Is Thunderbird dead and other FAQ (updated Nov 7, 2019)

User Help for Mozilla Thunderbird

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Joined: July 30th, 2003, 5:06 pm

Post Posted January 12th, 2006, 4:22 am

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated". Mark Twain, New York Journal of 2 June 1897
The chair of the Mozilla Corporation stated that the Mozilla Corporation will stop developing Thunderbird in a July 2012 post that has been widely mis-interpreted as meaning Thunderbird is dead. Part of the bad PR was caused by people not being aware that the community had already been doing a significant amount of the development, and that the community did not agree with his conclusion that "it is already pretty much what its users want and mostly needs some on-going maintenance". Many people are also unaware that another project survived after the Mozilla Corporation stopped development. SeaMonkey is a community lead project that was created 15 years ago after the Mozilla Corporation stopped releasing new versions of the former Mozilla Application Suite.

The Thunderbird project is not dead, it has become a community lead project. It continues to uses the Mozilla Foundation (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) as its legal and fiscal home but is now a independent project. It still has some dependencies upon Mozilla Corporation infrastructure (such as the build system) but has minimized that, and provides it's own add-on web site. While the project primarily relies upon unpaid volunteers, the Thunderbird Council (the governing body for the project) has hired eight full time employees and is looking to hire up to six more in 2019. All of them are engineers except for the community manager. [Maildev] thunderbird near term focus describes what they will be focusing on this year. There is also a collaboration with Ura Design to create a UX team and style guide, and with the p≡p Foundation to add p≡p (pretty Easy privacy) support to the Enigmail add-on (OpenPGP based email security).

Most users in these forums will be using a version of Thunderbird provided by Mozilla. But you can also ask for help for:

* Portable Thunderbird (Has minor modifications to support roaming users running it from a flash drive without installing anything on the PC.)

* BetterBird (Soft fork of Thunderbird to add some bug fixes led by former Thunderbird project developer. Fixes are submitted upstream and some get used by Mozilla Thunderbird.)

* Thunderbird packages in Linux distros. (Uses a different default profile location, may have some minor changes or include some bug fixes that Mozilla made but wanted to test more before adding to the production release.)

* Pobox (Commercial product based on older version of Thunderbird that has a different user interface. Main audience is Mac users though available for Windows. Has its own subset of modified add-ons - it doesn't support add-ons from )

According to Thunderbird Usage Continues to Grow there are approximately 27 million active monthly users. The major source of funding is donations from users.

Thunderbird uses a Mozilla toolkit library (a set of APIs built on top of Gecko) whose features have been driven by Firefox's needs. One long term problem for the project was how to deal with Firefox moving to the WebExtensions API and deprecating support for XUL/XPCOM (Legacy add-ons). This transition started with Thunderbird 60. Legacy add-ons could still be used if the author made some modifications described in the Add-ons Guide for Thunderbird 57 and beyond (including version 60). Changes were made by volunteers to a few of the most popular add-ons that weren't being maintained anymore. Version 68 essentially dropped all support for Legacy add-ons and requires WebExtensions based add-ons.

Installation Statistics
Extension statistics

There has been no consensus or official decision after several years of discussion about whether to replace the current Thunderbird with a next generation Thunderbird that used web technologies (while still remaining a desktop email client). The default plan appears to be to stick with the current code base, converting many modules from C++ to Javascript, and to refactor the code as needed to pay off technical debt. This will make it easier to make major changes such as a complete redesign of the address book, replace the built-in HTML editor, remove libmime, and to minimize the dependencies upon Mozilla's software.

Is this web site going away?
The admin suddenly announced 21 Sep 2019 in a "The End" thread that he was going to start shutting down and archiving the forums and knowledge base as he didn't have time to keep running the site . MozillaZine gets free hosting at the Open Source Labs (OSL) at Oregon State University. He was apparently in the midst of moving the web site from some old dedicated hardware (hosted at OSL) to a centrally OSL managed virtual machine. Its suspected the real problem was he doesn't have the time to finish that transition.

A potential replacement admin (Ian Neal) was found with experience running phpBB forums, a long history of contributing code for Mozilla projects, and a willingness to complete the transition to a centrally OSL managed virtual machine. However Kerz (the admin) has stopped posting (his last post was on 24 Sep 2019), hasn't replied to email's sent to him by a moderator, and hasn't read a private message sent to him from the potential replacement. In the interim the wiki (knowledge base) has been frozen while the forums continue to work. Its unclear what is going on.

How to ask for help.
Please don't send a private message to a moderator to ask for technical help. Either create a new thread and ask a question, use the search field (to the right) to search for threads about similar topics, or look in the knowledge base (to the right). If you find a old thread about a similar problem and want to ask for help, please create a new thread instead if its over a year old.

If you create a thread please
  • Mention the version number in Help -> About Mozilla Thunderbird, what operating system you're using, and the exact text of any error message.
  • Use a descriptive title such as "contact sidebar vanished", don't just say you need help. If you're running OS X or Linux mention the operating system in the title to help other users with that background notice your thread.
  • Don't post your email address.
  • If you need to provide a picture see Post a screen shot on the forum
Don't be surprised if somebody that helps you posts a link to an article in the knowledge base. Most questions aren't new.

Some good articles for new users:
Getting started with Thunderbird.
Common misconceptions about Thunderbird
How to keep Thunderbird working (aka How not to shoot yourself in the foot)
How do you backup Thunderbird?
64 bit builds
SSL security errors
Moving your profile
Move to a new PC
Other sources of information
Using Gmail with Thunderbird.
Updating add-ons

Add-on doesn't support your version of Thunderbird
Many add-ons are automatically disabled by Thunderbird 5.0 or later because they have a maximum version field that indicates they only support up to Thunderbird 3.3. However, many add-ons will work if you bump the maximum version they support, despite tools -> add-ons complaining that is it incompatible. If you are using a old version of Thunderbird the easiest way to do that is to install the Disable Add-on Compatibility Checks (Version 4-56) add-on. That will automatically disable version checking so that you can try the add-on. Ignore the warning message that the add-on is not compatible. If you run into a problem just uninstall the add-on. If you can't do that, use "help -> restart with add-ons disabled" to disable all add-ons and then uninstall the one that doesn't work.

Firefox and Thunderbird used to both use . Thunderbird now uses

Thunderbird version 60
Many add-ons broke due to changes in the Mozilla Toolkit used with version 60. Edits have been made to some of the more popular add-ons by developers to get them to work. In some cases the add-on developers made the changes necessary to get their add-on to work, but most of Thunderbrid's add-ons are no longer actively maintained. The extensions.strictCompatibility setting defaults to true in version 60.*, preventing Thunderbird from letting you install an add-on that doesn't explicitly claim to support version 60. If you use the config editor at Tools -> Options -> Advanced -> General to toggle that setting to false you can install the add-on. However, that doesn't mean that it will work, just that you can now try to use an old add-on that might work because it doesn't use any API's that have been changed/removed.

Thunderbird 60 / Add-on Compatibility has links to unofficial fixed versions of add-ons or documentation on what to edit to fix some broken add-ons.

The current WebExtensions support in Thunderbird 60.4.0 is really for "Embedded WebEXtensions". The embedded WebExtension's files are packaged inside the legacy add-on.

Thunderbird version 68
Add-ons that use XPCOM/XUL are now considered Legacy add-ons. Legacy add-ons are essentially no longer supported starting with version 68. All add-ons are WebExtension based add-ons instead. Since the WebExtensions API doesn't support complete themes yet, there is no support for complete themes anymore.

Unfortunately most of the current WebExtension APIs are mainly for commonly used elements like windows and tabs and it is going to take a while until mail-specific APIs are available. In the interim some experimental WebExtension APIs will be available in some add-ons starting with Thunderbird 63. The goal is for those APIs to get reviewed by developers, modified as needed, and then eventually included as part of Thunderbird. In the interim its going to be chaotic.

[meta] Add support for WebExtensions bug report
Thunderbird WebExtensions - legacy API

Thunderbird 68 uses a Mozilla toolkit library that wants to have separate profiles for release builds, daily builds and beta builds. This is sometimes called Mozilla's "profile by install" feature. If you automatically upgraded Thunderbird 60.* to 68.* in many cases it ignored the old profile and created a new one. Part of the problem was a bug where if you installed in a different location it would not recognize the old profile. One way to workaround that is to specify the location of the old profile using a -profile "full_path_of_profile" command line argument (tell Thunderbird to ignore whats specified in profiles.ini) and a --allow-downgrade command line argument (indicates that you can use that profile with deprecated releases) in the target field in the Thunderbird shortcut.

Thunderbird 67, 68 and newer betas does not use existing profile bug report.

Thunderbird version 78

Version 78 compatible extensions


The Engineering manager has published a rough roadmap here . Keep in mind that sometimes major features are added slowly over many versions. Maildir support was first announced for version 12, become fairly usable in version 33, and is now pretty good in version 68.

Its not clear when the built-in HTML editor will be replaced. They experimented in 2011 with a replacement using a "Compose for Thunderbird" experimental add-on, that if successful, would have been merged into Thunderbird. It used the CKEditor Smart WYSIWYG editor component, but they decided it was too hard to integrate. Making another attempt has been proposed many times, but didn't make it into the current roadmap.

2020 virtual summit on Thunderbird

Version 78 and later roadmap

See Go back to an old version of Thunderbird if you want to go back to an earlier version . Uninstalling Thunderbird does not delete your profile, which has your mail, settings, address books, add-ons etc. If you're worried backup your profile first using one of the suggestions in Profile backup or Third party profile backup software and services

Windows 10
Formal support for Windows 10 was added in version 38.2.0

Unsupported Operating System
Thunderbird 52 is the last release to support Windows XP (requires SP3), Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows 2008 and Windows Vista. If you want to run Thunderbird with XP SP3 or Vista install version 38.5.0 and then upgrade it, in order to get a more recent version of Thunderbird. This kludgy process is due to digital signing.

See Unsupported Operating Systems if Thunderbird no longer supports your Operating System. There are several workarounds available such as a third party build of Thunderbird called TenFourBird if you are using a PowerPC Mac running Tiger or Leopard.

Lightning (calendar) problems
Check if there is a release candidate at the Mozilla Calendar Project Blog. The Lightning add-on web page has a "development channel" at the bottom. Click on that if you're interested in finding out how to get experimental versions of Lightning. Its typically the only version that will work with beta versions of Thunderbird.

Thunderbird has release (production quality), beta (field test) and daily (meant just for testers) builds.

The project has a habit of making a new major version only available as a setup program on for a couple of weeks before they make it available as a automated update. The idea is to get feedback and an opportunity to fix more bugs via minor updates before 25 million users use it. However its misleading as many new users assume its a release build. Its really a pre-release build.

Beta versions of Thunderbird are available here. A side effect of installing a beta is that it puts you on the beta channel, so that whenever you check for upgrades it will look for both new releases and betas. The channel information is stored in the programs directory, so if you uninstall you start fresh. Uninstalling doesn't delete your profile, which contains your mail, address books, settings, add-ons etc.

As of Oct, 7, 2019 there are 1338 extensions at . 229 are compatible with version 60, and 110 are compatible with version 68 according to . Version 68 requires WebExtension based add-ons. This is similar to the transition that Firefox made to Firefox Quantum in 2017.

Bug reports
Bug reports are at . Thunderbird related bug reports are typically filed either under Thunderbird (client software) or Mail/News Core (component). The bug reports are NOT a way to get help on a problem. Its recommended that you create a thread at one of the support channels and have somebody else try to confirm its a new bug before reporting it.

Bugzilla has four major problems:
* A large number of duplicate bug reports.
* Many of the bug reports are useless because the problem is not reproducible by whoever is looking into the problem.
* User unfriendly search capability makes it hard to find if a bug has already been reported.
* Many bug reports get ignored for years.

The developers don't appreciate "me too" comments or lobbying attempts in bug reports. Bugzilla Etiquette describes the guidelines for using the bug reporting system.

Tech Support Scam
Mozilla does not offer telephone support or paid technical support for Thunderbird, and does not recommend any companies that do that. However, there have been cases were somebody used a legitimate technical support company that did not make any false claims, but the user thought they were dealing with Mozilla because they incorrectly connected the dots . You can report a web site that you believe is using Mozilla's trademarks to mislead people into thinking the site is an official Mozilla site or sponsored by Mozilla to Mozilla's legal dept. at .

Its against the rules for anybody in these forums to remotely access your PC. It is too prone to abuse, and we want to help people in a way that information is shared with other users. Most problems are not new.

Donations can be made at . Note the "While Thunderbird is now an independent project separate from Mozilla, Mozilla has agreed to collect donations on our behalf." You don't have to use the methods (credit/debit card or PayPal) available on that web page, it also has a link to a FAQ that explains how/where to donate by check, wire transfer etc.

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