Three ways to backup your Thunderbird's mail


This article will present three ways of backing up the e-mails stored with Thunderbird. This could be needed for safety or to recover from a computer outage.

The examples will use Thunderbird 3 on Windows XP. But this should apply to any Thunderbird version. The files location may vary according to the OS you’re running.

Regular safety backup

In normal operation, your Windows installation works and you can access all of your files from your user’s session. To backup your Thunderbird’s data:

Keep the archive safe. It would be used to restore your data. Such action should be done once a day, once a week or once a month ; depending on how much e-mail you receive. A simple method to determine your backup frequency is to ask yourself: if my computer crashes right now, which is the youngest e-mail I’d like to restore? If the answer is “yesterday”, then you should backup you mail every day. If the answer is “last week”, then a weekly backup should be enough. If you can deal with a loss of much more emails, a monthly backup would suffice.

We’ll see how to restore the emails in the last section of this article.

Emergency backup

Either because you keep getting BSOD™ or because a trojan keeps rebooting your Windows every 5 minutes, you may not be able to operate in your Windows' session anymore. If all you can expect is a complete reinstallation, then you should try the following procedure to backup your e-mails:

You now own a backup of your e-mails on the external storage. This backup can be used to restore your data. See the last section of this article for more details.

Catastrophy backup

Sometimes, the pain is to big to the system and even the “Safe Mode” can’t be used. In such case, you have two options :

We are going to use the second method:

When this is done, you can turn the computer off. The e-mail backup is located on the USB key.

Restoring Thunderbird’s data

Wether you are recovering from a regular backup or from a catastrophy, let’s say you have a clean Windows and Thunderbird installation:

You now have a brand new instance of Thunderbird with all your e-mails, contacts and extensions.

The same procedure set could be used to migrate from Thunderbird on some OS to Thunderbird on some other OS (from Windows to Linux, from Linux to Mac OS X, from Mac OS X to NetBSD…). The only trouble I ever had was with some extensions that had to be reinstalled after the restoring phase. Everything else was back in business!

Happy backup. That’s All Folks!