How do I... Use add-ons and extensions in Mozilla Thunderbird?

Add-ons and extensions can greatly enhance the already feature-rich Mozilla Thunderbird. Whether you need to do business in a foreign language or just want to customize a color scheme, there is likely to be a Thunderbird add-on or extension that can make it happen. Nicole Bremer Nash explains how Thunderbird add-ons and extensions work, how to find them, and how to install them.

Beyond Mozilla Thunderbird's inherent open source greatness, its ability to handle many e-mail and RSS feeds, and keep it all organized; is the wonderful ability to customize Thunderbird with add-ons and extensions.

What can I do with extensions?

Because Thunderbird is open source, there are many extensions available for download. Do you find yourself frequently doing business with foreign language speakers? Customize your Thunderbird with language dictionaries. Need more Spam filtering? AdBlock Plus is a common favorite extension for junk mail filtering. Wish you could play music while reading e-mail? Check out the FoxyTunes extension. Do you simply like to change and customize the color schemes on GUIs? Thunderbird offers various extensions for that too.

On top of the fun of customizing software, using add-ons for Thunderbird can help transition users from other e-mail client software such as Vista Mail by making Thunderbird look and feel like other software. Other office-type applications include increased encryption and security. This type of work-place functionality makes Thunderbird a viable option for business.

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

How do I get add-ons?

An Internet search will turn up enough Thunderbird extensions to keep almost anybody happy. Perhaps the best place to download extensions is from the official Mozilla Thunderbird add-ons website.

Of course, if you can't find what you're looking for, you're always welcome to create your own Thunderbird add-ons.

I'm too busy to write my own add-ons; how do I use an existing extension?

Before you can download extensions, it is wise to know where you want to download them and create a designated folder. Once you do that, hop online and browse around until you find what you want.

Once you have located the download file for the extension you want, you will have to download the file manually (Figure A) by right-clicking on the download or install link and selecting Save Link As.

Figure A

Save Link As
Select the designated folder and choose Save (Figure B), leaving the file name intact.

Figure B

Save to designated folder

Installing the extension

In Thunderbird, go to Tools | Add-ons. (Figure C)

Figure C

Tools | Add-ons
This will open a dialog (Figure D) in which you will need to click Install.

Figure D

Install Button
A new dialog will appear (Figure E). Using the drop-down menu, find the folder you saved the extensions in, then select the extension you wish to install, and click Open.

Figure E

Select the extension to install
Thunderbird will ask you to verify the installation. (Figure F)

Figure F

Verify the installation
You will now to restart Thunderbird (Figure G) in order to complete the installation.

Figure G

Restart Thunderbird

Using add-ons

Once Thunderbird is restarted, you may need to set the program to use the desired add-ons or extensions. To turn add-ons off, simply repeat the following instructions, selecting the default options.

With Thunderbird open, again go to Tools | Add-ons. (Figure H)

Figure H

Tools | Add-ons
A dialog will open showing installed extensions and themes. (Figure I) Find the add-on you wish to use, and select Use theme.

Figure I

Use theme

You will need to restart Thunderbird in order for the change to take place. Simply close Thunderbird and then start the program anew. If you are having trouble with the extension, consult the documentation for the extension in question — open source communities tend to be helpful and keep careful documentation.


Just like that, you've added functionality and fun to your favorite e-mail client. (Figure J) Once again, Thunderbird proves it is a master of both form and function.

Figure J

Installed new theme


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...

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