Moving on to… Thunderbird

One of the things that I want to do in the new version of Ubuntu is move from the Evolution mailer to Mozilla Thunderbird. The main reason for this is to make the process of backing up my data files a little simpler. But, more on this later.

Installing Thunderbird is easy since it’s one of the options in Ubuntu’s Software Centre. Navigate to Applications – Ubuntu Software Centre – Internet – Mozilla Thunderbird Mail/News (or just search for Thunderbird) – and click on Install.

The first time that the new mail program is run, a wizard lets us set up access to our ISP’s mail server. One important item in this process is specifying the location of the local mail folder. Evolution decides this automatically and, by default, Thunderbird does the same. But, for my purposes, I want to specify a folder on my NTFS data partition (/media/DataDisk/) and so, under Account Settings – Server Settings – Local directory, I change the setting to use /media/DataDisk/thunderbird as the location for my mail folders.

Now, the actual mail folders, and the contact list, need to be copied from Evolution to the new mailer. Under the Tools menu, Thunderbird has an import function that includes an “Import Everything” option. However, the wizard for this item stalls at “Import Preferences, Account Settings, Address Book, Filters, and other data from:”. Hitting “Next” simply doesn’t do anything. Evidently, the import wizard does not support Evolution, so it is necessary to go through the process manually.

As noted in the previous posting (Evolving Evolution), the relevant mail folders are in the hidden .evolution folder. To access this folder from the home directory in Nautilus, navigate to View – Show Hidden Files (or press Ctrl-H). The mail folders are located at .evolution/mail/local.

Each mail folder has a number of associated files. For example, the Inbox folder has companion files named Inbox.cmeta, Inbox.ev-summary, Inbox.ev-summary-meta, Inbox.ibex.index, and

The good news is that Thunderbird supports precisely the same mail file format (mbox) as Evolution. The Inbox folder (i.e. the file with no extension) can be copied directly to the directory being used to store mail in Thunderbird. None of the other files are required. Thunderbird will automatically create its own index file (Inbox.msf) when the mail program runs.

Consequently, in order to transfer all of my existing mail messages from Evolution to Thunderbird, I simply have to identify all of the individual mail folders (the files with no extensions) in the .evolution folder, and copy these to /media/DataDisk/thunderbird. Then, when I run Thunderbird, I will have access to all of my previous mail folders, and the messages that they contain.

Note that, if a tree-directory structure is used in Evolution, it is also necessary to transfer the individual mail folders from any sub-folders. The (slightly) bad news is that Evolution’s sub-folders – .sdb files – are not directly compatible with Thunderbird (even though Thunderbird’s sub-folders are also named .sdb!)

For example, my mail system includes a sub-folder named pending.sdb that itself includes a number of individual mail folders. It is useless to copy the entire pending.sdb folder from Evolution’s mail folder to that used by Thunderbird (believe me – I tried!) Thunderbird simply won’t recognize the “old” pending folder. Instead, I need to copy the individual mail folders from Evolution’s “pending” folder, i.e. .evolution/mail/local/pending.sdb, to /media/DataDisk/thunderbird, and then reconstitute the pending folder in Thunderbird.

So, in order to transfer all of the mail messages, I need to create a list of the individual mail folders that are used in Evolution, including all those residing in any sub-folders, and then copy all of these folders (i.e. the files with no extensions) to /media/DataDisk/thunderbird. Now, when I run Thunderbird, all of my previous mail folders are listed, but I have lost the previous tree-directory structure. But, I can easily re-establish this by creating new sub-folders (File – New – Sub folder), and then dragging and dropping specific individual mail folders into the appropriate sub-folders.

So, by taking care to ensure that I copy all of the individual file folders, and recreating the mail folder structure that I had used previously in Evolution, I can reproduce my current mail system in Thunderbird.

Now, that was quite a lot of effort for something that should have been accomplished with a built-in wizard! Let’s take a break – and worry about moving the address book over to the new mailer a little later.


HOW TO: Export mail from Evolution to Thunderbird

Importing and exporting your mail

How To Migrate From Evolution To Thunderbird In Ubuntu Intrepid

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3 Responses to Moving on to… Thunderbird

  1. Jeremy Winick says:

    Why is there no thunderbird later than 3.20 in Ubuntu 10.04 repository when thunderbird 3.2 is becoming obsolete

    • Alan German says:

      I imagine that to some extent it’s because the Ubuntu developers want to maintain stable software versions in their repository; however, I must say that having Thunderbird Version 3.1.20 (that reaches end of life today!) available when Versions 5 through 12 have been issued (there was no Version 4.x) seems a bit much.

      Still, the good news is that users can always install software outside of Ubuntu’s Software Centre. For example, see:

      Download Thunderbird 12 Final for Linux

    • Alan German says:

      The good news is that Thunderbird Version 11.0.1 was installed today through an automatic Ubuntu update. The bad news is that the Custom Buttons add-on is not compatible with the new version so I have lost my graphical forward/next buttons (to scan through both read and unread messages).

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