Sync Hacks: How to Securely Backup Your Thunderbird Email

Thunderbird_and_BTSync (1)
In Sync Hacks, we spotlight cool uses of Sync from the creative minds of our users. Sync is our free, unlimited, and secure file-syncing application. Now, it’s 2X faster. If you have an interesting use or how-to, shoot us an email at sync[at] Can’t wait to hear what you guys cook up.

In this week’s Sync Hacks, Miguel Guhlin (@mguhlin) shows us how to securely backup our Thunderbird emails. Read on for Miguel’s tutorial (adapted from his blog)

The Problem

A few weekends ago, I realized that I didn’t have a backup of my Thunderbird email (over 5 gigs) anywhere except on one machine. This is a big deal because I have a lot of email from multiple personal accounts, as well as work accounts that I like to keep an encrypted backup of.

The biggest challenge I faced included backing up the .Thunderbird folder. Although I’d tried saving my Thunderbird profile to an external USB flash drive (and eventually a hard drive), I just couldn’t get it to work. When I’d made backups of the .thunderbird folder on my Linux installations (Peppermint Four and Linux Mint 15 are working great!), I was always unable to restore them. There would be some configuration or something goofy that couldn’t get it working again. Worse, I’d corrupt my Thunderbird profile, which meant loss of email and I’d have to restore from backup.

BitTorrent Sync

All of that changed when I started using BitTorrent Sync for email backup. BitTorrent Sync synchronizes your files across devices without storing any of your data in the cloud. It was easy to load BitTorrent Sync on all 3 of my machines and let BitTorrent Sync work it’s magic.

.thunderbird directory

.thunderbird directory

To accomplish the magic with your own setup, follow these instructions.


1) Install BitTorrent Sync on all of your computers.

If you’re backing up your Thunderbird emails on computers with different operating systems (e.g. Mac to Linux), make sure you adjust your Thunderbird profile settings to match.

• %APPDATA% is shorthand for the C:\Users\\AppData\Roaming\ folder (Windows 7/Vista) or theC:\Documents and Settings\\Application Data\ folder (Windows XP/2000), which depends on your Windows user account name.

Mac OS X:~/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/xxxxxxxx.default/.
• The tilde character (~) refers to the current user’s Home folder, so ~/Library is the /Macintosh HD/Users//Library folder.


2) Select your primary computer (with Thunderbird installed)

3) Start BitTorrent Sync on your primary computer and add the Thunderbird Profile folder (for your operating system) to the application.


4) Copy the folder’s secret (right click on the folder in the application) and keep it handy.

5) Open Sync on another device, and add a folder using the secret you generated at your primary computer.


5) You’re all set! You can monitor progress on any of the computers that have BitTorrent Sync installed by opening a web browser and going to http://localhost:8888


Thanks to BitTorrent and Mozilla for creating products (BitTorrent Sync and Thunderbird) that remain free and are built with email security in mind.


Miguel Guhlin (@mguhlin) is an educator with a penchant for technology; read his blog at

Written by: Lou

Lou is a product marketing manager at BitTorrent, Inc., where he works on BitTorrent Sync, a free app that allows you to sync and share large files with anybody via secure, distributed technology.

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  • Jim

    Hi Lou,
    Nice post. I’ve recently implemented a similar set up with Thunderbird on two Win8 systems (one desktop and one laptop). So far, it’s great.
    I have one question.
    Are you able to run TB on both systems at the same time without corrupting the Inbox files?

    I am concerned that if I send an email on the laptop and BT starts a sync while something else like a new message is getting received on the desktop.
    So, for now I just run TB on one device as needed (laptop when on the road). Close it when done. Sync happens and now I can safely open the desktop TB and work without fear or getting out of sync in any way or corrupting files.

    Maybe I’m just being overly concerned. Thoughts?

  • onlinedegreeprogram

    definitely an elegant solution for different OSs.
    For me, since I use different mail program on different OSs, and the windows I only install thunderbird, I use Thunderbird portable:

    No need to get my hands dirty on changing the profiles

  • JavaMan

    So… how’d you get around the issue that the webclient isn’t seeing the hidden folders? (~/.thunderbird) No matter what I try to do, I can’t seem to get it to show me that folder in the Web client