Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Importing Email from Evolution to Thunderbird

Posted: Feb 03, 2009 11:02;
Last Modified: Feb 03, 2009 11:02


Introduction, or the importance of academic freedom in questions of email

Our university uses Exchange for reasons known only unto itself. In addition to ruling out anybody using open source operating systems, it also seems to rule out anybody who wants to use something other than outlook on their windows boxes.

I’ve been using Evolution for a while because it syncs with Exchange to a certain extent. But to be honest it has proved more trouble than it is worth. Certainly when Evolution is synching with Exchange it is terribly slow. And the calendar and addressbook functions are really only partially effective. I can synch the two in one direction, but seem to need to use Outlook on a Windows computer to delete recurring appointments. One of the techies at the U of L, ironico voce, told me that this requirement was because they wanted to ensure that everybody enjoyed the full Microsoft experience.

Fortunately, as a faculty member, I am licensed to be difficult. So I decided to chuck the whole thing and go with Thunderbird. I use gmail’s smtp server to forward my outbound mail, and sync to the standard smtp protocol they still let the students use here. I miss out on the “full Microsoft Experience” but my email works.

The Problem

This does raise the issue of how to get my email archive (50k+) out of evolution and in to thunderbird.

The Solution

Fortunately the solution is quite simple: there is an add on that allows you to do it. The only thing you need to do (other than installing the add on in Thunderbird) is copy the Evolution directories you want for your local folders in Thunderbird into the right place in the mozilla directory. There are sites on the internet that explain how to do it, but I found them to be somewhat confusing and sometimes to contain errors. So here’s what I did. I believe there is no reason why this should not allow you to import mbox files into Thunderbird on any operating system, including Windows and Mac.

1) Download the importing tool:

The tool you need is called ImportExportTools (formerly mboxImport). A page describing it (in English), with a link to the .xpi file you need to download at the very bottom, is here:

Save the file to some convenient place. You’ll import it to Thunderbird later.

2) Install the add-on

  1. Start up Thunderbird (in Ubuntu: Applications>Internet>Thunderbird)
  2. From the menu bar inside Thunderbird, select Tools>Addons>Install
  3. Browse to the place you saved the .xpi file in the previous step, and click it to install it
  4. Close Thunderbird.

3) Copy the mbox files from Evolution to Thunderbird’s local folder

  1. Navigate to the source of the files you want to copy. In Ubuntu with Evolution, this is probably /home/$USERNAME/.evolution/mail/local/ (where $USERNAME = your user name). If you are navigating there using a graphical file browser, you should first make sure that you are able to see “hidden” directories (in your file browser, View>Show Hidden Files)
  2. Copy (don’t drag and drop, but right click and select copy) the directories you want to import into Thunderbird to the correct directory in Thunderbird. On my system the correct location is /home/$USERNAME/.mozilla-thunderbird/<some random ID>.default/Mail/Local Folders. *You don’t need all the files in the original Evolution directory: Thunderbird rebuilds the indices and summaries, so just take the files that are not followed by an extension (i.e. choose archive not archive.cmeta).

4) Import the directories into Thunderbird

  1. Start Thunderbird up
  2. Select Tools>Import/Export in mbox/eml format>Import mbox folder
  3. In the following dialogue choose “Import one or more mbox files with their/its subdirectories”
  4. Click “OK” and you are done.
  5. When you click on the folder you have just imported into Thunderbird (it will appear under Local Folders in the left hand tree-structure window in Thunderbird) Thunderbird will build a new index of the messages.




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