Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Export Strength

After having to yet another new profile today due to problems with a today’s daily trunk build (I’m back on Firefox 1.0.4 now), it dawned on me that Firefox and Thunderbird’s export facilities are pretty poor.
Sure, you can import stuff from various programs, and you can export your bookmarks and address book, but what about your cookies, history, email messages, settings and saved passwords? Even IE lets you export your cookies.
By allowing users to import and export their settings, we’re not locking them into using Firefox and, in particular, Thunderbird, which for many will lower the barriers that stop them from trying them out. Think about it. You could download Thunderbird, import your messages and settings into it from your current program, and be in the knowledge that if you didn’t like it, you could easily revert back to your original program without losing any messages.
It wouls also make life easier for testers of nightly builds, as we could export our settings and bookmarks, save them as a backup, and then if we need to create a new profile import them (or parts of them). The MozBackup tool does this already but it would be nice if we could have a tool that would allow you to put data back into other programs.
It’s almost certainly too late now for this to go into Firefox 1.1 – it’s already delayed enough as it is. But maybe it could go into 1.5 or 2.0.


  1. Couldn’t agree more. Even importing was hit and miss when i first used it. I ended up having to export all my mail from outlook 2k3 to outlook express and then from outlook express to thunderbird because direct from outlook 2k3 resulted in lots of empty message bodies.
    You know, i used that mozbackup on your recommendation a while back but i’m not entirely sure that its doing anything other than copying some files. If you visit %Application Data%/Thunderbird and %Application Data%/Mozilla/Firefox. Whats what is all pretty obvious and surprisingly nothing is encrypted against profile keys as you would expect. You can even copy cookies.txt between different profile directories.
    Also, i’ve recently discovered that you can sometimes fix thunderbird ills by deleting the .msf files in the mail folder. They’re just indexes of the email data and will be rebuilt by the app.
    It’s worth having a play with the data files.

  2. YES!!! I too would love for thunderbird to be able to export my data.
    Even if only for backup purposes.

  3. But TB is using the unix mbox format for mail storage, which is de-facto standard. Most email clients can import from mbox.
    It was absolutely no problem to switch from TB to Apple Mail (I really would like to switch back, if only TB had Mac address book integration).

  4. Just to try if I can do that, I just exported all my Thunderbird emails to Apple Mail 2. Not an easy thing – first copy no-extensions TB mbox files, clean them with a python script (found on macosx hints), rename (with r-name) from .cleaned to .mbox, finally import to Mail and organize imported folders. Phew!
    The result is good, but many messages are duplicated (well, that’s better than missing some mails from imported not-cleaned mailboxes).
    Do I stay by Apple’s Mail? I don’t know. Is it possible to re-import messages to TB if I want to? Mail produces xxx.mbox folders with single e-mails inside, not single xxx.mbox files.

  5. One complement to any ThunderBird backup strategy may include using a tool like ThunderStor. With it you can set up a simple scheduled task to maintain an archive of ThunderBird’s email in individual .msg files. Great for network storage!
    check it out at: