How to Fix: Move Thunderbird to New Computer / Profile

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Suzanne S. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I just purchased a new Windows 10 PC and I would like to move my Thunderbird emails over to my new computer and new user account. I've looked in the 'Tools' menu of Thunderbird for an 'export' feature of some kind - hoping to export my user data for re-import on the new machine - but, there does not appear to be such an option. Can you help? "

My response:

Moving Thunderbird to a new computer or user account is fairly easy to do using Thunderbird's built in "Profile Manager". All you need to do is copy the Thunderbird user data folder over to the new computer, then run Thunderbird using the "-profilemanager" switch, then point Thunderbird to your old profile directory.

Below I'll explain how to do that using step-by-step instruction.

How to Fix: Move Thunderbird to New Computer / Profile

  1. First, go to the computer that has your old Thunderbird files you want to move over. Close Thunderbird if it is currently running.
     
  2. Use your mouse to highlight the text below:

    %APPDATA%\Thunderbird\profiles
     
  3. Right click over top of the highlighted text above, then select "Copy". The text will now be copied into your clipboard.
     
  4. Click the Start menu, then press CTRL + V on the keyboard. The text you copied in Step #2 should be output onto the Start menu 'search' box. Press Enter on the keyboard to execute the command. If successful, a new folder will appear and you should see a list of profiles folders (or only one profile folder). The folder(s) will have a randomly generated names, followed by the word '.default'. For example: 'zwcwfp25.default' is my Thunderbird profile directory.
     
  5. If you see more than one profile folder, click the "Date Modified" heading so that the newest Thunderbird profile folder is listed at the very top. This is the folder you want to copy - write down the name of it on paper, because you will need to know its name when you run the "Profile Manager" in Thunderbird (explained further down).
     
  6. Now it's time to see how big the Thunderbird profile folder is, so you can use the appropriate media (with enough storage space) to copy over your profile data. To do so: right click over top of your Thunderbird profile, then select "Properties" from the dialogue menu. The "Properties" window will appear and it will tell you how much space is being used by your Thunderbird profile directory. Note the amount, then close the "Properties" window. If the amount is less than 4 GB, it will fit on a blank 4.7 GB DVD, for example, or a 4 GB USB thumb drive.
     
  7. Now it's time to copy the folder. Right click your profile folder, then select "Copy" from the dialogue menu.

    Insert a blank DVD or USB thumb drive. Next, click Start, then type in "This PC" (Windows 8 and 10) or "My Computer" (Windows XP, Vista, 7), then click "This PC" or "My Computer" when it appears in the list. A new window will appear and you should see the C drive and a DVD or USB thumb drive. Click either the DVD or USB thumb drive to open a new window. If you are using a blank DVD, the system may ask you to format the disc - go ahead and do that. Once you have the DVD or USB thumb drive window opened, right click in the middle of the window and select "Paste" from the dialogue menu. This will copy your Thunderbird profile directory onto the DVD or USB thumb drive.
     
  8. When the files are finished copying over, take the media out of the old machine. We are now done using the old machine.
     
  9. Turn on the new computer and boot into Windows. Sign on to the desktop as you normally would. Insert the media containing your Thunderbird profile into the new computer. We'll be using the new computer for instruction from now on.
     
  10. Download and install Mozilla Thunderbird onto the new computer if you haven't done so already by visiting the Mozilla Thunderbird website. If the Thunderbird launches after it is installed, close the window.
     
  11. Once Thunderbird is installed, it's time to copy over your profile folder from the media onto the new PC. First we'll need to locate where the default location where Thunderbird stores user profiles on your new computer. Use your mouse to highlight the text below:

    %APPDATA%\Thunderbird\profiles

    Right click over top of the highlighted text above, then select "Copy". The text will now be copied into your clipboard. Next, click the Start menu, then press CTRL + V on the keyboard, then press Enter on the keyboard to execute the command. You should see a list of profiles folders (or only one profile folder).
     
  12. Now that you have the Thunderbird Profile directory location opened up on the new computer, it's time to copy over the files from the media. Click Start, then type in "This PC" or "My Computer"; wait for either one to appear in the list and click it. Double click the drive (either USB or DVD) containing the Thunderbird profile data to open it. Once it displays the profile folder, right click it and select "Copy". Note the name of the folder if you have not already written it down, as you will need to know its exact name in Step #16.
     
  13. Go back to the Thunderbird profile folder location you opened in Step #11, then right click in the middle of the window and select Paste. This will copy over the profile data from the media (either USB or DVD) onto the hard drive of the new computer in the proper location.
     
  14. Now it's time to tell Thunderbird to use your old profile folder. Use your mouse to highlight the text below using your mouse:

    thunderbird -profilemanager

    Right click over top of the highlighted text above, then select "Copy" from the dialogue menu. Next, click Start, then press CTRL + V on the keyboard. The text you copied should now be output into the Start search box. Press Enter on the keyboard to execute the command.
     
  15. The Thunderbird Profile manager window should now appear. Click the "Create Profile" button. It will say "Welcome to the Create Profile Wizard". Click Next, then it will say "Enter new profile name". The default is "Default User" - use that, then click the "Choose Folder" button. By default, Thunderbird will go to the "standard" location where profiles are stored on the hard drive. At this point you should see two folder profiles: a new one that was already created when you installed Thunderbird onto the new machine, and the old one that you copied over from the media. Select your old profile folder, then click the "Finish" button, then click "Exit".
     
  16. Launch Thunderbird. All your old profile data should now be moved over - pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

I hope that helps.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

If all of this is over your head, or if you need help moving over your old Thunderbird Profile onto a new computer - I can help using my remote desktop support service. Simply contact me, briefly describing the issue and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question - or even a computer problem that needs fixing - please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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Comments

Jim's picture

This works well, with a caveat. If you have set the local mail directory to something different than the default (under Server Settings for each account) then you need to copy/move the contents of those directories as well.

Dennis Faas's picture

I used to have my user profiles files on the D Drive, however, recently Thunderbird now flat out refuses to have them anywhere BUT %APPDATA%\Thunderbird\profiles. So although you're technically correct, what you're saying won't apply to too many users.

Jim's picture

I'm not sure we are talking about the same thing. My profiles are also in %APPDATA%\Thunderbird\Profiles. Thunderbird does seem to require this. But my actual mailbox files are in a separate folder.

Dennis Faas's picture

Mailbox files are typically stored in %APPDATA%\Thunderbird\profiles\PROFILE NAME.default\Mail\Local Folders. So yes, %APPDATA%\Thunderbird\profiles also contains mailbox files by default - unless - you've configured it differently AND Thunderbird is letting you get away with it, which is what I originally said in my reply to you above.

The last time I checked, new versions of Thunderdbird will not let you store mailbox data elsewhere other than the default profile directory (%APPDATA%\Thunderbird\profiles). However, I found that using a symlink works (mklink /y source destination) - which is what I'm doing currently.