Thunderbird and Gmail

Thunderbird can be configured to work seamlessly with Google's Gmail service. Messages are synchronized between your local version of Thunderbird and the web-based Gmail.

Configuring your Gmail account

To configure Thunderbird to work with Gmail, first enable IMAP on your Gmail account. See Gmail's instructions for help. (IMAP is enabled on new Gmail accounts by default.)

Next, select File | New | Mail Account. The Mail Account Setup dialog is displayed. After you provide your account information, Thunderbird will automatically configure your Gmail connection. See Automatic Account Configuration for more information.

To manually configure a Gmail account, see Manual Account Configuration for instructions (which includes Gmail-specific examples). Also, refer to Gmail's Thunderbird version 3 instructions.

See also Gmail's IMAP tips.

Archiving messages

In order to be consistent with Gmail's behavior, Thunderbird archives your message in the "All Mail" folder, and not in an "Archive" folder as it does for other accounts (as described in the Archived Messages article).

Gmail Archive settings

Note that the Archive options... button is disabled for Gmail accounts, as it is not necessary to define the archive granularity with Gmail.

Subscribing to folders and synchronizing messages

Understanding Gmail labels and Thunderbird folders

Gmail uses a special implementation of IMAP. In this implementation, Gmail labels become Thunderbird folders. When you apply a label to a message in Gmail, Thunderbird creates a folder with the same name as the label and stores the message in that folder. Similarly, if you move a message to a folder in Thunderbird, Gmail will create a label with the folder name and assign it to the message.

In the example shown below, the folders at the same level as the "[Gmail]" folder ("Personal", "Receipts", "Travel" and "Work" and "g+") correspond to Gmail labels.

default gmail folders

There is also a set of special sub-folders for the "[Gmail]" folder:

  • All Mail: contains all of the messages in your Gmail account, including sent and archived messages. Any messages that you see in the inbox will also appear in the [Gmail]/All Mail folder.
  • Drafts: contains draft messages.
  • Sent Mail: contains sent messages.
  • Spam: contains messages that were marked as spam (either by Gmail or Thunderbird).
  • Starred: contains messages that were starred (either by Gmail or Thunderbird).
  • Trash: contains deleted messages.
  • Important: contains messages that Gmail has flagged as "important". (See Priority Inbox overview for more details about this Gmail feature.)

Note that a message can have multiple labels (for instance, "Personal", "Travel", "All Mail" and "Starred"). In this case, a copy of this message will be downloaded and displayed in all the corresponding Thunderbird's folders.

Subscribing to or unsubscribing from folders (labels)

You can configure which Gmail folders you want to display in Thunderbird. By default all Gmail folders are displayed, as described above. To configure folder display, right-click any folder and select Subscribe....

subscribe gmail folders

Uncheck any folders that you don't want to display in Thunderbird. Messages will still be downloaded and available through the "All Mail" folder. They will also be included in search results. However, the Gmail label (Thunderbird folder) will not be displayed.


Synchronizing folders (labels)

If you want to see all your Gmail labels and messages in Thunderbird but prefer to avoid all the messages from being downloaded to your system, you may want to tweak the synchronization settings. This allows you to define which folder should be synchronized. If you don't synchronize a folder, the message header will still be displayed in Thunderbird, but the message content will only be downloaded when you click on the message header.

To change how messages are downloaded, set synchronization options for the account and for individual folders. (Tools | Account Settings...Edit | Account Settings...) See IMAP Synchronization for more information.


Useful Add-ons

  • If you want to sync your contacts between Thunderbird and Gmail, you should try either the Google Contacts or gContactSync add-ons.
  • If you want to sync your calendar between Lightning and Google Calendar, you should read this support article: Using Lightning with Google Calendar.
  • Flat Folder Tree is useful to show all the sub-folders of the [Gmail] Imap's folder at the same level than your others folders.
  • Gmail Buttons makes is easier to move messages to the Trash and Spam folders. Beta version also shows all Gmail labels for each message.

Gmail and BCC addresses

When you are using a mail client (such as Thunderbird, Outlook, Entourage, etc) with a Gmail account and your account is configured to synchronize mail using the IMAP protocol, you cannot see BCC message recipients when you look at the message in the Sent Mail folder. (See Manual Account Configuration for a description of the IMAP and POP protocols.)

For example, say that you sent a message with the following recipients:

75cc304ad20b8d48904ad675f7dafcef-1295389047-245-1.jpg

If you subsequently viewed the message in the "Sent Mail" folder, only the "To" and "CC" addresses would be shown as message recipients. This is because Gmail strips the BCC recipient(s) from messages. The message is sent to the BCC recipient, but the BCC recipient is not displayed in the saved sent message. (The BCC recipient is also not displayed on Gmail's web-based interface if the message originated in Thunderbird.)

To work around this problem, use the Gmail web interface to send messages when you need to include a BCC recipient. Alternatively, use an SMTP server other than Gmail's. For example, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) probably provides access to an SMTP server, which you could use to send messages. (See Manual Account Configuration for help.)

For more information, see Gmail's support article on this topic.



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