How to Set Up Message Filters In Thunderbird

Tina Sieber 16-01-2009

thunderbird filteraHow many eMails do you receive each day? A dozen? More?


Chances are you are receiving too many. Hopefully you’re receiving little spam, but certainly you have a lot of mail hitting your inbox that doesn’t need your immediate attention. Maybe you even receive private stuff at work that you should rather not attend to at all until you’re home.

So what to do about it? Ignore it while it’s staring at you from your inbox? Waste some time by sorting it manually?

If you’re using Thunderbird I can show you a smart solution: set up message filters and have Thunderbird auto-sort messages into different folders of your choice.

In Thunderbird go to >”Tools” >”Message Filters”.

thunderbird eMail filter


From the >”Filters for:” menu choose the account you wish to set up a filter for. Then click the “New…” button on the right side and the “Filter Rules” window for a new message filter will open.

Thunderbird message filter

You can set as many rules as you like, for example mails from your mom’s eMail address that contain your sister’s name in the message body and are CC’d to your dad should be sorted into the urgent family business folder. For each new rule click the + button behind the last rule.

You can also sort several different mails that you receive on a daily basis into one folder. For example set up a rule that catches all mail from MakeUseOf (Sender contains, then set up a different rule within the same Filter for each of the other newsletters or eMail updates you would like to sort into the same folder.


sort incoming mail

Of course you cannot just sort mails into folders. You can have the message filters perform several other actions as seen in the menu pictured above. For example, automatically “Mark As Read”, “Tag Message” or (the coolest) reply with a template. If required you can have the message filter carry out multiple actions on the same eMail.

With a bit of discipline you can have the flood of eMails that are arriving in your inbox each and every day nicely sorted within minutes and you’ll never again miss an important message that reaches your inbox totally unfiltered.

MakeUseOf have published several posts about Mozilla Thunderbird before, including 2 part series on Thunderbird addons:

    • PART 2:

10 Great Thunderbird Addons You Must Have 10 Great Thunderbird Addons You Must Have Read More

    • PART 1:

10 must-have Thunderbird Addons 10 Great Thunderbird Addons You Must Have Read More

How do you manage incoming mail? We would love to hear your tips and tricks!

Picture credits: ilco


Related topics: Email Tips, Mozilla Thunderbird.

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  1. Rob T
    November 1, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Would like to remove scam emails that show today's date a year or more from now so they'll be sorted at the top. I've tried a date filter using @current or @today but it defaults to 12/31/1969. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to do this?

  2. Anonymous
    August 31, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Is there a way to use the "From contains" work on a list of domain addresses? Do you use a CSV, a space in between, or the boolean "OR"?

    For example, I have emails from:


    and want all of them to be moved to a new folder. How do I do that?

  3. buddynfo
    February 11, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    i use the same basic filter all the time. delete and mark read. too bad they do have a standard filter i could just pick and it would do what i have set up.
    thanks program works well.

  4. Tom Markham
    August 19, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    I avoid nearly all the unwanted email by first using JBmail, a free server connection. This way I've eliminated any fear of an unwanted email arriving in TBird. Then I apply filters to get the wanted ones into their appropriate folders.
    This begs the question: why can't TB offer the same service as JB Mail? This would be the ideal solution to eliminating idiocy without having to open two separate programs.

  5. Diabolic Preacher
    May 6, 2009 at 2:16 am

    can't filter on body content with IMAP accounts :(

  6. Matthew Pollock
    February 21, 2009 at 5:42 am

    Also, Thunderbird still lacks the ability to filter outgoing messages.

    Without outgoing filters, there's really not much point in setting up a filtering system, since if you want a comprehensive record of your interaction with anyone, you've got to go through all the hassle, which filters are designed to avoid, of moving mails to particular folders.

    Moving messages however is MUCH more painful in Thunderbird than in Eudora (whose better filtering made it anyway largely unnecessary).

    Outgoing filters were promised by the Thunderbird team 3 years ago.

    As is fairly well known, however, work on Thunderbird's development has now largely stopped.

    The Thunderbird forums are dead. Posts are never answered by anyone responsible - which suggests that no one IS any longer responsible, and that the project is pretty much dead, except for the face-saving PR of new releases, which update almost nothing.

  7. Matthew Pollock
    February 21, 2009 at 5:25 am

    Thanks for this. But its doesn't solve a key problem. In Eudora, any folders with a new message open a new window, alerting you: There's a new message!

    Can this be made to happen in Thunderbird? If not, the message arrives, is filtered to somewhere deep in your folder structure, and you never get to see it.

    A pretty big problem.

    • Tina
      February 21, 2009 at 6:47 am

      Hello Matthew,
      if there is an unread message somewhere deep in the folder structure, the top unfolded folder name becomes bold. So in order to find that new message just follow down all folders with a bold name.
      I agree that it's not very convenient, though. But on the other hand I prefer my mail program to receive and sort messages in the background without bothering me.

  8. Kidguru
    January 17, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Great post helped alot!