Migrating Mozilla Thunderbird From One Computer To Another

Thunderbird 3Mozilla Thunderbird may be an excellent email client (and PIM with the right extensions) but for all the wealth of extensions available and it’s myriad of import options, it’s still incredibly difficult to export data such as email, accounts and settings.

I faced that very problem today.

When I’m developing or doing video editing on my main laptop I don’t want to have my email client running. Having it open is not only a distraction but sucks up valuable resources, so today I decided to install a second copy of Thunderbird on my other machine so I could access my email no matter what I was doing or running.

I access all of my email through IMAP, so if I had just a single email address I wouldn’t have worried too much about just installing Thunderbird and manually setting up the account. Unfortunately I am not blessed enough to get by with just a single email address, not even remotely close, so other methods were required.

The method I’m about to show you will work on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 & Windows 8 (Update: works with Windows 10), can be accomplished in less than 10 minutes and will allow you keep all of your email settings and email (doesn’t matter if you use POP3 or IMAP).

In order to make the migration, you’ll need a flash drive (preferably with a large storage capacity if you are a POP3 user), portable hard drive or a network connection with shared folders between both machines.

I’ll be explaining how to do it using a flash drive or portable hard drive.

Okay lets get started shall we?

Download the latest version of Thunderbird to the machine you want to install it on and start the installation process.

While that is installing go to the machine where your email currently exists.

Make sure that Thunderbird isn’t running and plug in your thumbdrive.

Windows Vista and Windows 7 navigate to the following location:

C:Users[Username]AppDataRoamingThuderbirdProfiles

Windows XP users browse to:

C:Documents and SettingsPaulApplication DataThunderbirdProfiles

Inside that folder you’ll see a file that should be named something like: XXXXXXX.default

Copy this file to your flash drive. You may need to compress it using a tool like 7Zip if it’s too large to fit on the flash drive.

Once it’s copied eject the thumbdrive and and take it back to the machine you just installed Thunderbird on.

Make sure Thunderbird is fully installed and then run Thunderbird for the first time.

Once it starts exit out immediately. Don’t enter any data or set anything up. By letting it run once it sets up all the folders you need in your Application Data folder which we can now replace with the file on your flash drive.

Once Thunderbird is closed, navigate to the same folder as you were at before (except on the new machine) and delete the XXXXXXX.default file you find in there.

Once it’s deleted copy the XXXXXXX.default file from your thumbdrive (decompress if necessary) into the folder.

Next Windows Vista and Windows 7 users should navigate to:

Windows Vista and Windows 7 navigate to the following location:

C:Users[Username]AppDataRoamingThuderbird

Windows XP users navigate to:

C:Documents and SettingsPaulApplication DataThunderbird

Inside this folder you’ll find a file called profiles.ini.

Open profiles.ini using Notepad or your favorite text editor.

It should look something like this:

[General]

StartWithLastProfile=1

[Profile0]

Name=default

IsRelative=1

Path=Profiles/XXXXXXX.default

Change the value of XXXXXXX.default in profiles.ini to match the value of the original XXXXXXX.default file you copied from your flash drive.

Save the file, close all open windows and start Thunderbird.

If you’ve done everything correctly Thunderbird should start up without problems.

If you get an error saying something like: “Thunderbird is already running in another window“, then recheck the value of XXXXXXX.default in profiles.ini.

If it doesn’t match the original value then things won’t work and Thunderbird will keep throwing that error.

If  you originally created your signatures for your email accounts inside Thunderbird then you’re all done.

If, like me, you’ve got them saved as text files then you’ll need to copy them to the new machine and go into the account settings for each email account and make sure that it is pointing to the correct location for you signature files.

That’s it, you’re all done 🙂

107 thoughts on “Migrating Mozilla Thunderbird From One Computer To Another”

  1. Hi Paul,
    I want to migrate usernames and passwords, in Firefox, from one Win 7 hard drive to another. Should this process work? I have two storage drives on my computer. My plan is to make the newer larger one my C: and make the original C: a storage/backup. I attempted to migrate them using the process you describe here but it did not work for me.
    Thank You.

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    1. Hi Joe,

      The process described in this post is for Mozilla Thunderbird (the email client) and not for Firefox the browser. If you want to migrate usernames and passwords for one Firefox browser to another, the easiest thing to to do would be to set up Firefox sync. This will allow you to keep multiple browsers synced with usernames, passwords, bookmarks and extensions.

      Follow this link for instructions on how to set up Firefox Sync.

      I hope that helps 😀

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      1. Paul, Thanks for responding and giving me the information to do the job. I’ll see if I can figure out how to do Sync…and not do so in the process.

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  2. Paul…. I have used your method with great success when migrating form one computer to another but I have a new challenge.

    Recently, my Win7 Pro machine suffered a drive issue and I lost the boot sector. All of my directories and files were intact and un-damaged so just built an new drive and copied all of the files over. The only thing I cant get to work is Thunderbird. Every time I load a clean version and copy the old to new, Thunderbird still insists on creating a new profile and ignores the one I just copied over with all of my data.

    Any thoughts or suggestions??

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    1. Dan, I wonder if you’re actually starting Thunderbird and then quitting out of it before it creates a profile – before you copy your backed up files over?

      Make sure Thunderbird is fully installed and then run Thunderbird for the first time.

      Once it starts exit out immediately. Don’t enter any data or set anything up. By letting it run once it set up all the folders you need in your Application Data folder which we can now replace with the file on your flash drive.

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  3. Hi Paul. I also am among the success stories. Just a community college biology instructor with vast numbers of saved folders from Outlook Express, all of which got copied over and retained in Thunderbird when I loaded said software. When I migrated from my soon to be defunct XP system to my Vista laptop, everything made the journey successfully. But today I went to put email to a saved folder and almost fell out of my chair. All saved folders were gone … no where to be seen. My only thought is to do the migration again from my XP computer to the Vista computer. I’ll need to leave my XP computer intact as a back up.

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  4. Paul,

    Thanks so much for your simple and very helpful instructions. After Windows Easy Transfer failed, your method worked flawlessly in transferring files from XP to W7.

    One quick question. It seems your method would be an effective and quick way to back up my Thunderbird files. Is there any reason your method would not work to back up Thunderbird files?

    Thanks. Mike

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    1. That IS my Thunderbird backup method. Works great. I just let Laplink automatically back up the long-path-named file mentioned and I’m done. The restore, similar to Paul’s “new computer” procedure, also works. Are there other backup methods (that are halfway simple)?
      Regards, Fred
      PS I’m about to try Paul’s migration method now. Looks like it should work. It’s a big help for him to have outlined it here because the last time I did something like this was a couple of years ago and I forgot everything. Thanks, Paul!

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  5. HI and thanks for the info. I tried to go from windows 7 to windows 8.1 pro and everything went great until I got into windows 8 and there was no folders:

    C:Users[Username]AppDataRoamingThuderbird

    C:Documents and SettingsPaulApplication DataThunderbird

    so now I am not sure where to put the XXXXXXX.default file?

    Can you help me out with that please Paul?

    thanks

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  6. I’m trying to migrate my Thunderbird from an XP PC to a Win7 PC and I followed your instructions line by line,everything seemed to be going fine until I tried to open on Win7 PC. 😥

    It still wanted me to open a new account instead of transferring my existing one, so deleted every thing and tried again with the same result. I must be doing something wrong,j ust can’t figure it out .

    Can you suggest anything to help please – Thanks Pete

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    1. It’s probably this part – which you perform BEFORE transferring the data the the new PC –

      Make sure Thunderbird is fully installed and then run Thunderbird for the first time.

      Once it starts exit out immediately. Don’t enter any data or set anything up. By letting it run once it set up all the folders you need in your Application Data folder which we can now replace with the file on your flash drive.

      Like

  7. This looks like great info (confirmed by the positive comments). MY PROBLEM – I’ve already been up and running with Thunderbird on my new machine (a few months) and am just now getting around to this. My understanding is that the migration should have been done immediately. I’ve located the xxxx.defualt file on the old drive (actually a secondary drive on my new machine). Any suggestions as to how to add the old email and address book to the new Thunderbird profile. I’m almost certain that I’ve done this before, although it may have been done with another client (prior to using Thunderbird).

    Thanks

    Like

    1. I does, and it isn’t. I’ve been using 8 since the beginning and really, really like. It’s stable, fast and despite some issues with Metro is a really great OS. 8.1 fixed a lot of those Metro issues and future releases will improve it even further.

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  8. Re the third paragraph of your text above: Now that your migration is complete – do you now just process email on your second computer or can you go back and forth between the 2 computers’ TBird installations at will?
    Thanks, Fred

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    1. Fred, Yes you could and should go and forth especially if you are an IMAP user and want changes replicated on all machines (which is not as good an experience with POP3).

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  9. Hi, Paul. I followed your instructions for Windows 7 up to where I delete the xxxxxxxx.default file from C:\Users\[Username]\AppData, etc.
    Under the [Username] There is no AppData folder name showing here (only Contacts, Desktop, Downloads, etc.).
    I noticed there is a pic of a padlock next to the [Username] folder.
    This seems to be related to “Share with Nobody”; but I can’t get that status to go away.
    When I try to change this, a lot of file names whiz by on the screen, including many which say “[Username]\AppData\[etc.]. Go figure.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks,
    Fred

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    1. To answer my own question, I discovered that ….AppData.. etc. was hidden for some unknown reason. To unhide it, I had to do Start, Control Panel, Appearance and Personalization, Folder Options, View (tab), Advanced Settings (box title), Hidden Files; then check “Show hidden files, folders and drives”. Simple, huh? Thx for listening! Fred

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    2. Hi again. Once I figured the above out, your instructions worked perfectly in a few minutes. Thanks a bunch, Paul (and sorry for the verboseness)!
      Fred

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  10. Never has migrating Thunderbird been so easy as was this. I wish I had found your extremely well detailed instructions years ago.

    Thanks Paul 🙂

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  11. Hi Bob, I just purchased a HP Laptop with Windows 10 installed. Can you tell me how to move my address books? My older desktop is not functioning. Thanks B

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    1. How do you mean that your older desktop is not functioning? If you cannot access the data then there’s no real way to move it unless the data is synced somewhere else such as a Google account.

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  12. Have used this tutorial many times and never had a problem. Just used it to transfer Thunderbird to a clean install of Windows 10 Pro. Pleased to say that once again it was a quick and flawless operation.

    Many thanks, Dave

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  13. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
    After hours of wading through Mozilla forums, I find your piece. What a snap!
    Thank you….

    Like

  14. Thanks Paul – This worked to transfer my Thunderbird pop account and archived mail to a windows 10 comp. I don’t actually need to use Thunderbird on the windows 10 comp,(because Windows 10 mail allows easy set up of pop accounts as well as imap) but i wanted to preserve several years of pop account emails from the about to be retired Vista PC, on the new comp. As noted by some of the comments, you will need to reveal hidden files in Windows 10 to locate the target folders/files. As of the Jan 10/16 iteration of W10, you can do that by opening file explorer (click lower left windows icon tp find it) click the tab “view”, then at the right end of the taskbar/ribbon check the box “hidden items”. I wasn’t sure how to “turn off” the new install of Thunderbird on the W10 comp (to make sure all the pop emails go to Windows Mail) so i clicked on all the offline options i could find.

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  15. I had trouble at first but my computer buddy guru came over and had it transferred in a few minutes. Everything seemed to be working well. The old computer was stripped of the hard drive and CD ROM drive prior to going to recycling. Only then did I discover the Local Folders section is empty. I can’t understand it.

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  16. Thank you so much! It’s six years since you authored this post, and I just used your instructions. It all went perfectly from a Vista to Win10. I am so grateful to you for your clear and perfect instructions!

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  17. I have TB up and running on w10 and works well. now need to retire old laptop W7 and transfer old calendar and contacts data. will your method add to rather than over right existing data in the new w10 machine?

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    1. John, this method relies on Thunderbird would overwrite whatever was in the existing profile. You could create a second profile in Thunderbird, use this method to copy your stuff over, replacing the second profile, and switch between them. Not the most efficient way but should work. Let me know how you get on.

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  18. Thanks! Worked perfectly for me, Win 10 desktop to fresh install Win 10 notebook. I was careful to have the identical user name on both machines. Different user names had caused me problems in years gone by. Maybe it doesn’t matter any more but something to consider if problems are encountered.

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  19. Wow! What a lifesaver. I tried several other methods without success before I found your page. Directions were great and everything worked. What a relief to have this done.

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  20. I used your method successfully to transfer from XP to win 10, but I made a minor change: I did not make any change to profile.ini. Instead, I took note of the XXXXXXX.default file name on the win 10 computer and renamed the corresponding xp file on the flash drive to match the win 10 file name, When I copied it to the win 10 directory, it said ‘duplicate file exists’ and I replaced it. I would not have been able to figure this out if I had not read your article.
    Thanks

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      1. Why you don’t overwrite the existing «profiles.ini» (on the new PC) with the original «profiles.ini» (from the old PC)?

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  21. By change the value of xxxx.default, do you mean copy and past all of the text, or the last line Path=Profiles/zmajfhzt.default

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