Software

How Do I... Manage folders and spam in Mozilla's Thunderbird?

<img src="http://t.cbsimg.net/i/z/200606/how_110x85.jpg" align="right" border="0" height="85" hspace="5" vspace="5" width="110" />One of the main allures of <a href="http://www.techrepublic.com/search/index.php?t=1&amp;s=0&amp;o=1&amp;q=thunderbird" target="_blank">Thunderbird</a> (beside its price) is the ability to easily manage e-mails using folders and <a href="http://www.techrepublic.com/search/index.php?t=1&amp;s=0&amp;o=1&amp;q=spam+filters" target="_blank">intelligent spam filters</a>. Thunderbird's spam filters do take some time -- generally around a week -- to achieve full functionality on any given user's e-mail. This is because the spam filter learns from how you tag each e-mail and what you do with it. The easy-to-set filters and comprehensive spam filtering has many people migrating to Thunderbird from other e-mail clients.

One of the main allures of Thunderbird (beside its price) is the ability to easily manage e-mails using folders and intelligent spam filters. Thunderbird's spam filters do take some time -- generally around a week -- to achieve full functionality on any given user's e-mail. This is because the spam filter learns from how you tag each e-mail and what you do with it. The easy-to-set filters and comprehensive spam filtering has many people migrating to Thunderbird from other e-mail clients.

This blog post is available in PDF form in a TechRepublic download.

An ounce of planning

While it is possible to create e-mail folders during the filter setup process, it is generally easier to create your folders before creating e-mail filters. To create new e-mail organizing folders, right-click the Local Folders icon in the folders list on the left side of the screen and choose New Folder... (Figure A).

Figure A

Go to Local Folders | New Folder
Type the name you want for this folder in the Name field and use the menu list (Figure B) to choose where you want this file to show up.

Figure B

Choose a folder

If you do not want to use e-mail filters for this folder, you will be able to drag items to this folder at your whim.

Through rose-colored glasses: Setting up your filters to organize e-mail for you

E-mail filters are a great way to streamline the organization process and save a lot of time and frustration. Each of your e-mail accounts may have several filters applied to it, allowing you precise control over e-mail organization.

To set up e-mail filters, navigate the menus to Tools | Message Filters as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Navigate to Tools | Message Filters
In the Message Filters dialog (Figure D), select the e-mail account you want to set a filter for and click New.

Figure D

Select an account
In the Filter Rules dialog (Figure E), you will need to name this filter, set the rules, and choose what action you want Thunderbird to take for that rule.

Figure E

Filter Rules
From the Message Filters dialog (Figure F), you can see all the filters you have set for each e-mail account or folder and turn filters on and off without having to delete them.

Figure F

Message Filters

Now your electronic correspondence is even more organized!

Spam filtering: Pavlov's dog meets the Probability Drive

It was mentioned earlier that Thunderbird's spam filters are renowned as one of the best. But what makes then so great? Thunderbird uses Bayesian spam filtering -- that is, spam filtering based on Bayes' Theorem of Probability, which effectively considers how likely an e-mail is to be spam or legitimate based on user-taught parameters of what constitutes spam and what is considered a valid e-mail. Because the parameters are set by the individual user, I can still get all the sales flyer e-mails I want, but that somebody else may consider spam.

This is different from preset spam filtering programs, because preset programs already have built-in parameters that do not change based on each user's preferences. Bayesian spam filtering, unlike preset spam filters, is a bit more like Pavlov's dog, in that you have to tell it what to do and then reinforce it regularly to get the desired actions. Once Thunderbird's spam filters are trained, you get accurate results every time.

Setting up the spam filters

To get started setting up the junk mail settings, you will need to go to Tools | Account Settings (Figure G).

Figure G

Tools | Account Settings
Then, find the label Junk Settings under the e-mail account you wish to set up spam controls for, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

Junk Settings

You will have to select the Enable Adaptive Junk Mail Controls For This Account check box.  Now, set up any other specific options you like. If you want Thunderbird to move junk e-mails to a specific folder, tell it which folder here. If you want to minimize the training time or are prone to a particularly large number of spam, or junk, e-mails, you may want to download and install a compatible program, such as SpamAssassin. If you do so, this is the place to let Thunderbird know to use it. When you are finished setting up the specs, click OK and you're done.

Training the spam filter

Training Thunderbird's spam filter is amazingly simple. When an e-mail comes in that you think is junk, simply right-click the e-mail in the list and choose Mark | As Junk (Figure I).

Figure I

Mark | As Junk

If you make a point to do this, Thunderbird will quickly learn what you do and do not want to receive and will file spam e-mails accordingly with little more input from you after the training period.

One important thing to note is that you may not consider all e-mails of a type to be spam, or junk, and do not want Thunderbird to junk, say, a sales flyer from your favorite store simply because you junk sales flyers from every other stores' lists. To ensure nothing gets junked that you want to receive,  mark things you want to continue to get in your Inbox with Mark | As Not Junk. This is done the same way you Mark | As Junk, but with a different marker (Figure J).

Figure J

Mark | As Not Junk

Ringing the bell

While it may be a bit of trouble and a smidgen time-consuming to set up folders and filters and to train the spam program, Thunderbird delivers accuracy and quality with its e-mail organization. Unlike spam filters that are designed to be one answer for the masses, Thunderbird is extremely customizable. Just think of it as an experiment in training your computer -- similar to training a dog, but without messing up the carpet.

About

Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...

4 comments
dickdowning
dickdowning

I would like to see caution added and some info on how important backing up your email folders are. A month ago I click on a message to delete it and Thunderbird through away the 9 subfolders I had created(about 1500 important emails). Prior to that the local folders showed and the two accounts I was pulling from showed up under the all folders section. The two accounts disappeared also. So back up your mail frequently.

GarryAllen
GarryAllen

Nice clear article. You should point out that (at least in some versions of TB) it is actually necessary to mark at least one email as Not Junk in order for the training to take effect.

NICKK
NICKK

I use Spamato as an add-on to Thunderbird. Thunderbird in itself is awesome, Spamato adds that much more spam protection. Easy to set up and free to use. It can be found at SourceForge etc.

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