Disable Thunderbird 3 Bloat!

By | 2010/01/15

I have been using Thunderbird 3 since its final release, and overall I have enjoyed it. I never quite liked version 2, but version 3 appeals to me a bit more. I’ve got multiple accounts configured, and it has been working very well. The one issue that I recently discovered is the HUGE amount of disk-space that it can take up. In this post I’ll outline how to regain that lost space.

Thunderbird 3

If you have been using Thunderbird 3, take a look at how much space the .thunderbird folder is using. Open a terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal), and run the command:

cd .thunderbird/
du -sh

On my machine Thunderbird was using 923M of disk space! I was very surprised to find that amount–I didn’t even think I had that much email! This got me curious, because Thunderbird 2 never used nearly this much disk space! I made my way to Google to do some digging, and this is what I found out.

Thunderbird Profile

Your .thunderbird profile directory contains all of your settings, as well as your ImapMail headers and other information. If using the default Thunderbird settings, all email will also be synchronized to your local computer. This means that your email, including attachments, will be stored within this directory (ie; .thunderbird/*.profile/ImapMail/). I have this option turned off, and I’ll outline how to do so below.

I bring up the topic of the profile directory simply so that you are aware of the files contained there. Some of these files are those that you’ll end up deleting to remove some of the bloat that can come along with Thunderbird 3 settings. Generally, the files that take up the most space are:

  • /ImapMail/
  • global-messages-db.sqlite

We’ll have a look at each of these below.

ImapMail – Mail Synch and Cache

Assuming you are using IMAP with your mail accounts, you will have an ImapMail folder, caching email and headers for your Imap accounts. If you take a look into this directory you’ll find sub-folders for each of your accounts. If you have “Message Synchronization” activated (which, I believe, is the default), you should have a local cache of all your mail in this folder.

If you’d prefer to disable this feature to regain disk space, you can do the following:

  1. Delete the contents of the ImapMail/mail.domain.tld/ folder (where mail.domain.tld is your mail server(s)).
  2. Disable “Message Synchronization” in Edit > Account Settings > Synchronization and Storage
  3. I would suggest leaving the remaining settings at their defaults. This post doesn’t cover them.

Global Search and Indexer

Once I deleted the previously synchronized mail from my ImapMail folder I still found that there was over 200M being used elsewhere. After some additional digging I found that the bulk of this was used by the global-messages-db.sqlite file. This file is used for the Global Search and Indexing features of Thunderbird 3. I did a little research and this sqlite database is used to index your messages, attachments, etc. The new additions in Thunderbird 3 allow you to search this database and quickly find files and messages.

I realized that I rarely use the search feature, so I disabled this setting and freed up a lot of additional space. I use Message Filters to sort my mail, so disabling Indexing and Searching doesn’t affect me. If you would like to disable Global Search and Indexer, and free up an additional 200M of disk-space, do the following:

  1. Delete the global-messages-db.sqlite file, and regain the disk-space.
  2. Uncheck “Enable Global Search and Indexer” in Edit > Preferences > Advanced > General

I would be interested in any additional feedback the readers have about improving Thunderbird 3. How to make the client more efficient or customizable.

6 thoughts on “Disable Thunderbird 3 Bloat!

  1. Oren

    Thanks! My filesystem thanks you !

  2. louis2again

    Great tips, thanks as an aside because it covers indexing. Any ideas on getting search engines (Beagle/Google Desktop Search) working with Thunderbird 3.04?

  3. brett

    Should point out that disabling indexing does not eliminate the search feature with Thunderbird, only the indexing feature.

  4. begtognen

    Thanks for this!

    A heads up: just changing the preference didn’t work, it kept changing back whenever I rebooted. Deleting the global-messages-db.sqlite file (which I found using the Locate command in the terminal) did the trick – it remembered my preference after that.

  5. ron

    This person – Paulo Cesar Breim – showed this solution for clearing out files.

    These files (instruction #3) are in documents and settings/username/Application Data/Thunderbird/yourpopserver.

    Clearing out folders in Mozilla Thunderbird

    1 – Create a folder called Temp (can be any name)
    2 – Move all messages from Inbox to Temp
    3 – Exit Thunderbird
    4 – Go to the folder and erase the 2 files INBOX and INBOX.MSF
    5 – Open thunderbird again
    6 – Move from Temp to Inbox
    7 – Erase Temp folder

    my 450m Thunderbird Folder is now less than 8m! I’m happy!

  6. Sindre


    My thunderbird was using 7.1gb of space!! My root partion almost got filled and well, we all know you don’t want to run into that problem.

    Mozilla should really adress this issue, or inform the user.

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