Get yer mail from Thunderbird into GMail in Zero Steps

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I had been a long and loyal Thunderbird user for many years now. My problem with Thunderbird became:

  • POP mail scattered about many machines, so I had to make sure “leave mail on server” was always enabled, so I could get my mail from whatever machine I was at.
  • IMAP not an option, since the workplace had at 25MB mail quota. Sigh.
  • Thunderbird 3.x disabled two of my favourite add-on’s for Thunderbird 2.x (“Attachment Sizes” and “Tb Progress History Extension”), that 3.x still can’t do itself – this in itself is lame, but not the focus.
  • Thunderbird 3.x’s search blows total goat.

I actually have a lot of email accounts for work and crap. Since my little trip to the hospital last year, I started consolidating everything into Google’s GMail so that I could get all my mail in one spot, and be able to actually find things via search. Some accounts I’m able to forward from, and some accounts I still have to have GMail get via POP3, but it works.

My holdout is Thunderbird on my desktop at work, which still brings in mail via POP3 because of my years of mail built up in mbox’s on the hard drive.

Up until last week I’d been using Google Desktop Search to try and find things in Thunderbird’s mail, since 3.x’s new search blows goat and the 2.x style search is slow as hell. Much to my disdain I found out that somewhere along the way Thunderbird 3.x broke Google Desktop Search and I haven’t had any mail indexed since August. Uninstal/reinstall/reindex GDS to no avail. Turns out it’s just a lame-ass bug in GDS, which probably won’t get fixed anytime soon.

Windows Desktop Search 4.0 for XP doesn’t even bother to try to index Thunderbird. I understand that Search on Windows 7 will, but my computer at work is eight years old. We’re stuck on XP until the building burns down.

So I took the bold step of migrating back to Thunderbird 2.x, which the indexing reputedly still works for. It brought up again the spectre of “I wish I just had all that old mail in GMail”. I figured I would try again.

Previously I’d tried GMail Loader, which does work but was about the worst solution: it emails all your old mail to your GMail account. Hence, inbox full of ten-year-old mail in about five minutes. Fuck that noise.

I started trying to use Google’s Outlook Migration Assistant, which sounds nice but only works if you’re a Google Apps customer (not the regular GMail, but if you have a Google Apps for Domains account that you pay for). That also would have necessitated moving all my mail from Thunderbird into Outlook for the sole purpose of moving it back out again. Feh.

So, out of the blue I hit on a solution that’s easy, actually works, and doesn’t require any other software. It’s so easy I kicked myself and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before, stupid me:

  • In GMail, go to your account settings and enable IMAP. That means you can get your GMail via an IMAP client
  • In Thunderbird 2.x/3.x, add your GMail account (via IMAP, not via POP3) to your list of accounts. Once you’re setup, you’ll see all your GMail tags showing up as folders.
  • The easy part: drag your Thunderbird email folders into your GMail IMAP account. That’s it. Thunderbird moves it all in. It’ll show up with a GMail tag the same as the name of the folder in Thunderbird.
  • No, that’s it. That’s the last step. You’re done. All your old mail from Thunderbird in GMail, no fuss. Just a lot of waiting as it copies across the intarweb.

Since it uses only Thunderbird itself, this should work on any system Thunderbird works on (Windows, OSX, Linux, Plan 9).

Now the Thunderbird on the desktop is only around for historical legacy purposes for when I get fired and they want all my old mail.