Thunderbird's settings and the profile

Thunderbird deliberately separates your data files from the program itself. The program is stored in a communal place, such as Program Files in Windows XP, or /usr/lib in Linux. The user's information is stored in what is called a profile and this is stored in the user's file space. For example:

Documents and Settings/<user>/Application Data in Windows XP

/home/<user> in Linux.

Profile files and folders are normally hidden and you will need to set your file manager to show hidden files if you wish to locate and examine your profile. In summary, the profile stores your messages, your account settings, your Address Books, your filters, your add-ons and extensions, your customizations, your dictionaries, your stationery and signatures and so forth.

When you upgrade or update Thunderbird, the program files are overwritten by the new ones, or in some cases, a new program folder is created. The program is hard-coded to look at a certain place on your default disk drive to locate the user files or profile. So the program can be updated, removed, re-installed and in principle your data is untouched and unchanged, and the new version of Thunderbird carries on where it left off.

The profile is described here:

...and the files found inside it are explained here:

So when Thunderbird is installed on a new computer, copying the existing profile is an easy way to maintain continuity. If you install Thunderbird on a new computer, it will generate a profile. You can abort the set-up, and then copy the corresponding files over the new empty profile and have an identical new installation of Thunderbird.

If you copy the entire profile, including its profiles.ini file, you will need to edit this file to make it refer correctly to the new profile location. A copied profiles.ini will of course be correct for the computer it has been copied from, but is most unlikely to be correct when copied to a new location. This can be avoided by copying not the whole profile, but all the folders and files within it. The profile itself is identified by a folder with a name like s7cv4rz2.default, where the first part is a random string of characters. You may rename this to something more to your taste, which is advisable if you work with multiple profiles and need to know which one is which.

A general note about the profile - some files will be opened and modified by Thunderbird, so to be safe, always close Thunderbird before accessing the profile itself. Any changes you make whilst Thunderbird is running may be overwritten when Thunderbird closes. Additionally, there is a lock file which Thunderbird uses to indicate that a profile is in use. Copying this lock file will result in a profile that appears to be busy, so will prevent Thunderbird from running.

You may find these tools useful for managing your profile:

There is also a profile manager built into Thunderbird. Run it with a command line switch: -Profilemanager

Address Books

Postings to getsatisfaction often specifically ask about moving the Address Book to a new location. I suspect often this is because the poster is not aware of the profile and the way it can be transplanted from one computer to another.

Address Books can be moved, and how you move them will depend on your situation and what you want to do with the Contact information. The safest methods rely on built-in tools which allow address books to be exported and imported.

From one Thunderbird to another:

  1. In the Address Book, select an address book that you want to transfer

  2. In the menu, Tools|Export

  3. You will be shown a file picker which is inviting you to select a location and a file name for your exported address book. Many users assume this is a browse dialog inviting them to locate the address book itself.

  4. Make sure the file type is set to LDIF

  5. Save your address book with a suitable name. Avoid repeating the names of the Personal Address Book, Collected Addresses or any custom address books you have set up yourself; it is easy to end up with multiple address books with the same name! You can of course save directly to a USB drive for immediate transfer to another computer

  6. On the other computer, open Thunderbird's Address Book

  7. In the menu, Tools|Import

  8. Select Address Books

  9. Select text

  10. In the file picker, navigate to your LDIF file and select it.

From Thunderbird to somewhere else:

LDIF is a format that preserves address book format without any user intervention and is ideal when moving from one instance of Thunderbird to another. A more general format is Comma Separated Values ("CSV") which is widely used in other programs. Be aware that some data are managed differently in different applications and do not always align well. As an example, street (postal) addresses are split into fields such as Street, City, State in Thunderbird, whereas in googlemail these are entered as free-form text, so there is no direct correspondence between the two sets of contact information.

To export to a CSV file, follow the steps shown above, but at step 4, set it to CSV (not LDIF).

From somewhere else to Thunderbird:

If you have an address book from elsewhere, it is likely it will be in CSV format, which may be imported into Thunderbird's Address Book.

  1. In the Address Book, Tools|Import

  2. Select Address Books

  3. Select text

  4. Ensure the CSV file type is selected and navigate to your file and select it

  5. A dialog like this will appear:

  6. The left-hand column ("Address Book fields") contains the field names that Thunderbird uses. The right-hand column ("Record data to import") shows the fields found in the file to be imported. If the file has come from another application there will probably be fields you cannot match.

  7. The Move Up and Move Down buttons move the items in the left-hand column up and down. My method for working this is:

  1. It is tempting when you see a field that seems to be in the way to try to move it down, but this often disrupts alignments you've already sorted out. Ignore it; it will eventually be pushed down and into its rightful place. In the list in my picture, the Organization field was high up in the left hand list, but is best ignored; just keep raising the fields you need.

Other import/export methods:

You can copy address book files from one profile to another. They have a .mab extension. The major challenge is to identify which file contains which address book. Personal Address Book is stored in abook.mab, and Collected Addresses in history.mab. You can copy these two files from profile to profile. Other mab files, associated with user-defined address books must be imported into the Address Book. I recommend MoreFunctionsForAddressBook to do this.

Some applications use vCards, which are designed to be used like business cards. They can be attached to an email message, perhaps in place of a signature, the intention being that the recipient can, with a suitably equipped program, import the vCard into his address book. Thunderbird is "aware" of vCards, but doesn't have strong support for them.

This add-on:


...offers several enhancements to the Address Book, including the ability to import and export mab files, vCards and Mailing Lists.

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