My laptop is having problems, and I want to copy off my email before it dies
and move that to another machine. How do I do that? I use Thunderbird.
Full disclosure: That’s a question I asked myself this morning.
After returning from a road trip my laptop started to act “funny”. I realize
that’s not the best of technical terms, but that’s about the most accurate I
could come up with before further diagnosis.
It was running, and I wanted to start some potentially multi-hour
diagnostic, so I needed to move my email to my desktop machine.
One of the reasons I love Thunderbird: this is really, really easy. Easier
than most email programs I know.
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The Secret Word: Profile
encapsulates everything about your email …”
Thunderbird uses what it calls “profiles” to locate all of the information
associated with your email. Your profile folder
encapsulates everything about your email: mail, mail folders, email
accounts, contacts, installed extensions and so on.
Thus copying your Thunderbird based email from one machine is a simple
Close Thunderbird on the source machine (the machine on which you
currently have your email).
Install Thunderbird on the destination machine (the machine on
which you want to have your email).
Run it once on the destination machine, configure nothing, and
Locate the profile folder on the destination machine.
Erase the contents of the profile folder on the destination machine.
Locate the profile folder on the source machine.
Copy the contents of the entire profile folder and all sub folders from the
source machine to the destination.
Run Thunderbird on the destination machine.
That’s all there is to it.
I’m going to assume that you’re running the latest version of Thunderbird,
as I was.
Download and install the latest version of Thunderbird on the
machine to which you want to move your email.
Run Thunderbird once and it’ll prompt you to begin configuring your email.
Cancel that. We do not want to configure anything. With that
out of the way, close Thunderbird.
This step was necessary to cause Thunderbird to create the profile folder
into which we’re about to copy our information.
While you’re at it, close Thunderbird on the source machine.
There’s a support article on locating profiles that covers it for other operating
systems, but in a nutshell here’s what worked for me on Windows 7:
In the folder C:\Users\LeoN\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird
(where “LeoN” is replaced with your own Windows login account), there exists a
file “profiles.ini”. That’s a simple text file that you can examine with
Notepad, or “Type” at the Windows Command prompt. Mine looked like this:
What that tells us is that the full path to the folder we care about is:
Yours will be different, of course – it won’t be “LeoN”, and that “8h1k0c0z”
will probably be something else.
It’s in that folder that everything is stored. And I do mean
Optional: Choose Your Own Location
Even though you don’t need to do this I’m going to mention it because it’s
what I do to keep things a little clearer on my machine.
You can change the location of the profile folder by editing profiles.ini on
the destination machine before you move.
On my machine I changed two lines:
That tells Thunderbird that my profile is stored in f:\doc\thunderbird – a
folder I created. On my machine “F:” is a encrypted TrueCrypt volume.
Regardless of whether you changed it to a folder of your own choosing or
left it to whatever that first run of Thunderbird set it to, we start with a
IMPORTANT: this step is performed on the
destination machine, the machine you’re moving to, the
machine that does not yet have your email on it.
Make sure that the profile folder on the destination machine is empty. That
initial run of Thunderbird may have placed some information there that we
simply do not need, and we don’t want to confuse subsequent steps.
Now the heavy lifting.
Copy the complete contents of the profile folder on the source machine to
the profile folder of the destination machine.
What does matter is this:
All folders and sub-folders in the profile folder are copied.
All files are copied.
In my case, I created a zip file of the entire profile folder contents on the
source machine, copied that across my network to the destination machine, and
then unzipped it place.
Believe it or not, you’re done.
Run Thunderbird on the destination machine and you should find that all of
your email, contacts, extensions and whatnot have all been transferred
I simply pressed “Get Mail” and picked up where I’d left off.
And my laptop is now running that hours-long hard disk diagnostic.