Moving Thunderbird Data to a New Computer

Revision Information
  • Revision id: 135538
  • Created:
  • Creator: kenptr
  • Comment: This change is a "work in progress"; Trying to make the transfer section easier to follow for some less technical readers; See commentary in discussion thread
  • Reviewed: No
  • Ready for localization: No
Revision Source
Revision Content

Windows Easy Transfer Wizard

Recent versions of Windows come with an Easy Transfer Wizard which offers to transfer your data, documents, videos and email to your new computer. The default settings for this transfer wizard do not transfer Thunderbird data to your new computer. However, it is simple to make the changes necessary to have the software move your Thunderbird data.

Once the wizard has finished the "Checking what can be transferred" routine, a customize option will appear under the account name. Click this option to open a dialog that provides access to advanced options.


Click Advanced at the bottom of the list, which opens a file selection dialog. Expand the folder named Application data and check the box beside the folder name Thunderbird as shown below.


Click Save and continue with the wizard. Your Thunderbird data is now included in the data that will be transferred from your old computer to your new computer.

Manually copying all your Thunderbird email data

Manual data transfer works with most operating systems, and can transfer data from one operating system to another. (You can also copy or move all your Thunderbird email data to set up for synchronization with locally stored data on another computer, or to make a simple backup.)

To manually copy or move all your email data, you just need to do two things:

     Step 1. Copy your Profile Folder
     Step 2. Tell Thunderbird where to find your Profile Folder

Let's go through steps 1 and 2. If you have a question along the way, check out the "See Also" section at the end of this article. For this discussion we're using Windows 10, but the steps are similar with other operating systems.

Step 1. Copy your Profile Folder

You can find the existing name and location of your Profile Folder by selecting "Help > Troubleshooting Information" in the Thunderbird menu. Then look for "Profile Folder" and click on the Show Folder button.

This will display the path of names starting with parent folders and ending with the name of your Profile Folder. (The path will be followed by a list of names of your profile's sub-folders. There will likely be many sub-folders, with names like "Cache", "crashes", and "Mail".)

You can now use the facilities of your operating system to highlight and then copy this profile folder, with its contents, to a new location (with a new name, if you wish). Be sure you are not copying a profile folder while Thunderbird is running and using that folder. If you have a large amount of email data, the copying process may take a long time.

It's fine if you ultimately want to delete the old folder - but don't delete yet! Wait until you have the new folder set up and working correctly – and double check to be sure you've selected the correct folder for deletion.

Step 2. Tell Thunderbird where to find your Profile Folder.

Thunderbird uses a tiny set of information called a "Thunderbird Profile", that points to the "Profile Folder" where all the email data is kept. In this step, you need to establish a new "Thunderbird Profile" pointing to the new location of your data.

If you're going to a new computer where Thunderbird has yet to be installed, first install it, with default settings.

Next, if Thunderbird is running, close it. You can then start the Thunderbird Profile app, which manages your profiles.

Start the Profile app as follows:

Right-click the Windows 10 Start icon
Click Run
Enter this in the Open box: thunderbird.exe -p
Click OK

In the Profile app, create a new Thunderbird Profile for your new Profile Folder, by proceeding as follows:

Click the Create Profile button
Click Next
Enter a name for your new Thunderbird Profile (This does not need to be the same as the name of your Profile Folder.)
Click the Choose Folder button
Navigate to and select your new location's Profile Folder that was set up in Step 1.
Click Select Folder
Click Finish

You will now see a Profile app window that displays your new profile in the list of your profiles. (You'll probably have at least one other profile, even if it's just called "default".)

If each time you start Thunderbird you want to select from a choice of profiles, uncheck the "Use the selected profile without asking ..." box.

On the other hand, if you want Thunderbird to automatically use your chosen profile when it starts, select that profile and check the "Use the selected profile without asking ..." box. (You can always use the Profile app again, to change this setting.)

Click the Exit button.

That's it. You're done! You now have your email set up and working in the new storage location.

Using Gmail to move messages

In this method, you transfer messages to a Gmail account and then synchronize them to your new Thunderbird installation.

  1. Create a Gmail account if you don't already have one.
  2. Create a Thunderbird account on the original computer for your Gmail account.
  3. Make sure that your Gmail account properties are configured to use IMAP rather than POP3.
  4. In Thunderbird, create matching subfolders under your Gmail account for every message folder you want to move. Thunderbird will automatically create a corresponding folder in your Gmail account. You can create nested subfolders. For example...

    Thunderbird folders
  5. For each folder you want to transfer, go to the original folder in Thunderbird, select all the messages, right-click and select Copy To and then select the corresponding folder in the Gmail account. As Thunderbird copies the messages to the new folder they are also copied to your online Gmail storage space.
  6. On your new computer, install Thunderbird and create your Gmail account.
  7. Your online folders and messages should now be available in Thunderbird on the new computer. As you click on each folder, it will synchronize with your Gmail account.

See Also

Migrating from Another Mail Client

See Migrate to Thunderbird chapter in the Thunderbird FLOSS manual

Copying, Restoring or Moving Selected Information

To restore or move selected information instead of an entire set of your email data, see ...

Your Operating System

In this article, we're using the Windows 10 operating system and folders. The steps for manual data transfer, and for use with Gmail, are similar in various operating systems, including other Windows versions, Apple OS, Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, OS/2 and eComStation.

Your Profile Folder

Thunderbird stores each user's email data in a location that's called the user's Profile Folder. The Profile Folder stores everything about your email, including locally stored messages and attachments, address lists, account settings, Thunderbird settings, stored passwords, tasks, calendar data, and data for add-on features.

Selecting the New Location for Your Profile Folder

Your new location can be anywhere that's reliable and suitable for message data storage. This can be on your computer or on another computer having the same or a different operating system.

The new location can be on a portable disk or thumb drive, a flash memory card, a backup storage drive, or a file server. You can use a synchronized folder, a cloud storage bucket or folder, a compressed folder, an encrypted folder, or a combination of these storage types.

If you're going to a new operational location for your data, it's best to choose a place where your data will be backed up regularly. If you're going to another computer that has multiple users, find the new location and do your initial setup and copying while signed on with your normal computer user account. If you're going to a computer in your organization, follow organization policies for where to locate your email data.

Copying a Folder

For detailed help to copy a folder in various operating systems, see ... .

Are you unable to open or use Thunderbird?

See …

Installing Thunderbird

For help installing Thunderbird, see … .

What about your old data?

Remember that you're working with two different kinds of names: the name your operating system uses for the location of your data (the Profile Folder name), and the name Thunderbird uses to point to your data (the Thunderbird Profile name).

If you no longer want Thunderbird to use the data in an old Profile Folder, be sure to stop using the Thunderbird Profile that points to the old Profile Folder. You can avoid accessing the old Profile Folder by running the Thunderbird Profile app and choosing to delete the old Thunderbird Profile name, by selecting the choice to delete the name but not the data.

If you're eventually sure you don't want the data that's in the old Profile Folder, you can use your operating system to delete the old Profile Folder and all of its contents.

Protecting Your Email Data

Use good judgment about revealing your Thunderbird email Profile Folder names and locations to others. Remember that, unless your data is in some way encrypted, anyone with access to your computer or file server folders could use Thunderbird to access your emails, once they know the location and name of your Profile Folder.

Making and Restoring from a Simple Backup

If you only keep a small amount of email, you can use the manual copying technique to make a simple backup. If you have a significant amount of email data, or if you're frequently receiving or creating important emails, it's best, instead, to use dedicated backup software and maintain incremental backups.

To restore your original Profile Folder from a simple complete backup copy, you can delete all the contents of the original Profile Folder that needs restoring, and then copy in all the contents from the Profile Folder that's serving as the backup. Be sure to delete the contents of the correct folder. If there's a lot of email, allow a lot of time for copying.

Internal Synchronizing

You might have a need to synchronize two different copies of the same email data. For example, you might use a PC at the office and a laptop when traveling - but want to only store your data on your own computers, for greater security.

You can do this with a reliable synchronizing tool. Use the tool to synchronize the Profile Folders and all their contents. Be sure Thunderbird is not running with the Profile Folders that you're synchronizing, while you're processing a "sync" run. Its more efficient to use an intelligent synchronizing tool that can remove deleted cache files within your Profile Folders (e.g., SyncBackPro).