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.