Importing folders

From MozillaZine Knowledge Base

This article was written for Thunderbird but also applies to Mozilla Suite / SeaMonkey (though some menu sequences may differ).

This article gives step by step instructions for how to import folders from another profile for a new user who has never installed an extension. It assumes you're using Windows but you should still be able to follow the instructions using a file manager on another operating system. The ImportExportTools extension can also be used to export folders.


Install the ImportExportTools extension

Thunderbird instructions

  • Go to this web page and click on the download now button. Choose "save file" and press the OK button to save the file when the popup asks what should Firefox do with that file.
  • Start Thunderbird.
  • Go to Tools -> Addons -> Extensions. Select the icon that looks like a gear (its actually a list box) alt text near the top of the window and then "Install add-on from file".
  • Browse to where you downloaded the .xpi file, select it and press Open.
  • It will then display a "Software Installation" screen with a grayed out "Install" button. After a couple of seconds it will finish processing the .xpi file and replace that button with a "Install Now" button. Press the button.
  • Exit Thunderbird.
  • Start Thunderbird again. It should now have a Tools -> ImportExportTools -> "import mbox file" command. Don't use it yet, just check that it exists.

SeaMonkey instructions

Find your old profile

Your folders are stored as mbox files in a profile. These are text files with the folders name and no file extension. For example your inbox folder is the "inbox." file and the Sent folder is the "Sent." file. You can safely read one using a text editor to verify it contains mail messages though its not user friendly because it contains the raw message source, including all of the headers and big blocks of characters all run together whenever you have a binary attachment.

  • If you are using a recent version of Thunderbird use Help -> Troubleshooting Information -> Show Folder to open your systems file manager (Windows Explorer) at your profile.
  • Otherwise read this article to figure out where your profile is stored. Then go to your profile directory using Windows Explorer. If you're not sure you found a Thunderbird profile look for a prefs.js file and a Mail subdirectory.

If you're running Windows 2000 or later you may need to enable "Show hidden files and folders" and disable "Hide extensions for known file types" (its under the Hidden files and folders heading) and "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)" in Tools -> Folder Options -> View to see it. You may get a warning message that your computer won't work if you do this. Changing those settings causes no harm, its really warning you not to change or delete any of the files or directories used to store the operating system. See this thread if you're running a older version of Windows.

Find the folders

If the folder was in Local Folders or you used a global inbox it will be somewhere in the Mail\Local Folders directory within the profile. Otherwise look for a subdirectory named after the accounts mail server. For example, if you're using a Gmail POP account your inbox would normally be the "inbox." mbox file at Mail\ If you have multiple accounts with the same email provider the subdirectory might have a numeric suffix, for example Mail\

Ignore the .msf files, they don't have any messages. You want the files with the folders name and no file extension.

Thunderbird uses *.sbd subdirectories to create a folder hierarchy. So a Local Folders\1\2\xyz folder would be stored as a "xyz." mbox file at Mail\Local Folders\1.sbd\2.sbd\3.sbd . That directory would also have a empty xyz.sbd subdirectory created in preparation for you someday creating a child folder of xyz. Ignore it.

Import the folders

Your folders are stored as mbox files in a profile. These are text files with the folders name and no file extension. For example your inbox folder is the "inbox." file. DO NOT try to import "inbox.msf" or "inbox.sbd" - the messages are in "inbox.". That naming convention causes a lot of confusion, it would have been a lot easier if the mbox files had a .mbx or .mbox file extension like some other email clients use.

  • Decide what folder in either the Local Folders directory or a POP account that you want to import the folders into. If you're not sure where to import the folders the Inbox in Local Folders is a safe choice. You can not import the folders into a IMAP account (though you could move the folders there afterwards).
  • Select that folder with the mouse in the folder pane (the vertical pane on the left that lists the accounts and their folders). If you don't see a folder pane you might need to enable it (View -> Layout -> Folder Pane in the menu bar) or add an account (if you just created a new profile, and don't have any accounts).
  • Tools -> ImportExportTools -> Import mbox file
  • Browse to the mbox file and press the Open button.
  • Thunderbird will import that folder (mbox file). It may add a suffix to make the folder name unique. For example, when I imported "inbox." into Local Folders it created a inbox679 folder.
  • Repeat as needed. Note that you can import multiple folders (mbox files) in one step by holding down the Control key while clicking on them in Tools -> ImportExportTools -> import mbox file.

Tools -> ImportExportTools -> Import Messages and "Import all messages from a directory" import .eml files. Thunderbird doesn't store messages using .eml files. That is mainly used for import messages from other email clients that don't support mbox files.

Export the Folders

Image:TBToolsMenu.pngImage:ImportExportToolsMenu.png Image:ImportExportToolsMenu2.png

You could export your mail folders instead as mbox files using using Tools -> ImportExportTools -> Export folder, as *.eml files using Tools -> ImportExportTools -> Export all messages in the folder -> EML format (you could import them later on using Tools -> ImportExportTools -> Import All Messages from a directory -> also from its subdirectories), or in several different formats that are only meant to display the contents (can't import them).

Don't worry if you don't see exactly what is in the screen shots above. The menus for the ImportExportTools add-on have changed several times. The Tools menu might change in future versions of Thunderbird. Its screen shot has four entries from other add-ons.

See also