How To Recover Deleted eMails in Thunderbird

Tina Sieber 31-10-2009

How To Recover Deleted eMails in Thunderbird thunderbird icon 150x150Within my last post How To Terminally Delete eMails In Thunderbird By Compacting Folders Read More I mentioned that deleted eMails can be recovered in Thunderbird, even if the Trash can was emptied. The only prerequisite is, that the incoming folder was not compacted.


Here is the post that will shed light on how to recover deleted emails in Thunderbird. So if you have recently deleted an important eMail and accidentally emptied the Trash, you may still be able to recover it. Just don’t compact your folders, yet!

Before you start, close Thunderbird and best perform a backup 5 Ways to Backup your Email Read More . At least make a manual backup of the files you are going to work with!

Open your Thunderbird profile folder. Generally this folder can be found under C:\Documents and Settings\YOUR USER NAME\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles.

By default, the Application Data folder is hidden. To make it visible go to C:\Documents and Settings\YOUR USER NAME\ and click Tools > Folder Options and open the View tab. Scroll down to Hidden files and folders and check Show hidden files and folders. Click OK to save and you should be able to see the Application Data folder.

how to recover deleted emails in thunderbird


You should know under which account and to which folder the deleted eMail was originally delivered. Otherwise you will have to apply trial and error and search through different accounts and folders.

Let’s say we’re looking for an eMail that was delivered to the Inbox, subsequently deleted and emptied from the Trash. The traces of this eMail should still be found in the Inbox folder.

Go ahead and open the folder for the respective eMail account, then launch the Inbox file without the .msf file extension in a text editor, such as Notepad.

how to recover deleted emails in thunderbirdIf you’re unsure, click on one of the files and expand the file details in the bottom left of the folder. For the correct file type it should just say “file”, rather than “MSF-file”.


Opening files can take a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on how many eMails have survived termination in that folder. Make sure the text editor you choose can handle large file sizes. Some of my files were up to 300MB!

For my example, I picked an eMail I received from Stumble Upon this morning. I had deleted it and before attempting to restore the eMail I also emptied the Trash for this account.

When I looked into the Inbox file I indeed found that eMail along with all details and contents in my Inbox text file.

To recover the eMail and make it reappear in its original folder, change the X-Mozilla-Status to 0. In the example pictured below it says “X-Mozilla-Status: 0009”. The result should say “X-Mozilla-Status: 0”.


how to recover deleted emails in thunderbird

Save the file, close it and launch your Thunderbird client.

Lo and behold, my test eMail magically reappeared in my inbox.

how to recover deleted emails


Now to everyone who have been getting rid of secret or compromising eMails simply by deleting them, there is no need to suffer from a nervous breakdown now.

There is a way to remove those eMails forever. Simply compact your folders. My previous post on How To Terminally Deleted eMails In Thunderbird by Compacting Folders How To Terminally Delete eMails In Thunderbird By Compacting Folders Read More thoroughly explains the steps you need to take.

Did I save your day? Your feedback is appreciated, please use the comments!

Related topics: Data Recovery, Desktop Email Client, Email Tips, Mozilla Thunderbird.

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  1. raj
    October 30, 2018 at 7:04 am

    Why don't you update this article?

    • Tina Sieber
      October 31, 2018 at 7:23 pm

      Not enough people care about it. Sorry!

  2. Bruce Banner
    May 31, 2018 at 7:04 am

    Thank you so much for the above steps. They helped me a lot and I recovered my deleted emails in Thunderbird. But recently I was migrated from Thunderbird to Outlook and my 6-7 important emails were lost during this process. I searched on the internet and found that SysTools MBOX to PST Converter can do this, but I want a manual method to recover my emails. Is there is any method by which I can do this manually?
    Thanks & Regards

  3. Jim P
    September 14, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks you so much. This tip worked today after I set Thunderbird to retain only the most recent 250 messages last night, thinking I was operating only on my Trash folder. Ouch! I found the file and opened it - all 28+ million lines. My editor opened it with ease but searches were a little slow, as was saving the changes. Hmmm .. I wonder why that could be!

    Is there a way to 'mass undelete'? Can I change the X-Mozilla-Status: 0009 to X-Mozilla-Status: 0 for all occurrences? I did notice that there was at least one email with X-Mozilla-Status: 000b. Do the same thing? What other codes might there be in that file that would need addressing?

    FYI, running Windows 7 Pro.
    Thanks again for this handy tip.

    • Tina Sieber
      September 14, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      Glad the tip worked and afraid I can't answer your question. It's been a long time since I wrote this and I'm not using Thunderbird anymore.

  4. ton
    December 29, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Thanks thankS THANKS! Works 100% also on Windows 7

    • Tina Sieber
      December 29, 2016 at 11:30 am

      Awesome, Ton! Glad it worked for you. :)

  5. Madame Thermomix
    November 18, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Hooray!!! It worked!! It was a bit more complicated in Mac and the email was a Sent one that I had downloaded into a local folder but with a little perseverance and after reading the instructions 3 or 4 times LOL I DID IT!! I recovered an accidentally deleted email from Thunderbird! You saved my day!

    • Tina Sieber
      November 18, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Thank you for your feedback, Madame Thermomix! Great to hear this old trick from 2009 is still working, and on a Mac to boot! Glad that my past self could help present you. :)

  6. Maureen
    October 6, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    I moved files from my inbox (and subfolders) to my local directory and during the move most of them disappeared. I followed your instructions to change 0009 to 0000 and save and this got a few of the emails back but most are still lost. Is there something else that I can try?

    • Tina Sieber
      October 7, 2016 at 10:31 am

      Thank you for your comment, Maureen. I'm glad you could recover some of the emails. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of a different trick. Could it be that you dropped the emails into another folder? Next time, also try to press the keyboard shortcut CTRL + Z to undo your last action.

  7. Patrick
    April 2, 2015 at 12:32 am

    Thank you very much this actually worked!

  8. Greg
    February 17, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Oh my gosh, I love you. This just saved my bacon. Thanks!!!

  9. Sam
    January 22, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Hi , thanks for your tip, unfortunately I cannot seem to get it to work. I made a folder in thunderbird and unknowingly it was made it the trash folder ( i didn't know you could do this). I then put several emails around 100 in the said folder. It wasn't until I came back to the folder a week later did i realise that all the emails were gone and I noticed the folder I had made was in the trash! I have tried your method but for some reason it doesn't seem to work. If you have any advice I would be eternally grateful, these are really important emails and if I don't get them back there are serious repercussions. Am freaking out a little. Thanks

  10. Davidmil
    January 13, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    Well, I'm going to try it, but cannot comment yet.

    What I would like to know is how to stop Thunderbird automatically deleting my Trash folder every two weeks. Is there some control I can exercise over this?

  11. Godwin
    January 4, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Hey, I found a method to recover Thunderbird email folders. And I wrote it here:

  12. Tina
    November 30, 2009 at 4:24 am


    I'm not very experienced with IMAP. Doesn't it create a copy of the folders you have online on your computer?

    Afraid I can't answer your question.

    • jgan
      November 30, 2009 at 2:15 pm

      Fair enough. Thanks for the article and for getting back to me. I really think I'm close to a fix with your instructions, but there must be something I'm not accounting for.

      IMAP lets you manage the actual content on your email server from a client like Thunderbird or Outlook, ie, if you delete something in the client, it will be removed from the server.

      • Chris Heintz
        February 10, 2010 at 8:19 pm

        jgan, did you ever find a fix for your problem? I did the same thing and couldn't figure out a solution.

  13. jgan
    November 28, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for this walkthrough. I attempted to follow it and managed to find the Inbox file and changed X-Mozilla-Status to '0', but I can't seem to get the messages to show up again.

    I initially set up the account as a POP3, deleted the account, and set it up again as IMAP. When I did that, my inbox was deleted both in Thunderbird and on my server. I'm wondering if this is the file from the deleted account or is misplaced.

    Do you have any ideas about this? Thanks again.

  14. Sarah
    November 16, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Can I use the same method to recover a whole folder? I had a folder in my trash that I accidentally deleted. Any thoughts?

    • Tina
      November 17, 2009 at 10:24 am


      I'm afraid I don't know how to retrieve deleted folders. This method will certainly not work if the folder can no longer be found.

  15. AussieRodney
    November 1, 2009 at 1:47 am

    A good one to put in the toolbox of useful technical bookmarks. Thanks, Tina.

  16. Albert
    October 31, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    I had to try this to see if it would really work, and IT DID! I haven't had to "salvage" an e-mail very often, but this method is so much easier than what I was doing! Thanks Tina! More articles like this would be great!

    • Tina
      November 1, 2009 at 7:39 am


      thanks a lot for the positive feedback!