How to Fix: Thunderbird: One Inbox, Multiple Accounts

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Julia S. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

Thanks for your articles on Thunderbird. I have a question! I have multiple email accounts that I use with Thunderbird; one issue I find is that it's difficult to figure out which inbox has my new emails. Some accounts are set up with POP3, others with IMAP. The IMAP accounts have their own 'Inbox', 'Sent', 'Deleted items', etc, whereas the POP3 emails end up in my 'Local Inbox'. Is there a plug-in or a way to configure Thunderbird so everything goes into one single inbox? It would make my life so much easier! "

My response:

I wondered the same thing, as I have a similar configuration. I should also mention that making one primary inbox for multiple accounts won't make much sense to anyone that does not manage their inbox / sort their emails regularly. For those who keep their inboxes squeaky clean, however, having one inbox in Thunderbird certainly has an appeal.

One Inbox: Using IMAP instead of POP3

After fiddling around with Thunderbird and a bit of research, I believe that the best way to configure one inbox for multiple accounts in Thunderbird is to first make all the accounts use the IMAP protocol (Internet Message Access Protocol) instead of POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3), which is an older protocol.

First, let's talk about the differences between the two. The most notable difference between POP and IMAP is that IMAP allows you to view messages on an email server and then sync those messages with a local device (computer, tablet, smartphone, for example). With IMAP, messages stay on the server unless you choose to download them to a local machine. You can use IMAP on any device / email program / web interface, and the layout of your emails should always appear similar on all devices.

With POP3, emails are stored on the email server until you check for new email; once that is done, emails are emptied off the server and downloaded onto your local machine. With POP3, there is no synchronization of emails across multiple devices, which means emails aren't shared across multiple devices.

How to Fix: Thunderbird: One Inbox, Multiple Accounts

Although it is possible to have one inbox using both POP3 and IMAP accounts together, I suggest you use IMAP for all your email accounts as most service providers use IMAP almost exclusively now. Besides that, IMAP is much more convenient considering it can be used on multiple devices.

Update 20161217: After publishing this article I received a very good reference from a reader on how to switch from POP to IMAP using Thunderbird. Many thanks to Don for pointing this out. Before making any changes, I suggest anyone reading this article to go through their User Account -> Server Settings in Thunderbird and write everything down for safe keeping. If you don't know what you're doing and need help, you are more than welcome to contact me for remote desktop support - I can configure this for you for a small fee.

Assuming you've configured all your accounts to IMAP protocol, it's time to change how your email folders are viewed in Thunderbird so that you have only one inbox:

  1. Launch Thunderbird if you haven't already done so.
     
  2. If you don't have the Menu bar enabled, it's time to enable it (the menu bar displays: File, Edit, View, Go, Messages, Events and Tasks, etc from the very top of the Thunderbird window). To do so: click the Menu button near the top right of the Thunderbird window, then click Options, then place a check mark beside "Menu Bar". You should now see the menu bar at the top.
     
  3. From the menu bar, click View -> Folders -> Unified. The email folder view on the left of Thunderbird's main display will now change. The Inbox should now be displayed at the very top with a list of accounts underneath the Inbox. All new emails will now go to the "Inbox" main folder, though if you click on each email account name (which are now presented as sub folders), you can view emails on a per-account basis.

You can undo the "unified" view by clicking on the View -> Folders -> All.

Now, when you click on the "Inbox" at the very top, all of your emails from multiple email accounts will be displayed in one inbox. As I mentioned previously - viewing emails in this manner won't make much sense if you don't manage your inbox regularly. In an upcoming article, I'll explain how to download your IMAP emails off the email server and onto your local machine, to be later archived (if needed).

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

LouisianaJoe's picture

I use Mailwasher to preview all of my emails from multiple accounts. It lets you delete unwanted email before downloading to Thunderbird. It also lets you flag unwanted mail and preview the raw source. I have stopped many malicious emails by looking at the source. It helps that I can read html, but you can spot bogus links that can hurt you. Domains from other countries are never downloaded.

DavidInMississippi's picture

Thanks for this article. It's a great help. I am pretty good on some things on computers, so many of my friends expect me to be an expert on ALL things computer, which just isn't the case. Articles like this one are great sources for me to point them to.

SUGGESTION FOR A NEW ARTICLE (Series?): Many people keep supposedly synchronized contact lists on both their phones and computers. Sometimes these synchronizations do more harm than good. For example, the latest version of iOS on the iPhones has totally messed up my contact list in Outlook. Perhaps you could do an article on how best to synchronize contact lists between phone and computer? Especially so we don't lose contacts?

QUESTION ABOUT THIS SITE: In reading this article, I noticed your right sidebar, "Top Windows 10 FAQs" - Seems to have a lot of questions that don't apply any more, since the auto-install/free upgrade period is over. Did you mean for those questions to still be there? Might there be more pertinent content links for that space?

Thanks for providing a valuable service.