Using Thunderbird portable in Linux?


For the last years I have been using Outlook express as my email client: It was free, easy to use and came with Windows, so no extra installation was required. In addition, it was closely connected with my main (back then) account in Hotmail, and last but not least, it was perfectly synced with my Windows Mobile Phones (Eten X610, HTC Touch Cruise & HD). During the last months I smoothly migrated in the Windows Live Mail Desktop, which indeed provided me with more options.

However, as soon as I started working, I had to dealt with additional email accounts and work with more than one laptops. However, there was no way for me to keep the structure of my inboxes, other than Hotmail, between my different laptops. I tried exporting the inbox each time and importing it in the other laptop, use an online folder to sync the inboxes, copy-paste the files etc. but nothing worked… so I took the decision to migrate to a more flexible email client: Mozilla Thunderbird.

I decided to totally re-organize the way that I was handling my emails: I bought an external hard disk and decided to use the portable version of Thunderbird, so that not only my inbox, but my whole email system would be always with me. Migration from Windows was not easy but easier than I expected. I managed to keep the structure of the folders of my main installation of WLM but still I ended up with a lot of duplicate emails, that I am still trying to identify and delete…

Even though this solution works like a charm for all my Windows-based machines, I recently faced an issue when I decided to drop Windows from my netbook and instead use Linux. Since there is no Thunderbird portable version for Linux (yet), I will have to find a way to “force” the Linux pre-installed version of Thunderbird to use the folders in my portable hard disk as a source for the settings and messages; however, I haven’t managed to achieve such thing despite my research and efforts…

Please let me know in case you have a workaround for this issue and I will be eternally grateful to you!

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3 thoughts on “Using Thunderbird portable in Linux?

  1. Find the .thunderbird directory in your /home/username folder. That is the profile directory of Thunderbird on Linux.
    Connect the external HDD, very probably it mounts every time to the same place, like /media/name-of-the-partition.
    Find there the directory “Thunderbird” where the profile is stored.
    Open a second window of the file browser, if using a two-pane (Gnome commander, MC, DoubleCommadner etc) just open it in the second pane. Move there to your home directory. Delete there the .thunderbird folder (if there are no emails)
    Drag and drop the Thunderbird folder from the portable TB on the external disk to your home directory, preferably with a right mouse button pressed, and hopefully the context menu will offer to create a “symbolic link”. Do so, and then just rename this link from Thunderbird or whatever to .thunderbird

    Check by opening that symlink that it shows the contents of the profile on the external hdd

    Open the linux Thunderbird and see for yourself 🙂

    P.S. A full backup of the portable TB+profile is highly recommended.
    Some extensions in the profile are OS-specific and therefore there will be a permanent conflict when switching between diff. OSs. Specially this is a problem if the Windows thunderbird is a 32bit app, and the linux distro runs natively at 64bits. (I experienced this problem with Enigmail extension for example). However only a minority of extensions behave like that, for most of the extensions, it works like a charm, they are multi-platform and arch-independent.

    I use regularly Linux Mint 13 on my laptop, but I have WinXp as dualboot (for occasional sync of the mobile phone with Outlook via ActiveSync & for video processing in a specialized SW that doesn’t work even under Wine). I moved the thunderbird profile to a NTFS data partition (even a Truecrypt-encrypted one) and created symlinks both from Windows and Linux to that location (NTFS calls a similar thing to symlinks “junctions” and with a third party tool you can make it from WinXP+) Works very well. Many other applications can work the same way as well (those that are multiplatform :-))

  2. To make email portable use imap server. This will allow you to view the same messages regardless of the client computer.

    1. Thanks for the tip; I was aware of the IMAP server but never tried that, as I was afraid of messing up with my inbox. Taking into consideration that:
      1. I have to empty my inbox from the corporate email server every now and then
      2. I need to access my emails even when offline and
      3. I am accessing my inbox using at least three different computers

      do you think that setting up my account with IMAP would be a nice choice? If so, I may have to give it a try and see how it works.

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