How to backup Thunderbird mail

Mozilla Thunderbird is and remains a popular email client. Compared to the standard e-mail programs supplied with Windows, this is a relief. Even backing up is fast.

Although more and more people use webmail, this is not a perfect solution for 'many mailers'. The problem is that you usually only get a relatively limited storage space with a webmail provider. As a result, it is not always possible to create a mail archive spread over many years. Especially not if you regularly send and receive large attachments. A webmail environment is also often somewhat inconvenient in combination with multiple mail accounts. That is exactly why a locally running mail program such as the free open source program Thunderbird is ideal. Once you have that installed and running, backing up is of course important.


To prevent you from losing your mail, settings and address books, it is important to regularly back up your mail. In Thunderbird on Windows, that's really just copying a folder. This folder is well hidden, but you can quickly find it by going to the menu in Thunderbird Additional on Account Settings to click. In the left column below an account, click Server Settings. On the right you will see under the heading Local folder a location listed. Usually something like C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\ followed by any name xxxx.default. It is exactly this folder that you have to copy to back up all your mail, settings, address books and so on in one fell swoop. However, if you have also assigned a different folder for certain mail accounts (think of something like My Documents\thunderbirdmail) then you have to copy that too. You can easily copy and paste the folder location(s) into the File Explorer's location bar.

Put back

If something goes horribly wrong with your system and it had to be reinstalled, you can quickly get Thunderbird back on the road. Install the program and create a temporary (fake or not) mail account at the first start of the program. This is necessary, because the folder just mentioned with the random name is called differently with a new installation of Thunderbird. Close Thunderbird and browse to the new Profiles folder using File Explorer. Open the folder with the extension .default and delete all files present in it. Then open the xxxxx.default folder that you saved as a backup. Then copy all files from that folder to the new .default folder on the C drive. If you then start Thunderbird, everything works immediately.

To a new PC

Even if you restore a system image, it is important to restore the most recent backup. In that case, you can simply delete the xxxxx.default folder in c:\Users and so on. Simply copy the backed up version instead and you're done. To avoid too much suffering, it's not a bad idea to install a file backup program that automatically backs up the named folder(s). Furthermore, if something goes wrong with your system, but you still have access to the mail folder(s), it is important to make a backup of the mail folders before restoring a system image or reinstalling Windows. This way you can be sure that your mail, settings, address books and more are up to date when you restore the backup to your newly installed or restored system. Of course, this method also works for transferring your mail to a new computer.

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