Moving Thunderbird Data to a New Computer

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Copying all your Thunderbird email data

You can copy your data by copying your Profile Folder and then telling Thunderbird where to find your Profile Folder.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Tell Thunderbird where to find your Profile Folder, by using the Profile app: a) Close Thunderbird, b) Right-click the Windows 10 Start icon, c) Click Run, d) Enter this in the Open box (without the quote signs): "thunderbird.exe -p" e) Click OK
  4. In the Profile app, create a new Thunderbird Profile for your new Profile Folder: a) Click the Create Profile button, b) Click Next, c) Enter a name for your new Thunderbird Profile (this does not need to be the same as the name of your Profile Folder), d) Click the Choose Folder button, e) Navigate to and select your new location's Profile Folder that was set up in Step 2, f) Click Select Folder, g) 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.
To automatically use a specific profile, select that profile and check the "Use the selected profile without asking ..." box. (You can always start the Profile app again, to change this setting.)

Close the Profile app by click the Exit button.

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 general 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.

By copying your Thunderbird Profile Folder, you 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.

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.

Your Profile Folder will likely contain many sub-folders, some with names like "Cache", "crashes", and "Mail".

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 ... .

Thunderbird Profile

Thunderbird uses a tiny set of information called a "Thunderbird Profile", that points to the "Profile Folder" where a complete collection of email data is kept. To access your email data that's been copied to a new location (to a new Profile Folder), you need to establish a new "Thunderbird Profile" pointing to the new location (pointing to your new Profile Folder).

Are you unable to open or use Thunderbird?

See …

Installing Thunderbird

If you're going to a new computer where Thunderbird has yet to be installed, first install it with default settings. 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. Don't delete until a replacement folder is set up and working correctly – and double check to be sure you've selected the correct folder for deletion.

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 copy a Profile Folder as a way 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 better 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.

While you copy between Profile Folders, be sure Thunderbird is not running and using the Profile Folders you're copying to or from.

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).