Sunday, August 7, 2011

Deleting an account Thunderbird

This is an often asked question in Thunderbird support forums, and one that whilst easy to accomplish, is fraught with unexpected consequences.

Why you should be very careful in deleting accounts.

Thunderbird links messages to IMAP accounts, so if your account is IMAP then deleting the account in Thunderbird will simply see all local copies vanish.  However if your changing mail providers,  as soon as the mail provider removes your account you may well see all the mail in Thunderbird disappear with the server account.  That is because the local copies on IMAP mail are more a cache to improve performance that a permanent store.

If however your account is POP and you have deleted the mail from the server when you downloading, your only copy of mail will vanish along with the account.  This is the common unexpected consequence of deleting an account, the messages associated with that account will simply vanish.  It may be possible to recover these messages,  MozillaZine has instructions, but it is certainly not something one would elect to do through choice. So the short of it is that if you have messages you want to keep, you don't really want to delete the account.  You might want to disable the account from checking mail, you might also want to remove the outgoing server from Thunderbird, but you don't want to delete the account.

Why you might think your need to delete an account

It is not working, or has stopped working. 
This is not Outlook Express where the answer to all problems is delete and recreate, or uninstall and reinstall.  Neither approach is likely to fix the vast majority of problems, but is highly likely to loose your mail in the process.  If you are having problems with an account that does not work, post your settings, they are shown in Trouble shooting on the help menu at the Thunderbird support site with a clear statement including the actual error messages you are receiving.

You have closed the account with the provider
As mentioned earlier Thunderbird will delete your mail along with the account, so you need to copy the mail to Local folders before Thunderbird can no longer synchronise with the old mail server.  Local Folders is local storage not connected with the mail server so when mail is copied there the synchronisation link to the server ends and you have a permanent local copy.


  1. What about if I want to recover disk space used by several older accounts? Isn't it sure enough backing up User:Library:Thunderbird folder and deleting those accounts?

    Thanks in advance

  2. What if I'm giving the computer to someone else, and need to delete the account?

  3. Sorry, this whole article is completely untrue. I have deleted several accounts and the messages are still in my profile's ImapMail subfolder still taking up gigs of hard drive space. If you re-add the account with the same name, it creates another folder and appends a "-1" to the end of the domain like "", then "", etc. which is why you are having to re-download the messages again. And even if you did somehow manage to delete the files, the emails are still stored on the IMAP server, so you could just download them again, so I'm not sure what you mean by "vanishing". In most cases, to recover your emails, it would likely be as simple as moving the "INBOX" file (or whatever email folder you like) from the old folder to the new one (the one with the -1 after it).

    @Almo, if you are giving your computer to someone else, delete your whole thunderbird directory and then google "prevent data recovery" because there are programs that can recover even deleted files.

    1. I take exception to your statement that the article is untrue. I was even going to remove the comment as simply confusing to others. But such a silly comment needs to be replied to.

      Sure there in your profile, but not visible on the folder tree in Thunderbird, nor easily recovered into Thunderbird so to the average user they have vanished. As most people only delete their accounts after they close the account with the provider (yes people do that) they don't have the option to simply "download them from the IMAP server again" sure there are ways to recover the mail in the profile folder, but it is much easier to just not delete the account in the first place.

      Your skills may be sufficient to find your profile folder, but the majority of people having difficulty have trouble understanding that the profile is stored on their computer and not somewhere in "the cloud". Let alone going through the process of actually getting that mail into a readable state.

      So this article is not untrue, the mail does "vanish" and your comment is probably the least useful I have on my blog. Do you work for Microsoft? What they tell you is 100% correct and 100% useless to the average user. I see the details in your comment the same way.

  4. "then click the advanced button and uncheck the include this server when checking mail if it is available."

    This option no longer exists in Thunderbird - as reported, for example, in

    This is a real problem. The best solution I have found so far is described at

  5. A discussion about Thundferbird 1. Something and some ones problem with an IMAP folders does not make the option a "no longer exists"

    The options is and has only ever been available for POP accounts and in my case is only offered for the first account I created on that server.

    In the case of imap account you just copy all the mail to local folders and delete the account from Thunderbird.

  6. The option not to include a server when checking for email is only present for POP accounts.

    If the IMAP server no longer exists (maybe it is a server from an old work place, or a service that you no longer subscribe to), there seems to be no way to stop TB from trying to connect.

    The basic problem is I want to keep access to my old email copies without forever trying to connect to a non existent IMAP server.

    The solution that I quote above works, but it is very low level and messy. TB should have a simple option to disable an IMAP account without losing your copies of old emails, and without continually trying to reconnect.

  7. Thanks Matt - our postings crossed.

    Copying the folders seems to be the best solution.

    However, as the original posting suggested, it would be handy not to have to delete the account, but just disable it. It is also simpler and less error prone for non technical people than copying folders.

    Do you think that is a suggestion worth posting to the TB group?

    1. There is already an open bug

    2. That's what I want. I will vote for it. Many thanks Matt. Useful blog!

    3. Related open bug even more relevant to this posting:

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