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Multiple operating system Thunderbird syncing


Recently, I made the move from Microsoft Office Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client. Yes, I know, webmail is cool and everything (I’m on Gmail and the webmail is awesome), but I’ve always preferred a desktop email client.

My problem is/was that I use both Windows and Linux and want my client to be updated with my latest mail on both operating systems (previously I had to be in Windows to use Outlook to get my mail, which is partly why I switched). Now an IMAP server would be a great way to do this, but Gmail only offers POP access or standard webmail.

So I wanted a solution that would synchronise my profile across Windows and Linux so both clients had the same set of messages.

Mozilla list a series of solutions for doing this, but I chose the easiest and less hack-involved solution.

Basically, I have a dual boot machine with Windows and Fedora Core Linux. I have loads of partitions here and there, one of which is a FAT32 partition for easy file transfer between the two OSs. That looked like the obvious choice to do the syncing.

In theory this process should also work for Mac OS X, but since I don’t yet have a Mac or access to one, I don’t know where the Thunderbird files are stored and/or whether this works in practice (Mac users fill me in with the details and I’ll update this post – would be useful for Boot Camp’ers I’m sure!). This also assumes Thunderbird is installed in the default locations on Windows and Linux and you’re not already running some groovy multi-profile setup.

So this post is really to recap my steps so that anyone else with a similar setup can set up sync.

First of all, close down Thunderbird and copy the contents of your Thunderbird profile folder (from Linux in ~/.thunderbird, or in Windows C:\Documents and Settings\[YourUserName]\Application Data\Thunderbird) to the FAT32 partition (in my case, that’s accessible via /windows/D in Linux and D: in Windows). Put it in a folder such as thunderbirdprofile (avoid spaces and keep it lowercase).

In that profile folder will be another folder; its name made up of eight random characters and .default. Make a note of that folder’s name, you’ll need it later. Make sure you copy that whole folder to your shared location, not just its contents.

Now, create a shortcut/launcher to the command below – examples below (you need to substitute in your folders):


“C:\Program Files\Mozilla Thunderbird\thunderbird.exe” -profile “D:\thunderbirdprofile\xxxxxxxx.default\”


thunderbird -profile “/windows/D/thunderbirdprofile/xxxxxxxx.default”

Please note there are no new lines in either command, they have just been word-wrapped.

Just make sure you always run Thunderbird with that shortcut/launcher and each OS’s install of Thunderbird should be aware of the latest messages/updates regardless of which operating system you picked them up from.


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  1. Jack wrote:

    Wonderful stuff. This is all I required to let me switch to and from XP to Ubuntu 8.04 via Wubi… Much appreciated for this tip and guide, Peter.

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008 at 03:32 | Permalink |
  2. Bartek wrote:

    I’ve nearly always used double- or triple-boot setups (even sticking to Windows OS’s exclusively). I’ve only recently switched from Outlook Express to the Thunderbird — the latter is so much superior and more comfortable. However, the message repository location and how it’s automatically and quite arbitrarily chosen bothered me a great deal. I nearly thought I’d have to resort to a portable-app version of the e-mail client to sort out my need for multi-system access. Your tip is such a rescue! 🙂 Thank you, Peter — you’ve made my day!

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 08:04 | Permalink |
  3. Rosanna wrote:

    It’s wonderful when you can find a guide explaining exactly what you were looking for – and this is just that. Thank you very much!

    Friday, January 6, 2012 at 11:52 | Permalink |
  4. Karol wrote:

    Hello, this is a great solution! I am also using it right now. But have you encountered a problem that when you switch to Linux it downloads some messages, and then if you switch back to Windows it downloads same messages that have already been downloaded on Linux, so you have duplicates? It is A BIT annoying…

    Friday, September 30, 2016 at 16:52 | Permalink |

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