DIY: Back up and migrate a Thunderbird profile and folders

The ability to migrate Mozilla Thunderbird profiles makes the email client an even more flexible tool for power email users.

I'm an IT person and a writer, and I change machines a lot. One very important thing I must be able to do is drag my Thunderbird information along with me to my new machine. I don't want to have to re-configure my Thunderbird accounts and/or lose all the email I saved into various folders and sub-folders. Fortunately, it's possible to move a Thunderbird profile across platforms; even if you're moving from Linux to Windows to Mac and back again, Thunderbird is intelligent enough to handle it all.

Backing up a profile

You don't need anything special to back up Thunderbird profiles; the most important thing is for you to know the location of your profile folder. The profile folder will be named a random string of characters and will be housed in a different location depending upon the platform. As of Thunderbird 3.6, you can find your profile containing folder by following these steps:

  1. Open Thunderbird.
  2. Go to Help | Troubleshooting Information.
  3. In the new window, click the Open Containing Folder button (Figure A).

Figure A

Your file manager will open to the containing folder. If you are using a pre-3.6 release of Thunderbird, the locations should be:

  • Linux: ~/.thunderbird/
  • Windows 7: C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles
  • Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\
  • Mac: /Users/username/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles

You can set up a nightly backup to back up these folders to a centralized location. Then you can use those profiles from the centralized location on Thunderbird.

Importing a new profile

You might think you could just dump the contents of the new profile into the correct folder, but that method doesn't work. You must use the Thunderbird Profile Manager to import the profiles. This way you get the mail account set up, and you also get all of the folders and email associated with those accounts.

To fire up the Thunderbird Profile Manager, you have to run Thunderbird from the command line. This will depend upon your platform, but the gist of the command is thunderbird -profilemanager. If you're using Windows, you'll run thunderbird.exe -profilemanager.

When the Profile Manager window opens, click the Create Profile button (Figure B). Figure B

If you decide to set up Thunderbird with more than one profile, uncheck the Don't Ask At Startup box.

The Create Profile Wizard will welcome you to the wizard; click Next to continue. The next screen prompts you to name the new profile and locate the folder for the profile (Figure C). Give the new profile a unique name that is indicative of the account or location. Figure C

Once you complete the import, you shouldn't have to do anything to configure the new profile. By setting the Profile Manager up to always start, you can easily switch between profiles.

Two final tips

  • Be sure you have the most recent update for Thunderbird to ensure your experience is as good and as efficient as possible.
  • No matter how you decide to set up your profile backups, make sure you are backing up on a regular basis.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


Between Jack and rd94, brilliant! Thanks guys, you make a great team.


Can anyone tell me how I can do this on a Mac?

I tried loading the profile manager from Terminal but it says "command not found".

What am I doing wrong?


Worked a treat from Ubuntu Laptop to W7 PC, but I do agree with an earlier post that some detail on some steps would help us non-IT guys, e.g., hidden files on Ubuntu; how to find (and activate) Run on Start Menu; and what do with files, folders, etc.


Does this procedure include message filters?

Agent 86 (99's Mate)
Agent 86 (99's Mate)

I didn't get the option to "choose folder"  I deleted the old profile, then went to created a new one, navigating to the profile I copied from my Win XP machine to the .thunderbird folder.  Only problem     I can see now is it put every contact in the contacts folder twice, but it's better than entering them all from scratch! Thanks for the step by step rd94


You're an IT guy?  These instructions are abysmal.  Particularly, you need to TELL people what to DO with their profile, i.e. Do they need to copy it somewhere like a flash drive? Do they need to transfer it to their /.thunderbird folder or keep it on their flash drive?  Does it HAVE to be in their /.thunderbird folder or can they put it somewhere else?  If they put it in their /.thunderbird folder, they need to know how to un-hide the hidden folders to locate it.  Does the folder location in the profile manager need to point to the profile you just copied?  In all my years working in IT, the competence level of 90% of so-called "IT professionals" astonishes me.

For Ubuntu:

Open Thunderbird on "old" computer, use Help>Troubleshooting tab to Open Containing Folder.

CLOSE Thunderbird.

COPY the funky-named folder (something like d8bidhz.default, etc.) that is INSIDE the .thunderbird folder to a flash drive.

Insert flash drive into "new" computer.

OPEN your Home folder, and press CTRL+H to "unhide" the .thunderbird folder.

COPY the funky-named folder from your flash drive into the .thunderbird folder.

Make sure Thunderbird is CLOSED on your "new" computer.

OPEN Terminal w/ CTRL+T and type "thunderbird -profilemanager" (minus the quotes).

When you get to the Window asking you to Create a profile, RENAME  your profile if you want (I just left it alone), then click the "Choose folder..." button.

NAVIGATE to the funky-named folder you just copied into your .thunderbird folder, select it.


Start Thunderbird.

It takes all of about 10 minutes.  Most of these blogger IT guys need to spend less time concerned about striking a pose for their profile pics and AdSense revenue and more time developing instructions for ordinary users.


@rd94 I tried several suggestions, but I still find that TB-Ubuntu does not import mails, folders, subfolders as made in TB-XP. Specially my mails are saved on HD E:\, how and where should I copy them on Linux? Thanks


@rd94 Thanks for the detailed instructions.

Worked like a charm from SeaMonkey on XP to Thunderbird on Ubuntu 12.04.

~10GB of mails ~15 different mail accounts.


@rd94 quick question: i'm on mac (mavericks) and i had to uninstall the OS, so i backed up my /Users/(my name)/Library/Thunderbird folder on a flash drive, reinstalled the OS and thunderbird and copied the /Users/(my name)/Library/Thunderbird back to its place. then i set up the profile in the profile manager by selecting my copied XXXXXX.default folder. but when i opened up thunderbird, it didn't recognize anything. no mail, no accounts, not settings. nothing. so i went inside my copied thunderbird folder, only to realize there was never any /Users/(my name)/Library/Thunderbird/Mail folder in it. is it all gone? where could my /Mail folder have been? is there a chance i can still access it from what i have backed up?


Your bio says you use Linux, however the instructions that you provided for the Thunderbird Profile Manager are for Windoze.  I was not able to get it to run in Ubuntu 13.10.  Any suggestions???



@GerBreOwn  See if my instructs above help, I just did it from 12.10 to 12.04 LTS and it worked fine.


Now we just need Mozilla to add the functionality to the main program so we don't have to resort to a command line.

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