Searching and Filtering Messages

Searching for messages

Thunderbird has a variety of ways to find messages. The Global Search function provides sophisticated full-text search capabilities and displays categorized search results. You can search using one word or multiple words, and can search within specific mailboxes and folders. You can use the Quick Filter to narrow down the number of messages displayed in the message list according to specific criteria. You can also search for text within a single message.

Global Search

Global Search goes through all of your messages, regardless of the account the message is associated with or the folder where the message is stored. The search is performed in all message fields: subject, message body, from address, to address, etc. The search is not case-sensitive - searching for "thunderbird" will return messages that contain both "thunderbird" and "Thunderbird".

  1. To do a Global Search, type a search term in the search field at the top of the Thunderbird window.
  2. Press the Enter key on your keyboard.

    The search results are shown in a new tab.

    Search all messages.

Searching for a Single Term

To search for a single term:

  1. Type a word in the search box.
  2. As you type, a drop-down list will display possible matches for your term (such as email addresses that match the characters you have entered). You can either select an item from the list or press enter to use the characters entered in the search field.
    Search suggestions drop-down.

Searching for Multiple Terms

To  search for multiple terms, type two or more words in the search box. Thunderbird searches for messages that contain at least one occurrence of each of the words that you typed. If you enclose multiple words in quotation marks, Thunderbird returns search results that contain messages having all the words in the order they are specified in the search field. These two types of searches can be combined.

For example, if you type the term "converting" and the phrase "imap pop", Thunderbird will find the messages that contain both the term and the phrase.

Using Search Results

Search results appear in a new tab and there is a panel on the left of the tab that categorizes the results. The panel shows the number of messages containing the term(s) in conversations with specific people, in messages stored in particular mail folders, and in messages from individual email accounts.

Search results.

Use the Filters fields in the left panel to filter the messages returned by the original search. If you click an item under "Folder", "People" or "Account", you will be given the option to specify whether the message must (or must not) contain the item.

For example, say you were searching for "Thunderbird" AND "pages". You could refine the search results by selecting messages where you were a recipient (by clicking the To Me check box). Then, you could further refine the results by selecting specific people and mail folders associated with the message (by clicking on the text in the left panel). You can remove selected people or mail folders from the filter criteria by clicking on the text again.

A timeline appears above the messages included in the search results. The timeline shows the number of messages that match the search criteria, organized in chronological order. Click the bar-graph icon in the top right corner to show the timeline display.


You can:

  • Click on one of the bars or on the month, day, or year labels to change the period of time that is displayed.
  • If you hover over one of the filter criterion in the left panel (without actually activating the filter), a darker area in the timeline bars shows when messages related to that criteria were sent or received.
  • Click the bar graph icon in the top right corner to close the timeline display.

Using Quick Filter

Use the Quick Filter toolbar, which appears above all message lists, to filter a list of messages.

Quick filter toolbar.

After you type filter terms in the search box and press Enter, you have the option of applying the filter to the Sender, Recipients, or Subject fields or body of the messages in the list. Click the relevant buttons to activate the filter. In the example below, the filter term has been applied to the Subject and Body fields.

Quick filter results.

In addition to specifying filter terms, you can filter messages based on other characteristics. These functions are available on the left side of the Quick Filter toolbar, and can be used in combination with filter terms.

Quick filter toolbar functions.

  • Pin: Keep the same filter parameters when changing to another mail folder.
  • Unread: Show only unread messages.
  • Starred: Show only starred messages.
  • Contacts: Show only messages from people who are in your address book.
  • Tags: Show only messages that have been tagged.
  • Attachments: Show only messages that have attachments. 
Note: After using the Global Search function, click Open as list to display the search results in a message list. You can then use the Quick Filter on that set of results.

Searching within a message

To search for text within a single message, go to the Edit menu, point to Find, and click Find in this Message. A toolbar appears under the message preview pane. Type your search term into the toolbar's text box. As you type, Thunderbird looks for instances of the term in the message. 

Quick filter find in msg. 

You move through occurrences of the search terms using the Next and Previous buttons, or you can click Highlight all to see all occurrences of the search terms.