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Mozilla Thunderbird is an is a free and open source email client

Materials & tools needed

  • Internet connection.
  • A functioning computer. Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X or *nix
  • Anywhere from 15MB-1GB free disk space depending on mail usage.
  • Mail server with an account you have access to.
  • Mail server settings provided by your mail administrator

Quick steps

Start and login to your computer.
Go to and download Thunderbird from product page.
Install Thunderbird from the downloaded executable.
Configure Thunderbird for your mail server and account.

Full steps


Internet mail, otherwise known as e-mail, has been around for well over a decade and has been implemented in various forms. Modern e-mail can be divided into two major camps, web based and client based. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Some mail servers are flexible and offer both services as a means of making mail more accessible to their users. Aside from a few very popular mail services such as Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail, most mail servers support communicating with e-mail clients as it is more efficient and allows for a local copy of mail to be stored on the user's computer. One of the more flexible, robust and stable e-mail clients is Mozilla's Thunderbird. Thunderbird is built with the traditional feel of a three pane interface and supports both the POP3 (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) for receiving mail and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) for sending mail. Thunderbird is a wise choice considering the track record of competing e-mail clients. Thunderbird is completely free, does not contain advertisements and is relatively immune from being hijacked by well crafted viruses. Like most modern e-mail clients, Thunderbird supports junk mail filtering to help users identify potentially dangerous mail and deal with it accordingly.

Acquisition - Thunderbird

Thunderbird is readily available from
Simply click on the 'Free Download' link to download it.

Installation - Thunderbird

Once downloaded, double-click on the installation executable and follow all the prompts. It would be wise to select the Custom Installation as it will give you the greatest flexibility in installation. It is not suggested to leave the Quality Feedback Agent selected for installation as it appears to have problems with some computers.

Discussion - E-mail Protocols

As mentioned earlier, Thunderbird supports three mail transmission protocols, IMAP, POP3 and SMTP. If you are setting up a new e-mail account, it would pay to read on as the differences between IMAP and POP3 are significant and will have a noticeable impact on the functionality of your mail. First a word on SMTP. SMTP is the backbone of mail transmission and is used primarily between mail servers and mail relays. SMTP is used by Thunderbird and most mail clients to send mail from your client to your mail server for delivery to the intended recipient. Other than configuring the SMTP server address, little configuration is usually required.

IMAP and POP3.

POP3 is the older of the two inbound mail protocols. POP3 supports limited functionality in regards to synchronization with other mail clients and the mail server. POP3 can be configured to either copy all mail in your inbox on the mail server to your mail client or to move all your mail from the mail server to your mail client. Copying your mail is handy if you intend on running multiple mail clients. However, one mail client must be configured to move or delete the mail in the inbox on the mail server or else the inbox will fill up and eventually reach a size limit. This situation would cause mail to be bounced back to your senders. The only other option you have over your inbox on the server is whether or not to delete mail from your inbox on the server when you delete mail from the mail client inbox. This is fairly limited capability in comparison to IMAP.

IMAP is both more robust and simpler to use in comparison to POP3, provided you are not confused by years of POP3 use. IMAP is based on complete server-client synchronization of mailboxes. As inferred from the previous statement, IMAP allows for usage of multiple mail folders on the mail server other than the inbox. The mail client polls the mail server every time it connects to see if there have been any changes to the mail folder structure as well as any new messages or folders within those folders. Consequently, if you delete a message in your mail client, the mail client then instructs the mail server to do the same. It is real time, on the fly synchronization. This functionality is what makes IMAP an ideal choice for anyone who has multiple computers, such as at work and at home. Changes made in one location are replicated in the other. The only failing of IMAP is when two mail clients connect to the same mailbox on the mail server at the same time. Conflicts will arise when the two clients attempt to synchronize what each one thinks is the definitive copy of the mailbox. Changes are only made to the mail sever, not other clients. If one deletes a message, the other will simply correct the mail server and place the message back in its place.

A word of warning to desktop support and LAN admins. Users who were indoctrinated in the POP3 mindset of 'one client deletes mail from the mail server, the other doesn't" will eventually abandon whatever instructions you gave them when you converted them to IMAP and revert to their old ways and delete their entire inbox as they had been instructed to long ago, thinking that the mail will still exist on the other mail client. Keep your backups handy, you will need them.

Configuration – Thunderbird

When you run Thunderbird for the first time, it will prompt you for configuration settings. The first window may ask you if you want to import anything. It will do this if it has detected another mail client installed on your system. For this discussion, we'll say No if prompted. The next prompt asks what type of account you'd like to set up. Thunderbird can do other tasks than e-mail. It can aggregate RSS feeds and retrieve newsgroup messages as well. We'll select 'Email Account' and click Continue. The configuration wizard will now ask for identity information. Enter your name and e-mail address. Click Continue. The next window asks for server information. You should select IMAP unless you are completely sure of yourself and what you're doing. Enter the mail server address your server administrator provided you with. Also enter the SMTP server information. Click Continue. Thunderbird will now prompt you for a username. This should be the first part of your email address before the @ symbol. Enter it if it is not already there (or incorrect) and click Continue. Thunderbird will automatically auto name your account. You can change it here if you so choose. Click Continue and a summary will be displayed of your settings. The default is to download messages now. You should leave this selected and click Done. Thunderbird is now configured for your mail account.

Usage – Thunderbird

Thunderbird is a very intuitive program to use and employs multiple large icons with adequate labeling. Functions such as getting mail and writing mail should be self-evident. Once your mail has synchronized, your mail folders will be listed on the left pane, your mail headers will be listed in the top pane and the selected message will appear in the bottom pane.

Maintenance – Thunderbird

Periodic maintenance of your mailboxes is important. As you delete messages, the header is marked as deleted but the message is not actually removed. This is much like how file systems simply delete the pointer to a file instead of deleting both the pointer and file. Over time, your mail will become slow. This is due to the mail index growing with message headers flagged for deletion and the actual mail file with the messages in it that has all the as yet undeleted messages. Step one is to click on file and then click on Empty Trash. Wait a few minutes for this operation to complete. This deletes any headers and messages that have been flagged for deletion. Next is the click on file and then Compress Folders. Again, wait a few minutes for this to finish up. This cleans up the structure of the mail files and mail index. If any errors are found, they are fixed. Your mail should be functioning fine again. Any other latencies are either from large attachments or slow internet connections.

See also

  • email client

External links

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