Is Thunderbird dead and other FAQ (updated June 21, 2022)

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Is Thunderbird dead and other FAQ (updated June 21, 2022)

Post by tanstaafl »

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated". Mark Twain, New York Journal of 2 June 1897
The chair of the Mozilla Corporation stated that the Mozilla Corporation will stop developing Thunderbird in a July 2012 post that has been widely mis-interpreted as meaning Thunderbird is dead. Part of the bad PR was caused by people not being aware that the community had already been doing a significant amount of the development, and that the community did not agree with his conclusion that "it is already pretty much what its users want and mostly needs some on-going maintenance".

The Thunderbird project is not dead, it has become a community lead project. It initially used the Mozilla Foundation (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) as its legal and fiscal home. Later on that switched to a subsidiary, MZLA Technologies Corporation, to provide them more freedom in what products and services they offer. The project is not funded by the Mozilla Foundation, it relies upon user donations for its income.

It still has some dependencies upon Mozilla Corporation infrastructure (such as the build system) but has minimized that, and provides it's own add-on web site. While the project still relies upon unpaid volunteers most of the development and maintenance is now done by employees. The Thunderbird Council (the governing body for the project) currently has 20 full time employees or contractors and is looking to hire some more.

Most users in these forums will be using a official version of Thunderbird whose setup program was provided by Mozilla at . But you can also ask for help for some other email clients that use the same core code:

* Portable Thunderbird has minor modifications to support roaming users running it from a flash drive without installing anything on the PC.

* BetterBird and BetterBird Portable are a soft fork of Thunderbird and Portable Thunderbird that adds some bug fixes, led by a former Thunderbird project developer. Fixes are submitted upstream and some get used by Mozilla Thunderbird.

* Thunderbird packages in Linux distros. They use a different default profile location, and may have some some bug fixes that the Thunderbird project made but wanted to test more before including them in a production release. These packages don't support the built-in automated update mechanism. You're expected to use your distro's package manager to update the package from a repository they provide. Ubuntuzilla is a APT repository with .deb based repacks of Mozilla's Thunderbird releases for Linux. You can use its scripts if you want to use packages that contain unmodified Mozilla binaries and get updates more often that your distro might provide.

* Postbox is a commercial product based on a older version of Thunderbird that has a different user interface. Most of its users are Mac users (due to it providing good integration with OSX) but it is also available for Windows. Its different enough we rarely get Postbox users in these forums, but we get some since Postbox doesn't have any support forums.

It was announced June 13, 2022 that Mozilla has acquired the source code and naming rights to K-9 (a popular Android based email app that has been in maintenance mode). The current K-9 maintainer has joined the Thunderbird project team. Most press articles call it Thunderbird for Android. However, its intended to be a different product, not a version of Thunderbird for the Android platform. The current plan is to call it Mobile Thunderbird. Some Thunderbird features will not be available as they make no sense for a small touch based screen with lots of other communications apps available from Google play store.

Whatever it turns out to be you can also get help for it in these forums. Just be clear what product/platform you are asking for help on.

According to Thunderbird Usage Continues to Grow there are approximately 27 million active monthly users.

Thunderbird uses a Mozilla toolkit library (a set of APIs built on top of the Gecko layout engine) whose features have been driven by Firefox's needs. One long term problem for the project was how to deal with Firefox moving to the WebExtensions API and deprecating support for XUL/XPCOM (Legacy add-ons). This transition started with Thunderbird 60 and ended with version 78.

Installation Statistics
Extension statistics
Roadmap for 2022
Recent development work
Add-on development documentation

Is this web site going away?
The admin suddenly announced 21 Sep 2019 in a "The End" thread that he was going to start shutting down and archiving the forums and knowledge base as he didn't have time to keep running the site . MozillaZine gets free hosting at the Open Source Labs (OSL) at Oregon State University. He was apparently in the midst of moving the web site from some old dedicated hardware (hosted at OSL) to a centrally OSL managed virtual machine. Its suspected the real problem was he doesn't have the time to finish that transition.

A potential replacement admin (Ian Neal) was found with experience running phpBB forums, a long history of contributing code for Mozilla projects, and a willingness to complete the transition to a centrally OSL managed virtual machine. However Kerz (the admin) has stopped posting (his last post was on 24 Sep 2019), hasn't replied to email's sent to him by a moderator, and hasn't read a private message sent to him from the potential replacement. In the interim the wiki (knowledge base) has been frozen while the forums continue to work. Its unclear what is going on but OSL Labs have said they'd come up with a long term plan to keep us alive.

How to ask for help.
Please don't send a private message to a moderator to ask for technical help. Either create a new thread and ask a question, use the search field (to the right) to search for threads about similar topics, or look in the knowledge base (to the right). If you find a old thread about a similar problem and want to ask for help, please create a new thread instead if its over a year old.

If you create a thread please
  • Mention the version number in Help -> About Mozilla Thunderbird, what operating system you're using, and the exact text of any error message.
  • Use a descriptive title such as "contact sidebar vanished", don't just say you need help. If you're running OS X or Linux mention the operating system in the title to help other users with that background notice your thread.
  • Don't post your email address.
  • If you need to provide a picture see Post a screen shot on the forum
Don't be surprised if somebody that helps you posts a link to an article in the knowledge base. Most questions aren't new.

Some good articles for new users:
Getting started with Thunderbird.
Common misconceptions about Thunderbird
How to keep Thunderbird working (aka How not to shoot yourself in the foot)
How do you backup Thunderbird?
Moving your profile
Move to a new PC
Other sources of information
Using Gmail with Thunderbird.
Updating add-ons

Add-on doesn't support your version of Thunderbird
Many legacy add-ons could be re-enabled by editing a maximum version field to use a larger value. That rarely helps if you use an add-on that uses the WebExtension API. The add-ons web pages at typically has a "Support Site" link to a github project or a authors personal web site that may have newer versions that are not ready for formal release. The bottom of the web page has a Version Information section with a list box. You can use that to find download links for older versions of Thunderbird.

Extension statistics identifies what add-ons are compatible with version 60, 68 and 78.

Version specific information
The extensions.strictCompatibility setting defaults to true in version 60.*, preventing Thunderbird from letting you install an add-on that doesn't explicitly claim to support version 60. If you use the config editor at Tools -> Options -> Advanced -> General to toggle that setting to false you can install the add-on. However, that doesn't mean that it will work, just that you can now try to use an old add-on that might work because it doesn't use any API's that have been changed/removed.

Thunderbird 60 / Add-on Compatibility has links to unofficial fixed versions of add-ons or documentation on what to edit to fix some broken add-ons.

The WebExtensions support in Thunderbird 60.4.0 is really for "Embedded WebExtensions". The embedded WebExtension's files are packaged inside the legacy add-on. Since the WebExtensions API doesn't support complete themes yet, there is no support for complete themes anymore.

Thunderbird 68 uses a Mozilla toolkit library that wants to have separate profiles for release builds, daily builds and beta builds. This is sometimes called Mozilla's "profile by install" feature. If you automatically upgraded Thunderbird 60.* to 68.* in many cases it ignored the old profile and created a new one. Part of the problem was a bug where if you installed in a different location it would not recognize the old profile. One way to workaround that is to specify the location of the old profile using a -profile "full_path_of_profile" command line argument (tell Thunderbird to ignore what is specified in profiles.ini) and a --allow-downgrade command line argument (indicates that you can use that profile with deprecated releases) in the target field in the Thunderbird shortcut.

Thunderbird 67, 68 and newer betas does not use existing profile bug report.

Thunderbird 78 converts address books from *.mab files (MORK format) to .sqlite database files. It creates a backup of the *.mab files and then deletes all of the contacts in the original *.mab files when it does that. You can use Dawn to convert a *.mab file to a .csv or .ldif file, which you can then import with Tools -> Import. Thunderbird 102 adds the ability to import *.mab files "as is" to Tools ->Import. If that is all you want to import select "Import from a File" to avoid side effects.

Help -> More Troubleshooting Information has a Open Folder button that will open your equivalent of Windows Explorer at the current profile (the directory that stores your data). There are two buttons with that name, you want the one that has "Profile Folder" to the left of it.

Help -> More Troubleshooting Information has a about:profiles link. That is a different version of the profile manager. If you ever get a error message stating that your profile doesn't support the current version of Thunderbird try finding the profile in about:profiles and press the associated "Set as default profile" button. The error message is misleading.

If you want to switch between different versions of Thunderbird while using the same profile try adding a --allow-downgrade command line argument in the shortcut tab in the shortcuts properties. That will tell it to ignore discrepancies as much as possible. For example: "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Thunderbird\thunderbird.exe" --allow-downgrade

That usually works fine if both versions use the same major version . If you're switching between a production release and a beta version, or between the current release and a earlier major version it can usually tolerate that but its a calculated risk due to database schema and possibly file formats changing. So far the mbox file format (the default format used to store your downloaded mail) has never changed.

If you use a version earlier than 78 it gets much riskier and the files used to store some of your data (such as your passwords) may have changed. Your add-ons also won't work as version 78 and earlier used "legacy add-ons" based on XPCOM/XUL rather than the WebExtension API.

Thunderbird 68 added a Dedicated profile per installation feature. That added a hash string of the Thunderbird's installation directory to the profiles data in profiles.ini (the file used by Thunderbird to identify what profiles exist and where they are). That makes moving profiles more complicated. One workaround is to create a new profile using the "Create a New Profile" button in about:profiles , exit Thunderbird, and then copy the contents of the profile you want to use in that directory. Just copy the contents, don't copy the profile directory too.

Mozbackup used to be a very popular way to backup and restore profiles but it hasn't been updated in almost a decade and is buggy. Don't use it. Heckasoft backup & restore supports many browsers and email clients, including Thunderbird and Firefox. Another possibility is KLS Mail Backup .

Thunderbird 102 looks like it will have the import and export features of the ImportExportTools NG add-on but probably won't support its ability to backup/restore profiles. The main downside of that add-ons profile backups are they aren't compressed (not a .zip file).

Version 102 roadmap

Its not clear when the built-in HTML editor will be replaced. They experimented in 2011 with a replacement using a "Compose for Thunderbird" experimental add-on, that if successful, would have been merged into Thunderbird. It used the CKEditor Smart WYSIWYG editor component, but they decided it was too hard to integrate. Making another attempt has been proposed many times, but didn't make it into the current roadmap.

See Go back to an old version of Thunderbird if you want to go back to an earlier version . Uninstalling Thunderbird does not delete your profile, which has your mail, settings, address books, add-ons etc. If you're worried backup your profile first using one of the suggestions in Profile backup or Third party profile backup software and services

Windows 10
Formal support for Windows 10 was added in version 38.2.0

Unsupported Operating System
Thunderbird 52 is the last release to support Windows XP (requires SP3), Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows 2008 and Windows Vista. If you want to run Thunderbird with XP SP3 or Vista install version 38.5.0 and then upgrade it, in order to get a more recent version of Thunderbird. This kludgy process is due to digital signing.

Thunderbird has release (production quality), beta (field test) and daily (meant just for testers) builds.

The project has a habit of making a new major version only available as a setup program on for a couple of weeks before they make it available as a automated update. The idea is to get feedback and an opportunity to fix more bugs via minor updates before 25 million users use it. However its misleading as many new users assume its a release build. Its really a pre-release build.

Beta versions of Thunderbird are available here. A side effect of installing a beta is that it puts you on the beta channel, so that whenever you check for upgrades it will look for both new releases and betas. The channel information is stored in the programs directory, so if you uninstall you start fresh. Uninstalling doesn't delete your profile, which contains your mail, address books, settings, add-ons etc.

Bug reports
Bug reports are at . Thunderbird related bug reports are typically filed either under Thunderbird (client software) or Mail/News Core (component). The bug reports are NOT a way to get help on a problem. Its recommended that you create a thread at one of the support channels and have somebody else try to confirm its a new bug before reporting it.

Bugzilla has four major problems:
* A large number of duplicate bug reports.
* Many of the bug reports are useless because the problem is not reproducible by whoever is looking into the problem.
* User unfriendly search capability makes it hard to find if a bug has already been reported.
* Many bug reports get ignored for years.

The developers don't appreciate "me too" comments or lobbying attempts in bug reports. They've sometimes disabled commenting when that happens. Bugzilla Etiquette describes the guidelines for using the bug reporting system.

Tech Support Scam
Mozilla does not offer telephone support or paid technical support for Thunderbird, and does not recommend any companies that do that. However, there have been cases were somebody used a legitimate technical support company that did not make any false claims, but the user thought they were dealing with Mozilla because they incorrectly connected the dots . You can report a web site that you believe is using Mozilla's trademarks to mislead people into thinking the site is an official Mozilla site or sponsored by Mozilla to Mozilla's legal dept. at .

Its against the rules for anybody in these forums to remotely access your PC. It is too prone to abuse, and we want to help people in a way that information is shared with other users. Most problems are not new.

Donations for the Thunderbird project can be made at . Note the "Contributions go to MZLA Technologies Corporation, a California corporation wholly owned by the Mozilla Foundation. Funds will be reserved for use in the Thunderbird project".

We're not run by or formally associated with Mozilla despite any similarity in names. We're just a independent user community.