3 Ways To Sync Thunderbird Emails Across Multiple Computers

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A desktop email client has several advantages over webmail. First of all, you don’t rely on the availability of an online service. You can work on your emails without being connected to the Internet. You can set up several email accounts and there is no limit on how many gigabytes you can store for free. Thunderbird of course also comes with support for extensions, which makes it especially interesting.

The disadvantage is that you don’t have access to your emails when you’re on a different computer. So if your favorite email client is Thunderbird and this is precisely the issue you need to solve, hang on!

This article shows how you can sync Thunderbird emails across multiple computers and always have access to all of your emails no matter which computer you’re using.


In principle, these instructions may also work for other desktop email clients. However, the single steps outlined here are specific to sync Thunderbird email.

1. Enable IMAP

If you’re currently downloading your email using POP3, you could possibly switch to IMAP, which meanwhile is supported by most email providers.

What is the difference between IMAP and POP3? With POP3 the emails that reach your mailserver are eventually downloaded to your computer and deleted from the server. With IMAP a copy of the emails are kept on the server. Moreover, all folders, including ones you create, are re-created on the server and all computers that access this IMAP account. Hence, your emails, including trash and sent mails, are always in sync.

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To enable IMAP, log into your email service provider account and look for the respective settings. Then go to Thunderbird and adjust the settings there.

If you’re switching from POP3 to IMAP, you’ll have to start over and re-create the account. Backup your email folders first! Then open > Tools > Account Settings… in Thunderbird, switch to the account and click > Account Actions > Remove Account to delete the account.

Now you can re-create it. Thunderbird 3 automatically detects the right IMAP settings for your provider when you create a new email account. Go to > File > New > Mail Account… or within > Account Settings… click on > Account Actions > Add Mail Account… and enter your details. If the settings are not detected, click > Edit or > Manual Setup… and enter the details provided by your provider.

sync thunderbird email

Within your Thunderbird > Account Settings also have a look at the > Synchronization & Storage options.

sync thunderbird emails

2. Move Profile To A Mobile Drive

This option is easier to set up, but more difficult to maintain. Technically, you’re not syncing Thunderbird emails across computers when you use this method. Instead you take your entire Thunderbird profile with you and access it on any computer you use.

Since an external source will have a different drive letter on different computers, we’re not going to move the profile. We will just tell Thunderbird the path of the profile using the -profile “path” command line argument.

The command line argument looks like this:

“C:\Program Files\Mozilla Thunderbird\thunderbird.exe” -profile “F:\My TB profile”

In Windows XP, you go to > Start > Run and type this command, replacing “F:\My TB profile” with the exact path to your profile.

sync thunderbird emails

To make this a little easier, you can create a shortcut on your removable drive using a small program called TBLaunch. You can download TBLaunch here. The INSTALL.txt file explains how to use the tool, which was designed many years ago to make a “portable hack” for Thunderbird 0.7 a little more comfortable. You can replace “tbpath” in the .ini file with the path to your program files folder like this: “C:\Program Files\Mozilla Thunderbird\

And of course you always have to carry the mobile drive with you.

3. Move Profile To A Network Drive

This last method to sync Thunderbird email requires that you have access to a shared / network drive. This is the most convenient method in the long run. However, it involves moving your existing profile to that drive, which can be tricky.

First, close Thunderbird. Now move the profile folder to the desired location. In Windows XP you will find your Thunderbird profile under > “C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\xxxxxxx.default

If you do not see the “Application Data” folder, that’s because it’s hidden. Go to > Tools > Folder Options… > View tab and under > Hidden files and folders select > Show hidden files and folders.

Once the profile has arrived in its new location, go to > “C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Thunderbird\” and open the > profiles.ini file in a text editor.

sync thunderbird between computersThis file lists all profiles registered with your installed Thunderbird. Locate the one you just moved and change the > Path= line to the new location, for example > Path=”E:\Thunderbird Profile/xxxxxxx.default”

Make sure to change > IsRelative=1 to > IsRelative=0 in case you switch from a relative to a non-relative path. Also, the direction of slashes in the path will change from “/” (relative) to “\” (non-relative).

You can also use this method to move your Thunderbird profile to another hard drive partition or an external hard drive.

Finally, if you realized that this is quite complicated, you should consider switching to Gmail, as it has most of the advantages listed for desktop email clients above.

The present article was written before this question came up on MakeUseOf Answers. Check out the comments to that question for more suggestions.

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Comments (9)
  • Ronald Rocafort

    And… additional to below… do you know anything about BirdieSync for Thunderbird. Claims that is can back up and sync all three that I mention… Contacts, Calendar, and Tasks… but only works with a much earlier version of ThunderBird (24). Any suggestions on how to approach this?

    • Tina Sieber

      Hi Ronald, I appreciate your enthusiasm for Thunderbird. Unfortunately, it’s been over 5 years since I wrote this article and I have since moved on to using the Gmail web client. You’re better advised to ask your questions in a dedicated Thunderbird forum.

  • Ronald Rocafort

    Aloha Tina,
    I will have to try the sync procedure you mention. But I have a question about syncing add-ons too… like Lighting (Calendar) and Tasks. Recently had a computer crash from a virus… had all my data backed up as in raw files, but lost all my Calender of events and tasks. I was able to use Gmail to regain some of my contacts but didn’t have Thunderbird synced to Gmail, so many contacts were lost as well. Luckily for my Cell Phone. Not synced, but had 90% of my contacts in there from manually entering.
    So how can I sync all three… Emails & Contacts, Calendar, and tasks?

  • Anders Vinther

    Hello there,

    Great article… I would strongly recommend option 1 for simplicity reasons. Once you have it set up it all just takes care of itself. You can sync as many computers and phones as you would like – all seamlessly.

    We at http://www.Easy-Email.net have written very detailed guides for how to set this up with Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail and Outlook coming very soon… You can even mix the different email clients to your liking…

    And if you are away from your own computer(s) you can still access your email via Gmail… still synchronizing with your desktop, netbook etc of course…

    With Thunderbird/Gmail you can even synchronize your contacts automatically too!

    The Essential Guides, which explain how to set this up for one email address are free to download at our web site.

    Happy emailing,

    Anders

  • Dushan

    Another way to do that could be to put the profile folder on the MyDropbox folder using Dropbox software…

    Anybody already tried that ?

    All the best,
    Dushan

  • TheBoss@Compute.ws

    I’ve never tried this so I could be wildly out here but I’m just about to get a laptop which I want to keep more or less totally synched with my desktop. Is it not possible to install Thunderbird (or whatever email client you use) on both machines and then synch the whole Thunderbird profile across the two machines, making sure you choose the option to always synch from the more recently updated files. I’m sure there is a massive flaw in this idea, it sounds too easy. If anyone can point it out to me then please do; it will save me hours of head scratching frustration.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.