Retain Gmail messages with Vault

As part of your organization's information governance plan, you can control how long Gmail messages are retained. Use retention rules to set how long to keep messages and when to delete them, if ever.

Set custom retention rules to keep data that matches specific conditions for set time. Set a default retention rule when you need to keep all data for a service for all licensed accounts in your organization for a set time. Custom retention rules override default retention rules, even when the default retention rule has a longer retention period.

Important information about Gmail retention

Before you set retention rules, we strongly recommend you read about how retention works and review the Gmail messages supported in Vault.

WARNING: An improperly configured retention rule can allow Gmail to immediately and irreversibly purge messages. Use caution when you create or change retention rules. We recommend that you test new rules on a small set of accounts before you apply the rules to your entire organization.

Key Gmail retention behavior

  • When a message is included in a hold, Gmail can’t purge the message even after all applicable retention periods end.
  • Custom Gmail retention rules always supersede the default Gmail retention rule.
  • When multiple custom retention rules apply to a message, Gmail keeps the message as required by the rule with the retention period that ends last.
  • Gmail's 30-day preservation policy can delay when messages are purged.

Additional Gmail retention behavior

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When Gmail messages are purged

For Gmail to purge a message, the message must meet criteria for both Vault and Gmail:

  • It isn’t retained by any retention rules.
  • It isn’t on hold.
  • It has Gmail’s system-generated ^deleted label for at least 30 days.

Vault doesn’t allow Gmail to purge a message if the message is covered by a retention rule or hold. After all applicable retention periods and holds end, Gmail evaluates if the message can be purged based on how long the message has the ^deleted label.

When the ^deleted label is applied

Gmail applies the ^deleted label to messages that are eligible to be removed from Google systems. A message gets this label when any of the following actions occur:

  • Gmail users empty their Trash or select messages in Trash and click Delete forever.
  • Gmail automatically deletes a message that's been in Trash for 30 days.
  • The retention period ends on a message that doesn't already have the ^deleted label.
  • Gmail users discard draft messages.

The ^deleted label hides messages from Gmail users, and users can't recover these messages without help from a Google Workspace admin. However, you can still search and export messages with this label using Vault until those messages are purged.

Gmail's 30-day preservation policy

Gmail has a preservation policy that keeps messages for a minimum of 30 days after the ^deleted label is applied. This policy supersedes any Vault retention rules that expire during those 30 days.

To better understand how Gmail's 30-day preservation policy affects when messages are purged, review the message retention examples.
Gmail threads are treated differently from individual messages

For email threads, retention rules apply as follows:

  • If one message in a thread is retained by a retention rule or hold, the entire thread is retained.
  • Retention rules based on labels use the date of the most recently labeled message in a thread for retention purposes.

For example, if a retention rule keeps messages with the label project-A for 365 days and the first message in a thread has the label, then all messages in the thread are retained for 365 days from when the first message was sent. If a later message in the thread gets the label project-A, then all messages in the thread are now retained for 365 days from when that later message was sent. After the retention rule expires and Gmail purges the labeled messages, there can be a delay of up to 24 hours for any unlabeled messages to also be purged.

Attachments added to Drive from Gmail are covered by Drive retention rules

When an item attached to a Gmail message is added to Drive using the Add to Drive feature, a copy of that item is created in Drive. The Gmail message and attachment are covered by Gmail retention policies. The copied item in Drive is covered by Drive retention policies.

Example Gmail retention rules and their effect

Example default rule: Retain all messages indefinitely

This default rule keeps all Gmail messages in the selected organizational unit indefinitely. Users can still delete messages, and messages are removed from their Trash after 30 days or when the user empties Trash. However, the messages remain searchable and exportable by Vault admins.

Rule configuration

  • Duration: Indefinite

Effect on sent and received messages

User action on a sent or received message When Gmail applies ^deleted label When Gmail purges the message

User does nothing with the message

Never Never

User moves the message to Trash and empties Trash 1 day after the message was sent

1 day after send Never

User moves the message to Trash 1 day after the message was sent (but doesn’t empty Trash)

31 days after send, when Gmail automatically removes the message from Trash Never

Effect on draft messages

User action on a draft message When Gmail applies ^deleted label When Gmail purges the message

User writes a draft message but doesn't send it

Never Never

User writes a draft message and discards it without sending it

When the user discards the draft 30 days after the user discards the draft (due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)
Example custom rule: Purge only deleted messages after 365 days
This rule allows Gmail to purge only messages for the selected organizational unit that are permanently deleted (removed from Trash) after 365 days.

Rule configuration

  • Duration: 365 days
  • Action after expiration:
    • In ediscovery.google.com, select Expunge just the messages that users have already deleted
    • In vault.google.com, select Purge only permanently deleted messages

Effect on sent and received messages

User action on a sent or received message When Gmail applies ^deleted label When Gmail purges the message

User does nothing with the message

Never Never

User moves the message to Trash and empties Trash 1 day after the message was sent

1 day after send 365 days after send

User moves the message to Trash 1 day after the message was sent (but doesn’t empty Trash)

31 days after send, when Gmail automatically removes the message from Trash 365 days after send
User moves the message to Trash and empties Trash 360 days after the message was sent 360 days after send 390 days after send (30 days after Trash was emptied due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)
User moves the message to Trash 400 days after the message was sent (but doesn’t empty Trash) 430 days after send, when Gmail automatically removes the message from Trash 460 days after send (30 days after Gmail removed the message from Trash due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)

Effect on draft messages

User action on a draft message When Gmail applies ^deleted label When Gmail purges the message

User writes a draft message but doesn't send it

Never Never

User writes a draft message and discards it without sending it

When the user discards the draft 30 days after the user discards the draft (due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)
Example custom rule: Purge messages after 365 days

This rule allows Gmail to purge all messages for the selected organizational unit after 365 days, including drafts and messages that users haven’t deleted.

Rule configuration

  • Duration: 365 days
  • Exclude drafts: unchecked (ediscovery.google.com only)
  • Action after expiration:
    • In ediscovery.google.com, select Expunge all messages, which includes messages that are in users' inboxes and messages that have already been deleted
    • In vault.google.com, select Purge messages from Gmail mailboxes and permanently deleted messages. This rule purges drafts.

Effect on sent and received messages

User action on a sent or received message When Gmail applies ^deleted label When Gmail purges the message

User does nothing with the message

365 days after send, when retention period ends 395 days after send (30 days after the retention period ends due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)

User moves the message to Trash and empties Trash 1 day after the message was sent

1 day after send 365 days after send, when retention period expires
User moves the message to Trash and empties Trash 360 days after the message was sent 360 days after send, when the user empties Trash 390 days after send (30 days after Trash was emptied due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)
User moves the message to Trash 360 days after the message was sent (but doesn’t empty Trash) 365 days after send, when retention period ends 395 days after send (30 days after the retention period ends due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)

Effect on draft messages

User action on a draft message When Gmail applies ^deleted label When Gmail purges the message

User writes a draft message but doesn't send it

365 days after send, when retention period ends 395 days after send (30 days after the retention period ends due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)

User writes a draft message and discards it without sending it

When the user discards the draft 30 days after the user discards the draft (due to Gmail's 30-day preservation policy)

Set a custom retention rule for Gmail

  1. Sign in to vault.google.com.
  2. Click Retentionand thenCustom Rulesand thenCreate.
  3. For the service, select Gmail and then click Continue.
  4. Choose which organizational unit the rule applies to. Click the field to open a chooser, then click the organizational unit.
  5. Click Continue.
  6. (Optional) Choose the conditions that must be met for messages to be covered by this rule:
    • Enter Date sent values. If you specify only a start date, the rule applies to all messages sent after that date. If you specify only an end date, the rule applies to all messages sent before that date.
    • Enter any terms that messages must match. You can use all supported search operators except wildcards (*). You can't use is:chat to apply a Gmail retention rule to chat messages in classic Hangouts or Google Chat. To set retention rules for chat messages, set a Chat retention rule.
  7. Click Continue.
  8. Choose how long to keep messages:
    • To permanently retain messages covered by this rule, choose Indefinitely.
    • To discard messages after a set time, choose Retention period and enter the number of days, from 1 to 36,500.
  9. If you set a retention period, choose what to do with messages when the retention period ends:
    • To purge only messages that are already emptied from the users' Trash, choose the first option.
    • To purge all messages, including messages that aren't deleted but excluding drafts and email templates, choose the second option.
    • To purge all messages, including messages that aren't deleted, drafts, and email templates, choose the third option.
    Warning: Vault allows Gmail to immediately purge data that exceeds the retention period when you submit a new rule. The purged data can include data that users expect to keep. Don't proceed to the next step until you’re sure the rule is configured correctly.
  10. Click Create. If you set a retention period, Vault asks you to confirm you understand the rule's effects. Check the boxes and click Accept to create the rule.

Set the default retention rule for Gmail

The default retention rule applies to Gmail messages that aren't covered by a custom rule or a hold.

  1. Sign in to vault.google.com.
  2. Click Retention. The list of default rules opens.
  3. Click Gmail "".
  4. Choose how long to keep messages:
    • To permanently retain messages covered by this rule, select Indefinitely.
    • To discard messages after a set time, select Retention period and enter the number of days, from 1 to 36,500.
  5. If you set a retention period, choose what to do with messages when the retention period ends:
    • To purge only messages that are already deleted, choose the first option.
    • To purge all messages, including messages that aren't deleted, drafts, and templates, choose the second option.
    Warning: Vault allows Gmail to immediately purge data that exceeds the retention period when you submit the rule. The purged data can include data that users expect to keep. Don't proceed to the next step until you’re sure the rule is configured correctly.
  6. Click Save. Vault asks you to confirm you understand the rule's effects. Check the boxes and click Accept to save the rule.
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