Sunday, July 31, 2011

Using a Hotmail/ Live Alias with Thunderbird.

 This topic is now included in the Mozilla knowledge base

An Alias, is a rather funny name to give to what amounts to a new email address.  This whole concept of creating a throwaway email address is not new, and to be honest the Hotmail implementation reminds me so much a AOL in the early 1990s it is just not funny.

But the question is how do I get these things to work in Thunderbird.  Actually receiving the mail from this Alias email address could not be simpler simply have Hotmail put the mail into your inbox, rather than it's own folder and your done.  What you already have it set up to use a folder, because that was the default.  Not a problem either.
1. Sign in to your  Hotmail account with a web browser

2. Click Options then More options
3. Under Customizing Hotmail, click Rules for sorting new messages
4. Delete the rule than places new messages for that account into it's own folder.

Now you are receiving mail for that account, but how do you reply to it and make it look lioke the response is coming from the Alias.  This requires a little bit of a sleigh of hand and a little used Thunderbird option.


Identities have been in Thunderbird a long time.  The whole purpose of these is to make mail sent from one address look like it comes from a mail account it does not

1. Go to your Thunderbird account settings Tools > account settings

2. Click on the account name (this is the line above Server Settings)
3. Click on the Identities button
4. Enter The name you want displayed, this name goes out with the email and appear to the sender instead of the email address. 
5. Enter the Alias email adress as both the email address and the reply to address.
6. Click on the composition and addressing tab and change the quite options to above the quote, if that is how you want to reply to mail.
7. Click ok to close this dialog and ok again to close the identities list.

Now you are done.  Thunderbird will receive the mails and automatically find the right information when you click reply and reply through your Hotmail server.

The only thing left is to move these mails to a folder of their own just as was offered in Hotmail.

1.Select File > new > Folder from the menu.
2. Enter the name of the folder you want to create.  It does not have to be the alias email address, but it can be.
3. Select the location for the folder to be created. (in the ALL folders view this folder will appear under you choice as a sub folder.
4. Select a message that has been sent to the alias account.
5. from the Messages menu select create filter from this message
6. The filter dialog will open type in a name you wish to give this filter, and check that it is set to run 'checking mail or run manually"
7. The From is and the email address should be automatically inserted if not your will need to set it to From is and the alias email address.
8. In the bottom half of the filter window select the option to "move message to" if it is not already selected.
9. In the drop down list beside the move message to select the folder you just created.
Ok your done.
Mail will be reteived from Hotmail and moved to your designated folder on arrival.
When you click reply, that account will appear as the one replying.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Article now on the official Mozilla support site:

Microsoft in their eternal quest for a competitive edge just will not stick to agreed standards.  This applies to mail as much as it does to anything else they make. Microsoft calls in Innovation,  and if you exclusively use their products it certainly can appear that way.  It is only when you have the temerity to use a non Microsoft product do you find that their innovation is not compatible with, well anything else really.

This is the case with the winmail.dat file.  It is a proprietary format for sending email attachments that only Microsoft programs  really understand. Others have spent their time and effort to try and get their programs to understand this format, decode it and present the content in a useful manner, but the Truth is that the problem is outlook.

This article on the office web site advises Outlook users how to fix the problem permanently.  Whenever you get one of these messages the best approach is to reply to the message sender that they have outlook incorrectly configured to send Internet mail and give them the link to the article on the office web site.  Most people simply don't know they don't have Outlook set correctly and will change things as soon as they hear that your can't open their attachments.

There is an add-on for Thunderbird which in some cases can read these winmail.dat files.  Lookout is not always successful, but it can usually display the attached files.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I want an old version of Thunderbird

I don't know how many times I have read this, but for some reason most people go looking at download sites for something that Mozilla has on their site.

They don't advertise it, and actually have a disclaimer that it is for archival purposes and they don't recommend people use it.  But every version of Thunderbird ever released, from 0.1 to date are all on this FTP site. This is particularly good for those moving from Version 1 to later versions, because they must install Version 2 to get the necessary conversions to their profile for Versions 3 and latter to install without errors.  The version 3 and latter upgrade process does not know how to read V1 profiles.

For those not familiar with FTP sites, they function as a file system so, clicking a link opens the folder below and to go up a folder level you click the up to higher level directory.

In most of the folders in this archive, first you click on the version, this opens a list of operating systems. Select your operating system and a list of languages by code will appear, eg EN_US is a US localised English version, fr is a french etc.  Select you preferred language and you will be presented with two files. For windows users the large file with the EXE on the end is the one you need to download and install.  You can safely ignore warning from your browser or anti virus programs about it being an executable file, because that is what it is.

Once the file is downloaded, open the file to install Thunderbird. 

22 May 2016 : Mozilla have decommissioned FTP on from the 5th Ausugt 2015.   See their blog post announcing the change here.

Thanks to Andy Plotkin  for making me aware this link was out of date.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Outlook Express DBX files

Thunderbird can only import mail from Outlook Express if the two programs are on the same computer.  This creates something of a catch 22 for those that have backed up their DBX files from Outlook Express, and no longer have access to the program.

In the past few days, I was lurking on a Microsfot Support Forum, and mention of theUnDBX utility came up.  Now the internet is full of paid utilities that will read DBX files and convert them, but really who wants to pay for a program that they will probably use only the once. This one is free, and released under the GNU GLP V3 open source license.

How does this help in getting DBX mails into Thunderbird,  it converts them to the industry standard EML file format.  The addon Import/Export Tools can import EML files into Thunderbird.

So the round trip is use the UnDBX tool to convert your mail into EML and then Use the Import Export tools to import it into Thunderbird.

I think I have finally figured out how to do the WAB to Thunderbird part of the process.  A small largely undocumented program called Dawn. I have linked to the download site that does contain some instructions for use,  in my own case I had to unzip the package and double click on the MSI file.  The setup program did not appear to do anything.  I would love to hear from anyone how Dawn went for them. Other than the quirk on the setup it worked flawlessly for me.

Addendum 17 March 2013
Philip Sargent has advised me that under Windows 7 Dawn needs to run in XP compatibility mode.

Addendum 30 January 2016
I think these days using the windows contact to import the WAB file and then instructing Thunderbird to use that is a better way to go with address books. See my Devember 2013 post on the Windows address book here 

Anti Virus/Firewall Programs

We all have them, and they are one of those things we all love to hate. One of the things about these security programs is that they can wreak havoc with other applications.  Email programs such as Thunderbird are particularly vulnerable dues to the fact that they interact almost exclusively with the internet and anti virus vendors love to stick little widgets into the Mail program 'for your convenience'.

Should you even have mail scanning enabled in your Anti Virus program?

This is the question that I have been asking now for a number of years.  My conclusion, after researching the topic is a resounding NO.  I am now not even really sure why it is included in almost very anti virus program in existence.

Now you probably think I am mad to come out any say this, so let me explain.  All modern anti virus programs have some sort of resident protection, something that blocks the nasties as soon as you try and execute them, or they try and run.  This is essential.  What good is an anti virus program that does not scan files that come in on that portable drive your friend lent you with the latest block buster movie on it.  Or the files your teenager downloaded using file sharing or even the file someone passed to you in MSN or Yahoo messenger.

For some reason that I can not fathom, email is treated differently.  This resident protection that protects against file sharing and casually inserted USB devices is suddenly not good enough for email.  Email is just another file.  You connect to the internet and download it.  Your mail program will most likely store the file in some sort of database, but it is still a file (and a text file at that).

Instead we have all these widgets and button and proxies, all of which make a simple file process complex and fraught with inexplicable glitches.  I had thought that being a Thunderbird person that it was Thunderbird that had all the problems.  But no that is not the case.  I stumbled upon this quotation from Tom Koch who was an MVP for Outlook Express.

"...When encountering the symptoms of DBX corruption, many people immediately fear that their computer is infected with a virus. As surprising and ironic as it may seem though, the most common cause of DBX corruption is not a virus, but rather anti-virus programs that are configured to scan incoming or outgoing e-mail. Even the most well-known anti-virus programs have exhibited this problem from time to time. To lessen the risk of such corruption you should disable the e-mail scanning module in your anti-virus program. This is usually easy to do by looking at the user-configurable options in the anti-virus program. It is not at all necessary to scan e-mail for viruses to protect your computer.Now before you dismiss me as mad, let me explain why e-mail scanning is unnecessary. Almost every anti-virus program for Windows installs by default a system scan that runs in the background every time Windows starts. This scan is necessary to protect your computer. If you receive a virus in an e-mail attachment, the virus cannot do anything at all until you actually open the attachment. ..." .

To add to my ever dimming view of email scanning I stumbled upon this thread over a cnet where a Symantec Tech support was assisting someone with Incredimail.

To quote from the reply he made there "If your email server requires the use of SSL than you need to disable the email scanning feature in Norton 360, as SSL is not supported. Even if you disable this feature, the real-time scanning engine called Auto-Protect will still scan both your incoming and outgoing email for threats."

What this makes clear is 'your protected' even if you disable mail scanning.  This advice was given for SSL connections, but the only difference between a normal email connection and SSL is that under SSL the data is transported in an encrypted state.  So if your safe not scanning encrypted connections, your just as safe not scanning unencrypted mail.

In program buttons and tool bars 

The greatest difficulty with these little widgets that play with SPAM and virus checking from within the mail program is that the companies release them for a specific version and are very slow to update them when the mail program is updated.  I see in forums all the time complains about a new version of Thunderbird 'breaking' this SPAM tool or that Anti virus checker.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the things that is made very clear to anyone that writes add-ons for Mozilla applications (and this is what these things are) is that it is their responsibility to ensure their add-on works. So next time you have something break, don't complain to Mozilla, complain where the onus lies.  With the supplier of the add-on.

You are paying these companies for their expertise and their software. If they are not going to keep it up to date with the mail client you use they should make this very clear when they sell it to you. With the rapid release schedule for Thunderbird bringing out a new release every six weeks, it is highly likely that these companies will never get their stuff updated quickly enough for it to actually work on the day you buy it. Unless they significantly improve their performance in this area.


I am not going to explain what they are.  There are plenty of good explanations in the internet.  Most people have heard of a firewall, most also know that there is one in their operating system.  This however is all to often where the knowledge ends.  These days, the average computer does not have one firewall, it has many.

Anti virus companies now routinely include a firewall component into their products.
Your Operating system has one.
Usually your wireless access point/router has one
Most DSL modems have one.

When things go wrong, it is often one of these firewall that is blocking communications (after all that is their job)  The hardware firewalls in routers and modems are normally open, although there was a US ISP that blocked certain ports in the Modem as an anti SPAM measure.  If you are a comcast customer, take note.

The most common cause for problems is one supplied by the anti virus companies, this is because normally a firewall is set up to block incoming connections.  The ones that come with your anti virus program also block programs and outgoing connections.

I can see where from a security perspective having a 'white list' of programs makes life easier. After all there is no better way to stop rogue malware from using your computer as a base to send SPAM that to have a white list  of programs that are allowed to connect to the internet.

I updated Thunderbird and now nothing works.

This is here because it is almost always an over eager security program causing the problem.  Thunderbird has a new version and the program is blocking it from accessing the internet.

To be fair, in most cases the program actually asks you it you want to block it,  but it does so while you are typing. As most of us are not touch typists we are not looking at the screen, we are looking at the keyboard.

Because the default of block, we never actually see the question, our next key stroke or press of the enter key just blocks it and we have a mysteriously non functional mail program.


If Thunderbird suddenly stops getting mail, your password that has been fine for years suddenly is not accepted or you get time out errors instead of action the first place to look is in these ubiquitous security programs.

Further rambling on the topic here 


Why would there be a need for advise on Passwords.  Simple they are really not intuitive at all.  So here we have what I see as the most asked questions about Passwords in Thunderbird, and perhaps a little background on the passwords used.

How do I change my password.

The simple answer is you don't. You delete your password.

On the toolbar >  Options > Security >Passwords  there is a show saved password button.  Clicking it shows all the saved passwords and offers the opportunity to delete them.  If the password Thunderbird has is wrong this is what you must do. Next time you check your mail Thunderbird will ask you for your password.  If you click the save option in the box asking for your password your new password will be saved.

Master Password does not protect my Mails.

This is 100% correct.  The master Password is not designed as an application password.  It's sole purpose is to protect your saved passwords with a password of their own. There is a really good article on Master Passwords on the MozillaZine web site.

The people who code Thunderbird are very unlikely to provide an application password.  Why? Well the truth is that Thunderbird stores all of your mail in plain text files. Having an application password protecting your mail is fairly pointless when all of the mail is available to anyone who has a text editor and access to your computer.  If you want to protect your mail and I mean seriously instead of with a dinky password such as is offered by the Profile password add-on, use the user accounts and passwords built into your operating system.

File attachments in Thunderbird

File Attachments appear to cause far more difficulties in Thunderbird than they should.  Part of this is the somewhat quirky way Thunderbird deals with attachments and part is due to most  Quirks in Other email applications that send not quite standard email to Thunderbird.

The main causes of difficulties are the 'Helper Application not found' error message and winmail.dat files which are discussed below. as well as the newer problem of attachments simply not appearing at all.


This is another of those innovative ideas that Microsoft had that just didn't work out well for the average user.  Microsft invented the winmail.dat file for use in corporate networks using Microsoft Exchange servers.  Unfortunately, most of the use of Outlook that the average person sees is in Internet Mail.  Internet mail is not a closed environment so proprietary solutions such as this just don't work.  The result is you get this silly file attached to your mail, with no really simple way to either open it or view it.

There is an add on LookOut, which tries to do something useful with these files and display their content. But the only real solution is to contact the person sending you the mail and explaining to them that  their mail client in not configured correctly and that they need to fix it so you can read the attachments they are sending you.

When telling someone their software is not configured correctly it can be a bit difficult, but if you give them this handy link to KB138053 on the Microsoft web site they should be able to fix things so they are not sending out mails that no one can read easily.

Helper Application not found

This is one of Thunderbird's Quirks. It actually stores a list of applications to associate with file types (based on the MIME information in the email).  This works quite nicely most of the time, until a new version of one of these programs come out that moves the location it is installed in.  Then this message rears it's head. Thankfully it is easy to cure.

On the Tools Menu, you will find options. In option there is a button called attachments, this is where all this file type association stuff is stored in Thunderbird.  There is nothing  needed to fix this problem other than to locate the association for the file type and delete it.  Next time you ask Thunderbird to open a file of that type it will ask you what to do with the file and you get to select the correct application.  You can also click the save and have Thunderbird remember exactly what to do with that file type.

Thunderbird tries to open the file with the wrong program

This is usually caused by the senders email program incorrectly identifying the attachment file type in the MIME encoding of the file.  The simple answer for this, if you get mail from the same people that cause this problem all the time is to install the Open Attachment By Extension add-on.  This add-on opens the file based on the extension in the mail, not the MIME type which is how Thunderbird normally selects the application to open an attachment

Attachments don't Appear.

Following the fixing of a bug in Thunderbird that caused you to be unable to detach an attachment from a mail, attachments generated by many email programs have stopped being displayed.  The underlying cause is complex and the discussion I have seen on the topic indicates that it is 'non trivial to fix'.  My experience with Thunderbird leaves me to translate that as 'it will be a long time before we fix this' to good news is that there is an add-on that allows the attachment to be displayed. Simply installing this add-on adds a new entry to the "message body as" on the view menu to allow all 'parts' of a message to be viewed.  Because of the way it works, all sorts of parts of a message are displayed as an attachment, including digital signatures and images embedded in HTML messages.  For more information on the problem and the issues,  the meet the developer page from the add-on is full of background.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Compacting :- What is it and Why must I do it.

This document predates the official Thunderbird support documentation at

What is it?

Thunderbird stores all of your local messages in a file on the local computer.  One file for each folder that appear in Thunderbird.  When you delete or move a message it is marked as deleted in the file that contains it and ignored by Thunderbird.  This is great for performance, if  the program stopped to actually write a new file without the message in question every time you moved or delete a message it would be so slow as to be unusable.  But like all good things there is a price to pay.

Over time the file wastes a significant amount of space, becomes bloated and unwieldy. The only real solution for this is to create a new file without all of the left over junk.  This is called compacting in Thunderbird.  Those who have used Outlook will be familiar with a prompt asking to compress.  This is exactly the same thing with a different name.

Why Must I do it?

There are some general housekeeping reasons such as to save space.  But the main reason is to maintain Thunderbirds speed and to make the file small enough for Thunderbird to actually use.  Files over 4Gb in Windows and 2Gb ion Linux and Mac systems are unreadable and present either error messages, or can appear as mail simply downloading and never getting to your inbox.  So compacting is an essential part of the process of keeping Thunderbird not only working, but working effectively.

Edit:  I have had some people point out that the capacity of the NTFS file system is in exabytes and that this is rubbish. Nothing could be further from the Truth.  Thunderbird has this limitation and ignoring it will increase your chance of data loss at some future point in time.

Edit 2: Bug 462665 has finally been fixed for release in Thunderbird 12.  This brings to an end the 4Gb limit for local files.  It does not remove the need to compact, but it does remove on of the major  side effects of not compacting, that of having the file exceed to 4Gb limit.

Making it less frequent

Thunderbird compacts when a file contains deleted messages that total a preset size.  The default in Thunderbird 5 is 100Mb, but those who go through the upgrade process don't don't necessarily get the benefit of this change, all they see is the regular request to compact because their threshold is still set to the pre V5 level of 100kb.

On the tools Menu go to Options > advanced > Network and disk space and change the 'compact when it will save over' entry to 100Mb or more.  If you get lots of mails with large attachments you may have to double or triple the 100Mb.

If Thunderbird appears bent on compacting every time you delete something.  There is the possibility that the compact process is not completing, either through interruption (new mail arriving or your anti virus scanner scanning the file)

On the file menu, select offline and then work offline.
Allow any download or sync to occur.
On the View menu, select folders and then ALL
From the file menu select Compact Folders
Go make coffee, this might take a while. Particularly if you have lots of mail
In the bottom left hand corner of your Thunderbird screen eventually a Done Compacting message will appear.

Now you can change your folder view back to whatever it was originally and go back online.

In some circumstances Thunderbird can hang when the compact prompt appears.  This hang apparently affects version 3.x.x - 6.0.1.  A fix was implemented in version 7 

I lost my mail when Compacting

Please complete my survey of those that hard lost data after compact. and see my post on what this is all about

This does appear to happen,  the first obvious point is that Thunderbird can not read the index for the file while compacting is in progress, so the mail in the folder will simply disappear while the compact is in progress. Following the completion of the process the mail will reappear.  At other times after the compact there will be no messages show in the folder due to some sort of interruption the the process causing an empty index to be created.  The cause of this is not really understood, but right clicking the folder and selecting properties and then repair will force a re-index and the mail will reappear as if by magic.

More Fatal apparent data loss can occur when compacting.  If the  underlying file is corrupt then the compact will write a file that can at best be described as truncated.  This is not compact loosing your mail, it is compact showing you the corruption and demonstrating the extent of that corruption.  One leading cause of this sort of corruption is anti virus programs that think they understand Thunderbird's filing system quarantining mails and leaving the file in a corrupt state.

Other symptoms of corruption in the mail store are;
  • Previously deleted messages reappearing
  • Messages with the date of 1969
  • Message bodies containing bits of other messages
  • Messages in the message list not matching what is displayed when clicked
  • Thunderbird apparently going off to sleep before messages in a folder are displayed

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blocking a sender in Thunderbird

This topic is now included in the Mozilla knowledge base

Thunderbird does not have a block option that can be used from the menu or toolbar, but it can be made to dispose of unwanted mails using message filters.

Message filters operate on a per account basis, so it is important when you first set up the filter to set it to act on the correct account.  The easiest way to do this is select a message from a sender you wish to block and choose Create a filter from message from the message menu.  This will open the filter settings windows with the email address already inserted into the filter.  Name the filter.  My preferred name is "block list". Simply change the action in the bottom half of the window to delete and you are all done.  Save the filter and next time that person sends you mail it will be deleted.

Message filter that you have created can be opened and edited by selecting the message filters entry on the Tools menu. It is not necessary to create an individual filter for each address you want to block.  
 Now you have the block list filter, next time you want to block someone you can add their address into the top of the filter by pressing the plus button and thus creating a new field to enter the new address to be deleted.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Black Icons are Yucky

Well it would appear the the Jury is in and a number of people think the default Theme used for Thunderbird is actually ugly, or just plain difficult on their Windows setup. Note that I said windows. It is the Aero theme that has got people shaking their heads.

There is a fairly simple solution however.

Change to a non default Theme.

The Thunderbird Theme web site lists 81 current themes, I would assume with that sort of number of Themes one of them would suit most people.

If it is just the transparency that is the issue,  then the no glass theme may be what you want, or even the no Aero

Here are a couple of standouts that appeal to me for various reasons, they might appeal to you as well.

Classic Toolbar Icons for WinXP
Outlook 2003 BlueTB
Silver Skin (for Thunderbird)