Just say the secret word.
That’s a question I asked myself one day some time ago.
After returning from a road trip, my laptop started to act “funny”. I realize that’s not the best of descriptions, but it’s the most accurate I could come up with before further diagnosis.
It was running, and I wanted to start some potentially multi-hour diagnostics, so I needed to move my email to my desktop machine.
This is one of the reasons I love (and recommend) Thunderbird: this is really, really easy. Easier than most email programs I know.
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Thunderbird stores all your information in what it calls a “profile” — a folder that contains everything. All you need do to move your Thunderbird email is to locate the profile on the old machine and copy it in its entirety to the profile location on the new machine.
The secret word: profile
Thunderbird uses what it calls “profiles” to locate all of the information associated with your email. Your profile folder has everything: mail, mail folders, email accounts, contacts, installed extensions, and so on.
This makes copying your Thunderbird-based email from one machine to another a simple process.
- 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 exit.
- 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 subfolders 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, 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.
In the folder
(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 everything.
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 a separate drive.
Regardless of whether you changed it to a folder of your own choosing or left it to where that first run of Thunderbird set it, we start with a simple step.
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 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.
It doesn’t matter how you do it; it could be over your network, using a USB thumb drive or external hard disk, or any other way you have of copying bits from one machine to another.
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 in place.
Believe it or not, you’re done.
Run Thunderbird on the destination machine and you should find all of your email, contacts, extensions and whatnot have all been transferred over.
I simply pressed “Get Mail” and picked up where I’d left off.
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