. however i have no idea what a cronjob is or how to set one up.. can anyone help? I use godaddy.

    thanks again~!

    • Hi Kyrie. I’m not sure about Godaddy, but there *should* be some where in your control panel where it says cronjob or “scheduled tasks”. If there’s not, then I’m a bit surprised, I would think that godaddy usually offers this, but it may not be enabled on all their hosting plans. You should try to contact them.
      .-= Klaus @ TechPatio´s last blog ..iPhone 4G To Be Announced June 22nd? And 8MP Camera Next Year? =-.

      • Great tip! Ive been trying to fix this for quite some time now. I use godaddy and unfortunately they only allow a cron job to be done a maximum of twice per hour. Comparing this to gmail average pop3 check of an hour is twice as good but still not the ten to fifteen minute check I was hoping for. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

        Anyone know a way around this?

        • You could use the Windows task scheduler (which is sortof the Windows-equivalent of the Linux cronjobs service) like this:

  11. Hej är det ngn snäll som kan hjälpa mig med inställningarna dvs hur jag skall göra med att Google Apps hur exakt ändrar jag mina MX-och CNAME-poster på min spindelväv värd att peka på mitt Apps-konto för mina e-post
    Min webb finns på Onecom
    har hållit på i flera veckor men kan inte lösa detta
    Mycket tacksam för en hjälp hur gör jag exakt ?

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  14. Up until recently, the “refresh” link on top of the inbox only refreshed gmail email, not POP3. To manually refresh pop3 you had to go into Settings | Accounts and click that “check mail now” button.

    There’s a new Lab that will refresh pop3 when you refresh your email from the link above the inbox. It’s still a manual check, but at least the refresh button is 2 clicks closer.

    The question I have about the nifty trick to send yourself more email is, once gmail has recognized that you’re receiving more mail and increases the auto-check frequency, if your real email receiving frequency is less, will it again reduce the check frequency?

    Or, is it simply a matter of leaving the script running and using filters to dismiss them from your inbox?

    • Thanks for the tip regarding the new “Lab” that allows the refresh link to also refresh POP accounts. Certainly useful for those who use the Gmail web interface.

      As for my tip, I don’t think Gmail knows what is real mail and what is “triggers”. Now, 5 months later, Gmail still checks my POP3 accounts about every 10 minutes during work hours, which is the time I set up my script to e-mail me. I don’t need it to check e-mail often in the evenings, so I’m giving it a rest 🙂

      … and then I use a filter to simply put my “trigger”-mails into a label so that I don’t see it. Every now and then I go and delete all the trigger mails.

  15. Excellent tip.. will kinda resurrect my love for my absolutely hated Nokia N97 mini … by the way don’t even think about getting this phone … and if you are at all into stocks then if this is the best Nokia can do then they deserve a shortsell of biblical proportions ! Sory slightly off topic but I’m venting..

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  22. Ha ha! I love little tricks like this.

    I’ve had a blackberry since they were pagers and am very intolerant of delayed email delivery. I’ve been spoiled and I’m used to real time email which can basically be used like chat.

    Mobile ME does do a good job of pushing email to a iPhone. Pretty close to the BB.

  23. Nice tip! Too complicated for my users, unfortunately. But one question abut your hesitancy to use forwarding (since that’s what I’m going to have to do for my team)….

    Why not just set up a filter and set it to never spam those messages?

    • Hi Becky.

      I don’t think there’s an easy and bulletproof way to do it. It depends on whether or not the spamfilter can see what server it came from, I guess, and since Gmail might send through many servers (IP’s), I’m not sure if that will work. I haven’t really looked into it much so I can’t say for sure, except that I know forwarding messages will break the SPF thingy and that is likely to increase spam ratings of all the emails, so if it’s already on the border, then breaking SPF might put it over the edge and make it go into your spam – and even worse, might even be rejected by the mailserver so you never get to see it (one of the problems I had with MobileMe).

      • Ah, ok. I’m going to try to have them do it with a label/filter combo, but it’s good to know the potential pitfalls. Thanks!

        (Although, on second thought, I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t set up the crons myself to do it your way…)

        I’ll be chewing this over for awhile. Thanks for the reply!

        • Let’s hope that Gmail will soon, rather than later, add support for checking POP3 more often automatically. Maybe even this new Facebook mail/messaging might be able to kick Google a step forward due to more competition.

          We’ll see.

          • I prefer Gmail web page email but support the more frequent checks of POP3.

            I could not find the lab options spoken of above.

  24. Nice ingenious workaround. And perfect timing too. I have been forever frustrated at how slow mails show up from my other POP accounts. Thanks!

  25. Great tip friend. I have been using Gmail since last 2-3 years, but never knew that we can alter the mail checking frequency of Gmail. Nice job.

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  29. I love this tip! Finally, an answer! I found the “cronjob” stuff on my host server, but I don’t have the foggiest idea what “command” line to use. Anyone??

  30. this is a neat little trick Klaus.. thanks
    Gmail is the easiest tool to aggregate all POP3 email.. but sometimes getting a timely fetch is such a pain in butt.. I used to forward my messages but some of them are filtered out.. but this one works like a charm

  31. glad i found this trick.. business fluctuates and so does email traffic.. this trick gives me peace of mind.. thanks Klaus

  32. Klaus, that is an awesome tip. I love Gmail but hate that I have to manually go into the settings and ask it to retrieve my pop mail. I wouldn’t even actually mind it if I could just hit the refresh button on the interface and have that fetch it, but I have to go all the way into the settings.

    Forgive me for being such a nobe at tech stuff, but I want to set this up and I have no idea what a “cronjob” is 🙂 Although I have heard the term several times from bloggers dealing with coding, I have no idea what it is.

    • As C. Boyd explains in the comment below, there’s a “Lab”-plugin that allows you to refresh POP accounts also, by the click of the “Refresh”-button in your Gmail Inbox, so if you use the Gmail interface, then that’s probably all you really need.

      If, like me, you don’t use the Gmail interface much or at all, then setting up a cronjob on server somewhere, will trick Gmail into thinking you receive mail more often than you might do, so it’ll probably end up polling your POP accounts every 10 minutes or so, rather than once an hour or whatever it used to do.

      Ask your webhost if they support cronjob on the server, my guess is that they do – and it’s done via the control panel.

      • C. Boyd and Klaus,

        Thanks for the response. The Lab sounds like the way for me to go. Getting hosting companies involved sounds like it would have to go to a level that I am not prepared to take it 🙂

        I don’t mind hitting the refresh when I am ready. Thanks to both of you for the tip, the lab will save me some extra clicks every time I want my mail.

  33. @ Damon Day – FYI, there’s a new “Lab” that does exactly what you suggested… when you hit the “refresh” button, it retrieves POP mail. In case you don’t want to go through the hassle of the cron job thing (although it’s super useful if you don’t want to constantly be hitting “refresh”!).

  34. Excellent idea, I just switched to gmail yesterday and was noticing the same problem. Thanks for the tip

  35. For those of us who wouldn’t know a chron if it leap up and bit us, an alternative is to set up forwarding to another email address that just bounces it back (eg another email with forwarding on it). Then the more often Gmail checks, the more emails get bounced back and so on… I’m trying this at the moment and will let you know what check rate it gets up to!

  36. I want to setup a customer service email so whomever is watching the store, they can log on to Gmail and get the emails. However, we don’t get a lot, but when we do, it is important we react right away.

    This just shows you how the “Geniuses” over that at Google think and why they just don’t get business. Timing matters to business.

    I like this idea and want to use it. I know how to setup a CRON job on CPANEL, however, I need to find out how to write a script to send an email. Any ideas?

    – Roger

    • Hi Roger,

      Personally, I simply put up a PHP script (to send the actual e-mail) on one of my domains, in a bunch of weird-named subfolders (so it can’t be guessed easily), and then in the “command” for the scheduled task, I just put:

      curl –silent http:…

      And then the scheduled task is set to run every 10 minutes (*/10) between a specified timeframe (I don’t need it to run in the evenings, then I don’t mind my email arriving delayed).

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  39. I’ve been unable to get this working and I can’t figure out why. Is there something I need to change for my pop3 host that could be preventing gmail from checking?

    I have an email account setup through a domain I have hosted with HostGator. Maybe a setting I’m missing somewhere.

  40. Great – I love your tip on using IMAP to get the same inbox on several devices. And it is so simple – if only I had known this already earlier.

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