Mozilla Thunderbird – Changing the File Location with Windows XP

Mozilla’s Thunderbird is a free and very popular e-mail client. Thunderbird is actually very configurable, but the methods required to change certain aspects of the program are not very intuitive. One issue that I ran into is related to doing backups. The default location for files is buried in a special Application Data folder in the Documents and Settings folder. That makes it difficult to remember that these files should be backed up along with Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or any other files that your business cannot afford to lose.

Like most people, I like to set up all of my programs so that the files created are all stored in folders within the My Documents user folder. That way, I just have to pop a blank CD or DVD into my DVD burner drive and send the My Documents folder to the disk to create a backup.

Moving the Thunderbird files is a four step process. Here is how you do it.

Step 1. Make sure that Thunderbird is closed and locate the Thunderbird file folder. In Windows 2000 and XP, you should find it in:

c:\Documents and Settings\{user name}\Application Data\

{user name} is your user account folder for your PC.

The Application Data folder is by default a hidden folder in Windows, so if you do not see an Application Data folder, check the Folder Options and make sure it is set to "Show hidden files and folders". This is found in Start, My Computer, Tools, Folder Options, View.

Windows XP folder options

Step 2. Copy the entire Thunderbird folder and its contents to the new location in the My Documents folder. Copy the folder rather than moving it because Thunderbird needs to be able to find the profiles.ini file in its old location. In this example it is being moved to the My Documents folder located at c:\Documents and Settings\Craig\My Documents on my PC. Your user account name should display in place of "Craig" on your PC. If you did not set up a user account, this folder may be called Administrator.

Step 3. Locate the Profiles folder in the old Thunderbird directory at c:\Documents and Settings\{user name}\Application Data\Thunderbird. Look for the profiles.ini file. Open profiles.ini with a pure text editor, such as Notepad. Do not use Word or a word processor because these programs typically save invisible headers and formatting codes when they save a file. You need to use a pure text editor like Notepad. It might e a good idea to save a backup of the file before you alter it.

Step 4. The contents of the profiles.ini folder will look something similar to this:



The Path=Profiles/xhbhq33l.default line is the code that points to the .default folder with all of your e-mails and Thunderbird’s configuration information. I know it looks like a file name, but it is actually a folder. Your folder name will be different. "xhbhq33l" is a random name generated by Thunderbird when the program is installed. Before you make changes, it might be a good idea to make a backup copy of the profile.ini file, just in case you run into problems.

You will need to make two changes to the profiles.ini file. First, change IsRelative=1 to IsRelative=0. This changes the path from a relative path to an absolute path. Second, fully specify the new path to the new location of the Profiles folder and the default file folder. The new contents of the file for my Windows XP system now looks like this:


Path=c:\Documents and Settings\Craig\My Documents\ Thunderbird\Profiles\xhbhq33l.default

Note: the Path= directive should be on one line. Do not forget to substitute the name of your Windows account in place of my account name called "Craig". Also, remember to use backslashes, rather than forward slashes in the absolute path. If you put the directory on another drive, use the appropriate path to that directory.

After making the changes, save the file and start Thunderbird. If you got the path correct, you should see all of your old e-mail messages. New messages should now be saved in the new location and backups are now much easier to accomplish.

If you see a message like the following, it means that you did not get the path correct. Check to make sure that every character and space is correct.

Thunderbird error message

The same method can be used for restoring a backup file to a new PC. The only difference is that Thunderbird will have generated a different xxxxxxxx.default folder name in the Profiles folder. Just copy the Thunderbird backup file to the My Documents folder, or the folder of your choice, and apply the correct path and xxxxxxxx.default folder name to the profiles.ini file and you should be set to go.


I just rebuilt a PC and reinstalled Windows XP. I installed the latest version of Thunderbird and set up the profiles.ini file to point to the copy of the old files from the previous installation of Thunderbird 1.5. I used the method detailed above with no problems. That should confirm that the file structures are the same between the older version of Thunderbird and the newer version.

Mozilla Thunderbird


  1. Bob Koure says

    With TB ver 2, at least, not only can you use either forward slashes or backslashes, but it understands “..\” – so you could leave “isrelative” set to one and set your path string to ..\..\my documents\thunderbird-profile — or whatever…

  2. Mani says

    Thanks a lot for posting this detailed set of directions…exactly what I needed to move my folders. I think keeping them along with other files that are backed up is critical….THanks again for taking the time to help.

  3. Mani says

    Tks for taking the trouble to write up such really detailed directions.
    I tried this but for some reason, Thunderbird did not recognize the move and created a brand new profile – as if I was starting from scratch.
    Found the following instructions on the Mozilla Thunderbird site and this worked like a charm:
    For accounts using the Global Inbox (Local Folders)

    1. Exit Thunderbird if it is running. Create a folder in the new location where you would like to store your mail.

    2. Go to your existing profile folder and copy your mail files over to the new location. By default accounts using the Global Inbox have their messages stored in Local Folders, which is located in the “Mail” folder in your profile folder. Copy the entire contents of “Local Folders”, including all subfolders, over to the new location.

    3. Start Thunderbird and go to “Tools -> Account Settings”, and then click on “Local Folders” in the left pane (you may need to scroll down to see it). Where it says “Local directory”, click on the “Browse…” button to select the folder you created in step 1 and click the “OK” button. Verify that the “Local directory” field shows the correct path to the new storage location of your mail.

    You will need to restart Thunderbird to see the changes. Once you’re certain that Thunderbird recognizes the new location of your mail, you can go back and delete the mail files from your profile folder.

  4. Swapnil says

    Thanks for the Instructions.

    I have system with dual boot Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP

    I was able to move my default profile folder as my C drive was full.
    My mail folder size > 2GB. I copied it to D drive.

    Also I modified the profile.ini in my linux system at ~/.mozilla-thunderbird/
    and modified the path to D drive( fat32 partition)

    Now i have a common mailbox b/w linux and windows.

  5. dave says

    I played around with Thunderbird portable addition but was unable to get the data to save to another folder — any ideas? Ideally I would like to save it to a folder with an on-the-fly-encryption virtual drive for security if my thumbdrive was stolen or lost.

  6. TE says

    The portable version is pretty limited. I use it on Geek Squad and Cruzer USB drives, but I always password protect the drive. I do not know how secure the Cruzer drives really are, but they claim that the only way to get past the password is to reset it, which wipes the drive.

    I have not tried anything beyond that for the portable version. Perhaps someone else reading this can add to it.

  7. Norman Guinasso says

    I moved my Thunderbird file to another location per your instructions. Thunderbird works file now but takes about 15 seconds to start up. Is it looking for something it cannot find?

  8. Doogie says


    I have moved file locations with Thunderbird dozens of times and find that is it isn’t right it just doesn’t work. Make sure that you have covered all of the steps correctly.

    If you are trying to access your files across a network, then the network is probably the issue. Make sure that your paths are correct.

  9. Dave says

    As far as the portable version goes, I was able to get my Ubuntu linux to read and write the portable database. This way I can use the same database on my dual boot laptop natively for both oses.

  10. Deepak says

    Tried the first method of changing the isRelative=0 (after MozBackup failed to backup and restore) and redirecting to the old location and it worked like a charm.

    Thanks Guys.

  11. mc says

    I followed your instructions. I got the whole tree in the Tunderbird as it used to be. All folders are there with proper names etc, however, they are all empty. How can I reach the mails that are in the folders?

  12. Doogie says

    Hi mc

    If the Thunderbird folders are empty, but you know you have messages in the files, then there is a problem with your path to the Thunderbird files. It will work if you get the path correct.

    1. Make sure the entire path is correct. Every character and space must be correct.

    2. If you changed IsRelative to 0 (which means you are using an absolute path) make sure that you start with the drive designation (c: in the example above) and change the slashes to backslashes. Also, the path needs to be on one line.

    3. Make sure that the randomly generated code for the xxxxxxx.default folder under the Profiles folder matches the code that Thunderbird generated for your PC. If you do a new Thunderbird installation, a new code will be generated. You cannot use the code in TE’s example above. Each new Thunderbird installation generates a new gode.

    4. Make sure that you make the changes to the profiles.ini file in the default location for the Thunderbird files under the Application Data folder. You do NOT make any changes to the profiles.ini file in the new Thunderbird file location. Thunderbird reads the default profiles.ini file to find the path to the other Thunderbird files.

    If you use Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer) to view the contents of the xxxxxxx.default folder on your PC, the correct path should display in the address window. You can just cut-and-paste the entire path into the profiles.ini file. If the full path is not displaying in the address window, then open Folder Options in Explorer, select the View tab and make sure that “Display the full path in the address bar” is checked.

    I just did a new installation of Thunderbird yesterday and ran into the same issue. There was one character that was not correct somewhere in the path. When I used the cut-and-paste method, it corrected the problem and all the messages and Add-ons I moved from my old PC were available.

  13. Raymond says

    Thanks for the clear instructions, this way I won’t have to restore all my mail folders next time I reinstall XP, I just need to restore a backup of the updated profiles.ini I put on a different partition (together with all the contents of the Profiles folder).

  14. Randal says

    Okay, I needed to add on item for mine to work, for whatever reason, which I am not going to bother trying to figure out at the moment.

    First, thanks mucho for the detailed and accurate solution. In my case, it became an emergency because Thunderbird allowed me to change the location before learning any of this stuff. Afterward, NO MAIL to be found.

    Nor had I written down the default location for my saved mail before changing to My Documents, which left me no way to put it back.

    Anyway, my fix needed to add two folders to yours. So…

    Path=c:\Documents and Settings\Craig\My Documents\
    Thunderbird\Profiles\xhbhq33l.default\Mail\Local Folders

    Note the addition of \Mail\Local Folders

    So, half an hour after enter pre-panic mode, after restoring my computer to yesterday in a futile attempt to resolve the crisis, after searching and once again being so grateful for the internet, then finding your explanation following a useless link to Thunderbird, I am now done. Event ends (from China Syndrome).


  15. Colin says

    I tried all the above – it keeps prompting me for new email adresses and does not appear to be recognizing the path. One problem was that I deleted the profiles -(after copying my entire folder to a new place). Any suggestions

  16. Doogie says

    Hi Colin

    If Thunderbird is not finding the e-mail folders in the new location, there is a problem with the path.

    Make sure that every character in the path is correct, including any spaces and upper and lower case characters. Either a path is correct or it is not. The path on each PC and Thunderbird installation is going to be different. A single incorrect character invalidates the path.

    Make sure that the path is on one line. In the example above it is wrapped.

    Make sure that the hash code that Thunderbird creates is correct (xxxxxxxx.default). The hash code for each Thunderbird installation is different.

  17. Baaab says

    Anybody ever try setting up an install of FFox or TBird to create a profile directory in a location other than Mozilla’s %Profile%\AppData\…\”random”.default? I’d like to customize an installation for use at our University, where first time a user signs onto a new system, and launches FFox (but TBird operates the same, basically), the application knows to look at the user’s Home Directory on the network. If they have a profile, great. If not, the app creates one ON THE NETWORK, and subsequent launches at that workstation or others LOOKS TO THE NETWORK…

    Not a lot of support at Mozilla for this tweaked configuration…

    Thanks in advance!

  18. Miguel Bello says

    Hi! I saw folder tree but without messages. I tried to solved it moving path, etc. Finally it was a problem of permissions on Windows XP, i’ve made my backup with linux tar an when untar all my profile folders had “Just read” permission. I changed it and i was resolved. Thanks!!

  19. lesizz says

    Anyone trying Mani’s procedure, note that in step 3 the file path you specify in TBird needs to point INSIDE the “Local Folders” folder you copied to your new location, otherwise TBird will not see all your old mail files.

  20. Ahsan says

    Thanks, your idea is realy great working, I have been searching the information for long time.

  21. Mark says

    I changed location few months agoo and I am having big problem, I have 9 gb on C: and on D:9 gb profile too, when I remove profile from c: it thunderbird cant finf files and wanna add new accounts.
    When i remove profile from d: same thing happens?

    I trie to merge c and d folders and use that path but I am missing some files, for about 7 months of mails?

    How I can manage and fix that? Please help me

  22. Doogie says

    Hi Mark

    You did not change the location correctly. Thunderbird only wants to start new accounts when it cannot find any accounts. It then wants to set up accounts in the default location.

    It looks like you had Thunderbird pointed to the data on drive C, but then you deleted the data on drive C. The same thing with drive D. You can only point Thunderbird to one location at a time.

    If you lost files, you will not be able to recover them unless you have a backup. The whole point with changing the location is to make it easier to do backups.