Migrate to Thunderbird

If you want to migrate your email from another email client or a web email service like Gmail or Hotmail, Thunderbird can help you do the job. However, migration is not always easy, especially if you have a large archive of sorted email and address books that you want to keep. That said, Thunderbird does a quite a good job of migrating your mail from Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, and Apple Mail.

Before you migrate

Before you consider migrating to Thunderbird, be prepared to do a little research on the best way to back up your email. 

First, you should find out whether or not you can migrate your email from your current software. A good place to find information is the Mozilla knowledge base:

Always back up your email. How you do the back up depends on your operating system and the way that you currently manage your email. It can be as easy as finding the folder with all your email in it and copying it to another folder or, preferably, another computer or back up disk. However, things are seldom that easy.

When you have determined that you can migrate to Thunderbird and you have backed up your email, then follow the steps below.

Import address books

Here's how to import address books from another email client into Thunderbird.

  1. Go to the Tools menu and click Import.


    You'll see the Import wizard window.

  2. Click the Address Book button and then click the Next button.


  3. Click on the name of your email client in the list and then click the Next button.


  4. Click the Finish button to finish importing the address book.


  5. Check your Thunderbird address book to confirm that your information was successfully moved over from your old email client.

Transfer your e-mails

Here's how to transfer your email from another email client into Thunderbird.

  1. Go to the Tools menu and click Import. You will see the Import wizard window.
  2. Click the Mail button and then click the Next button.


  3. Click on the name of your email client in the list and then click the Next button.


  4. Click the Finish button to finish importing your email.


  5. Check the Folders pane to confirm that your email was successfully imported.


    You can find the imported mail in the Local Folders section of the Folders pane.

Importing contacts from a text file

Thunderbird can import contact lists from other email applications and some web mail services, as long as the other applications can export their lists to a text file format that Thunderbird can read (for example, LDIF, tab delimited or comma separated). You can find information about how to export a contact list to a text file in the help for the other email application or web mail service.

After exporting the contact list from another application, you can import the contacts file into Thunderbird. Here's how:

  1. Go to the Tools menu and click Import. In the Import window click the Address Books button and then click the Next button.


  2. Specify whether you are importing a contact list stored in a text file and click Next.
  3. Select the file that contains the contact list.
  4. Thunderbird will display a window where you can map Thunderbird address book fields to the fields from the other application's contact list.


    The column on the left shows the fields in Thunderbird's contact list. The column on the right shows the fields in the original email application's contact list. If you un-check fields they will not be imported. To change the match between the left and right columns, select an item and click Move Up or Move Down to map it to a different column.

  5. When the fields are all lined up, click the OK button. Thunderbird creates a new address book with the addresses exported from the original application. The name of the address book will be the file name of the imported data file.

A few notes about importing contacts from a text file

  • Matching Thunderbird fields to text file fields can be tricky. Using this feature is a little like putting together a puzzle. Almost every time you move a Thunderbird field it displaces a field in the text file. The displaced field in the text file may bounce another field that is correctly matched to a field in Thunderbird. You have to be patient and take your time while doing this. You want import the contact list correctly the first time that you do it. It's no fun to have realized that the import did not work properly and that you have to do it again or, even worse, that you have to manually update your contact information.
  • Importing a contact list from a web mail application like Gmail can be very daunting because Google's contacts file contains many more fields than does Thunderbird's address book. You can make this a little simpler by opening the Gmail export file in a spreadsheet program, deleting the unwanted columns, and saving the file in CSV format. The smaller file should be easier to handle when importing into Thunderbird.

Exporting Contacts

To export contacts from Thunderbird a text file for importing into another application, open the Address Book go to the Tools menu and click Export. You will be prompted to specify a name for the output file name and an export format. The three export formats are LDIF, CSV (comma delimited text), and tab delimited text.