Thunderbird’s address books on different computers (and different operating systems)

Another issue relating to my switching from using POP to an IMAP mailer server was a need to “synchronize” Thunderbird’s address book(s) between my main desktop machine and my laptop computer. Now, I don’t think that one can truly synchronize locally-stored address books* on different machines going forward, but at least one can have two (or more) devices initially use files containing the same set of contacts.

In my case, since I only use one address book, the process itself is simple. It’s just a matter of copying Thunderbird’s Personal Address Book, the file abook.mab, from my desktop computer to my laptop. However, the trick is to find the address book file!

By default, Thunderbird uses two address books. The file abook.mab (Personal Address Book), is the main list of E-mail addresses, while history.mab (Collected Addresses) stores other addresses for individuals to whom you have sent mail.

Prior to transferring the main address book, with Thunderbird open, and the address book dialogue box active, I deleted any unnecessary contacts from Collected Addresses, and then moved all the remaining addresses (drag and drop) from Collected Addresses to the Personal Address Book. This ensured that I only had to transfer a single file (abook.mab) in order to retain all of my useful contacts.

In Linux, Thunderbird’s profile folder is in a hidden folder in the home directory. To locate the file, run the file manager (e.g. Caja), which will typically open in your home directory. In the View menu, check the box labelled Show Hidden Files. Now, navigate to the folder .thunderbird/{text string}.default, where {text string} is a seemingly random series of characters. For example, my profile folder is actually located at /home/toaster/.thunderbird/6t0m1b59.default, where “toaster” is my username.

For users of dual-boot systems, in Windows, the profile folder is buried even deeper, typically in C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\{text string}.default where {username} is the actual username in Windows. For example, on the Windows side of my system, the profile folder is located at: C:\Users\toaster\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\1trm39aa.default.

Once you have located the profile folder, it will be easy to find the address books, abook.mab and history.mab, in order copy the required files between machines.

When Thunderbird is started, it will automatically recognize the default files, and the now-standard set of contacts will be available for use.

Note that, on dual-boot systems, because two different address book files (and folders) are used by Linux and Windows, in order to have the same address book contents available when using either operating system, it is necessary to copy the address book file from the primary OS to the profile folder on the secondary OS. This is one reason for being able to locate the relevant folders in both Linux and Windows.

In addition, being able to locate the profile folders and the address book files is also useful in order to be able to make backups of these files as a precaution against data loss.

If synchronizing address books between different operating systems on the same computer is required, this could be achieved by using a bash script to copy the Linux version of the address book to the profile folder in Windows.

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* While it isn’t easy to synchronize address books across different machines, this is possible by using “the cloud”. See, for example: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/questions/1095496. But, this requires trusting your contact information to the Internet, rather than simply storing it locally.

References:

Moving address books between profiles
http://kb.mozillazine.org/Moving_address_books_between_profiles

Profile folder – Thunderbird
http://kb.mozillazine.org/Profile_folder_-_Thunderbird#Windows_Vista.2C_7.2C_8.1_and_10

Thunderbird Address Book
http://write.flossmanuals.net/thunderbird/address-book-basics/

Can Thunderbird be used in sync on mutiple computers at different locations? keeping folders, address books, inboxes the same at home and work
https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/questions/1095496

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