Converting Thunderbird from POP to IMAP

Computers, smartphones, and tablets seem to be getting more popular around my house, and my car, and people’s pockets, and… well, you get the picture. The end result is that there is a need to access E-mail messages in a more efficient manner on the multiple devices than by using POP. Everyone tells me that IMAP is the only way to go, so it’s time to switch up my E-mail system and give IMAP a try.

My preferred E-mail client for the computer is Thunderbird since I can use the same program, and many of the same data files, on both Linux and Windows. So, the starting point for the exercise is to switch the Linux version of Thunderbird to use an IMAP server.

The help file on the Mozilla Support web site indicates that the first step is to disable the existing POP account. Navigate to Edit – Account Settings – Server Settings and uncheck the boxes labeled “Check for new messages at startup” and “Check for new messages every 10 minutes”. Essentially, this stops Thunderbird from accessing the E-mail server while we work on setting up a new IMAP account. We will remove the old POP account at a later stage in the switchover process.

The next step is to establish a new account that will access the E-mail server using IMAP instead of POP. However, we probably want to retain the same account name that we used initially for the POP account so, before we actually set up an IMAP account, let’s rename the old POP account. In Account Settings, click on the Account Name of the POP account, and add “old” in front of the name (e.g. change AlanMail to oldAlanMail). Restart Thunderbird at this point and observe that the E-mail account has been renamed.

In my case, one further setup process was required before I established a new IMAP account. I have a dedicated data partition on my computer’s hard disk, and use a folder named thunderbird on this disk to store all my E-mail messages. In addition to retaining the original AlanMail account name, I also want to be able to use the same thunderbird folder to store messages related to the new IMAP account.

However, Thunderbird won’t allow the same folder to be used on a second account. The solution is to rename the original folder to oldthunderbird and assign this to the oldAlanMail account. This frees up the folder name thunderbird for use with the new IMAP account. Rename the mail folder to oldthunderbird in the file manager (e.g. Caja). Then, in Thunderbird’s Account Settings – Server Settings, go to the “Local directory” text box and use the Browse button to set the oldthunderbird folder as the location in which to store messages. Restart Thunderbird to establish the folder assignment.

Now, we can set up a “new” account, named AlanMail (note that this is how we retain our existing account name), and point this to our ISP’s IMAP mail server. So, go back to Account Settings, click on Account Actions at the bottom of the dialogue box and select Add Mail Account.

In the “Your name” box enter the desired account name (e.g. AlanMail). The other two entries are self-explanatory – enter your full E-mail address and your password. These are the login credentials for your existing E-mail account with your ISP.

Thunderbird tries to use the information that you have provided to access your ISP’s E-mail server and identify the correct parameters to establish connections to both the incoming and outgoing mail servers. If you see the message “Thunderbird failed to find the settings for your email account”, you will need to modify some of these settings manually.

Normally, a search on your ISP’s web site will provide the required settings for the IMAP server. In my case, Primus did not fully describe the necessary settings. So, for any other Primus users, who are confused by the instructions for Newfoundland (even if you live in Ontario!) and, more specifically, by details being provided only for Windows 10 Mail, a call to the support line will confirm (if you don’t believe me) that the information required for Thunderbird is as follows:

Incoming Server:
   Incoming:              IMAP
   Server hostname:
   Port:                  993 
   SSL:                   SSL/TLS
   Authentication:        Normal password   

Outgoing Server:
   Outgoing:              SMTP
   Server hostname:
   Port:                  465 
   SSL:                   SSL/TLS
   Authentication:        Normal password                    

Using these parameters (or, more specifically, the parameters required for your ISP) will establish a new account using your ISP’s IMAP server.

In Thunderbird’s left window, we now have two accounts displayed, with the folders associated with each account. For example, in my case, I now have an AlanMail account (the new IMAP account) and an oldAlanMail account (the old POP account).

Now, we make the new IMAP account the default E-mail account. Under Account Settings, click on the new IMAP account (e.g. AlanMail), and select the drop-down Account Actions menu. Click on the Set as Default option. Finally, press OK to exit from the Account Settings menu.

The trick is now to use the new IMAP account for a little while and make sure that everything works as desired. Once you have verified that this is the case, you can remove the original account from Thunderbird.

Navigate to Edit – Account Settings. Select the old POP account (e.g. oldAlanMail). Use the Account Actions drop-down menu, select Remove Account, and press OK to exit from the Account Settings menu.

The end result is that the old POP account has been replaced by a new IMAP account in Thunderbird. Under IMAP, all of the messages are left on your ISP’s mail server where they can be accessed by other devices. If you use IMAP on all of these devices, the mail messages and folders are synchronized automatically across all devices. So, you see the same mail system whichever computer, smartphone, or tablet you use to access your E-mail.


What Is POP & IMAP and Which One Should You Use for Your Email?

Switch from POP to IMAP account

Getting Started – Primus Email Setup – Windows 10 Mail

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