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make thunderbird fasterIf you asked anyone for the first words that comes to mind when they think of me, they’d probably say laid back. I really don’t get very uptight unless something really, really ticks me off. There is a recent phenomenon that has been occurring with my desktop Thunderbird client that has been doing just that. It loads messages slower than a turtle on marijuana, and once it loads messages, it won’t let me delete them because some process is apparently still running in the background.

We use Thunderbird a lot here at MUO. Saikat covered how to use it to send mass emails How to Set Up Mozilla Thunderbird to Send Mass Emails How to Set Up Mozilla Thunderbird to Send Mass Emails Read More , and Tina and I have covered cool Thunderbird add-ons 5 Thunderbird Add-Ons That Will Make it Better Than Gmail 5 Thunderbird Add-Ons That Will Make it Better Than Gmail For many years, I switched between a whole range of email clients. First I went with Outlook Express. Then I bought a new computer and decided to test the waters with Thunderbird. Once Gmail became... Read More and extensions 3 Best Thunderbird Extensions to Enhance Your Address Book 3 Best Thunderbird Extensions to Enhance Your Address Book Read More . After doing a little bit of digging online and rummaging through the Thunderbird settings pages, I’ve determined the things that can really bog down this email client. It appears that Thunderbird can actually run quite fast, even when you have loads of email in your remote accounts like I do, so long as you configure things on Thunderbird to handle that gigantic load.

Optimizing Thunderbird Settings

I use Thunderbird for four email accounts that have grown to enormous proportions. To make matters worse, I pretty much leave the emails on the servers. These are bad habits, I know. Email messages, like real mail, should be dealt with only once.  However, I would bet that there are lots of you out there in the same boat as me, and need Thunderbird to be capable of handling those giant email accounts.

So, here’s the status of my own Thunderbird setup. I’ve got 4 Gmail accounts that I connect to on a regular basis, and Thunderbird is set up to download new messages from them every 10 minutes.

make thunderbird faster

This may sound like a lot, especially considering that those accounts have thousands of messages stored on the server, but Thunderbird is actually very good at this. What it isn’t very good at is managing the huge folders that accumulate on the local side of the equation – the folders on your PC.

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Automatic Compacting Of Folders to Make Thunderbird Faster

The first way to improve performance is by automatically compacting folders.

For these next few settings, we’ll be playing in Tools -> Options.  To turn on auto-compact and set the size, you’ll need to click on the Advanced tab, and then click on the Network & Disk Space tab under that.

make thunderbird run faster

As you can see, I have Thunderbird set up to only compact folders if it will save me over 20MB of space. This is actually a good thing – I could even set it lower to enable more frequent compacting. This will keep your folder sizes down and performance high. The only problem is that this automatic compacting, especially when you have multiple accounts set up, can interfere with your normal use of the client, especially when the client first loads.

make thunderbird run faster

To fix this, click on the Config Editor, and in the “Filter” field, type in “mail.purge.ask“.

make thunderbird run faster

Set this value equal to true. Now, Thunderbird will still automatically compact folders, but if you’re in the middle of trying to read or respond to new email messages, it won’t interfere with your efforts. This was the biggest annoyance for me, and this one setting made a world of difference.

Three Other General Settings

To further increase performance, in the windows that I showed you above, you might also consider making the following changes as well.

  • Unclick the “Enable Global Search and Indexer” checkbox. The bottom line is that unless you often search your emails using keywords, you can disable this feature.
  • In the main Thunderbird window, click on View ->Layout and disable “Message Pane“. Thunderbird can get bogged down on previewing messages that have lots of graphics and HTML links.

speed up thunderbird

  • Also, in the Network & Disk Space settings window where I discussed compacting folders, you might consider increasing the size of your cache space. This increases page-load speed for when you view the same email messages in the future.

Settings For Each Account

The following settings can be found under the Tools -> Account settings. Each email account you’ve set up has a section with various menu items. Why did I end up with such huge folders that needed compacting? Because up until recently Thunderbird didn’t delete files that you deleted.

Strange, I know. But now, under “Server Settings“, you can have Thunderbird empty the trash when you close the client.

speed up thunderbird

Under “Copies & Folder“, enable the archiving of your messages. This won’t directly improve performance, but it’ll let you delete messages off your server without worrying about those messages getting lost.

speed up thunderbird

Choose to save to Archives under each account folder, and then click Archive Options to choose how you’d like to sort those archived messages.

Now, you can click on the “Disk Space” menu item and set up Thunderbird to delete all messages that are older than a year (365 days).

If you’re brave, you could delete messages sooner, but in my case I figure that if I haven’t dealt with the message after a year, I never will. You’ve also enabled local archiving, so you’ve got your local copies safe and sound.

The final setting that can help your Thunderbird performance is only fetching message headers, rather than the entire message itself.

make thunderbird faster

This one change alone can reduce your initial Thunderbird start-up time tremendously.

So, did any or all of these tweaks make an impact for you? Sometimes it can be tempting to dump an application when it starts bogging down like Thunderbird can, but when you start digging you’ll quickly realize that it’s simply a configuration issue.

Let us know how tweaking your Thunderbird settings as described above helped you improve its performance. Do you have any other tips? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credit : Shutterstock

  1. Bob Nolin
    October 25, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    Article could use updating. Many of the options you mention are changed or gone. None of the tips here seems to have solved my problem, which is that TB simply hangs for up to half an hour when a new email arrives which it interprets to be junk mail. This behavior seems to be due to some kind of online activity. I suspect the junk mail process is checking a server somewhere, and that's what's causing it to hang. Any suggestions?

  2. John
    September 3, 2016 at 6:42 am

    Thanks Ryan, So effective , We noticed a great improvement in speed , Many many thanks to your great tips ! Keep posting .

  3. Gary Krupa
    July 15, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    My Thunderbird won't display messages stored in folders. The affected folders are those starting with the letters H to Z. If I click on a message in one of the inbox folders, I can see the messages in another folder, but only for that folder and that one viewing. This is the second time this happened. A Thunderbird user suggested I delete three files in my T-Bird profile folder, session.json, foldertree.json, and panacea.dat. I did that this time, and it worked for a little while; then this happened again and deleting the files didn't work. I don't know what else to do.

  4. Jorge Garcia
    September 29, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Shame, it takes a lot less time to just check your emails through the browser, I thought it was great to use thunderbird since I've always used firefox, but just reading all this article plus having to change all this settings... Too long for me, I'll just carry on as I was before...

  5. Scot
    April 19, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Thunderbird runs fast for me except when I'm replying to a long email string- dozens of back and forths in one email. It can take minutes, using over 30% CPU when it does this. The respond box open and stays blank, then shows "not responding" then eventually does what it's supposed to. Your tweaks do not help this. Any ideas?

  6. Bob
    March 11, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Wonderful instructions!! THANKS.
    One caveat ... it may be useful to some if the version of the program is documented as the UI varies.

  7. Ahmadrifani
    December 14, 2011 at 8:38 am

    nice tips, i set my local drive not in C drive, this one is helps as well

  8. Aibek
    November 20, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Ryan, awesome article. Thunderbird fan here)

    Aibek

  9. Bob
    November 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Even with only one account I couldn't believe the increase in speed, even on my el cheapo 1.5 Mb cable connection.  Now if I could find somewhere to learn how to get my Yahoo and GMail accounts to download to Thunderbird.

    • Ryan Dube
      November 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm

      Bob - that's brilliant. I'm glad to hear the tweaks helped you out. Thanks for the feedback.

  10. Rocio Carvajal C.
    November 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Awesome tips, I've actually been postponing re-using Thunderbird because of the huge amount of space it takes from the hard disk. I had to manage 7 email accounts and the amount of information was insane. Well that was at my old job Now I have only 2 accounts, so maybe I'll go back to use it again.

    • Ryan Dube
      November 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm

      Rocio - I agree...Thunderbird set up by default seems to be a resource hog. I'd definitely recommend trying it again with this configuration. I think you'll actually find that performance will improve quite a bit and you can enjoy Thunderbird again. :-)

  11. ZaiN
    November 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    These are awesome tips! Although I already use compact folders automatically feature, but I never knew that doing that mail.purge advance tweak can create such a big difference in startup time of thunderbird.
    A big thanks for sharing this!

    • Ryan Dube
      November 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Great - thanks for your comment ZaiN!

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