Sync Hacks: How to Securely Backup Your Thunderbird Email

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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:UsersAppDataRoaming folder (Windows 7/Vista) or theC:Documents and SettingsApplication 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

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