Configuring Thunderbird for offline Gmail

By | February 14, 2016

Are you looking for getting your personal Gmail available for offline reading or if you have your corporate mail moved to Gmail and you want a robust and good client for offline usage?  Then read on.

Why should I use E Mail Client

There are many benefits. Of course I am specifically talking about Gmail here.

  • First and most important is that it gives you offline access to mails. this is particularly  important when you have no guarantee that you will always have the internet access.
  • Many people are not comfortable to the way the conversation view in Gmail works, it is more confusing than helping. For example when I am replying to mail I would expect to see the last mail on that topic, there is a way to see that by clicking the 3 Dots in your new mail box but I don’t find that to be intuitive. They should have provided a way to move the new mail box at top instead of bottom.
  • Gmail is great, no doubt about that but there are some peculiar issues, and are are more obvious if you have habit of clients like outlook. One very important drawback is that you can not attach old mail to new mail (.eml file). This is only possible with clients like Thunderbird / Outlook.
  • Gmail has no way to sort on columns like From, Received Date, Subject etc.
  • You can filter on From / Date etc as a work around for above mentioned issue but with maximum 100 mails visible on one page even a search does not fit on one page. In desktop email client you can scroll through hundreds of mail after sorting.
  • When you have a long mail trail , Gmail actually removes the list of recipients of the previous sender. It simply converts it to
    On Mon, Feb 1, 2016 at 11:53 PM, Sanjeev Sapre  <> wrote
    so if I have removed someone from original mail trail then my  new recipients will not come to know that easily.  This is more complicated when everyone is replying from browser.
  • Lastly when I reply to mail , somehow Gmail inserts the signature at the end.  which ideally should have been at the end of my new mail / reply content.

There might be some work-around to some of these problems but I think having a client offline is definitely better than those work-around.

There are few clients available out there, but I found Thunderbird better as it is a perfect balance between features, customization and availability (free).

It is open source and cross-platform. Apart from Email it can be also used as client for chat and  news. Finally it is from Mozilla Foundation, people who gave us Firefox browser.

I will walk you through the steps to configure it and also how to customize it so that you almost get outlook like experience.


Step 1 – Enable IMAP on the Google Server

You will access your GMail using IMAP and not POP as it is technically better.  You can search for how IMAP is better than POP etc if you are keen to know.

A quick note, you may want to try out outlook if it is available but in my short research I gathered that ThunderBird provides more offline storing capabilities than outlook. so I am focusing on Thunderbird (TB)

So lets get started with enabling IMAP access to your GMail account.

Go to Gmail -> Settings -> Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. Click on Enable IMAP.

When you click on Enable, some additional options will become visible. You don’t need to change anything  there,  the defaults are good.

chrome 2/3/2016 , 12:44:32 PM Settings - - Gmail - Google Chrome

Step 2 – Allowing Less Secure Apps

Read this first.
Allowing less secure apps to access your account

Then go here and Turn on the Access to less secure apps.
Less secure apps



Step 3 – Download and Install Thunderbird.

Download Thunderbird

Installation is straight forward and so I am not adding any screenshots here.

Step 4 – Configure your account in Thunderbird.

Tools -> Account Settings -> Add Account
Add name / email address, password and click on continue

thunderbird 2/1/2016 , 11:23:09 AM Mail Account Setup

That will bring up the IMAP configuration box, you can accept the default settings for IMAP if it is personal Gmail account.  If you are using Gmail hosted corporate mail box then you may have different ports. Please get those settings from your admin and change to appropriate settings here.

At this moment your Thunderbird is ready to use as a Email client.


Step 5 – Google Sync and “All Mail” folder.

TB will keep on synchronizing all the folders ( GMail’s labels are folders in TB) continuously with your GMail.  That is fine and you want that to happen.

However there is one special folder called “All Mail” in google which you should disable for sync.  If you are interested in why we should do that then search on google for “google all mail folder and client IMAP issues”.

For that , in your folders list right click “All Mail” Folder.

thunderbird 2/3/2016 , 2:23:51 PM Sent Mail - Mozilla Thunderbird

and deselect the check box in the synchronization tab for this folder (only)


thunderbird 2/3/2016 , 2:30:46 PM Folder Properties

Step 6 – Downloading Necessary Add-ons

In order to make Thunderbird appear and behave more or less  like outlook , you need to install some add-ins. Don’t worry it is not complicated as it might seem.

Go to Tools -Add-Ons -> Click on the button with label “Get Add ons” on the left hand side. OR simply use the “Search all Add-ons” box at the top.

Download and install following Add-ons

  • Lightning – This might already be there. This is the calendar for Thunderbird.. (Yes you guessed right, calendar is add-on here) There is no set up required for this. 
  • Provider for Google Calendar – This is the middleman between your Google calendar and lightning, that is it provides connectivity with google calendar.
  • SmartTemplate4
  • ReFwdFormatter


Step 7 – Setting up Calendar

Go to the calendar (use the calendar icon on the mail box toolbar)

In the left pane , right click and click New calendar

A box like image below comes up, This is from the provider add-on. Select the “On the Network” option and  click on next.

thunderbird2/10/2016 , 11:35:04 PMCreate New Calendar

As we are doing google set up, select Google Calendar and click next.

thunderbird 2/10/2016 , 11:35:18 PM Create New Calendar

Enter your Google Account Email  ID that you are trying to set up and click Next.

thunderbird2/10/2016 , 11:36:16 PMCreate New Calendar

Provide authentication details and click next. The provider Add-on will bring up the available calendars attached to your account, select the ones that you want to download.  That’s it.  If needed click on the Synchronize button at the top.

Step 8 – Setting up Well formatted Reply/Forward (like Outlook)

By default Thunderbird formats the Reply and Forward like GMail. See Example..

On Mon, Feb 1, 2016 at 11:53 PM, Sanjeev Sapre  <> wrote

In order to make it reply like outlook format you need 2 plugins. In Step 4 you have already downloaded them, now lets configure them.

Setting up ReFwdFormatter is straight forward. This plug in essentially removes the left side lines or indentation that Thunderbird adds in replies messages. Click on options of this plug in to get the following dialog box. Tick all the options unless you want to keep those lines.


thunderbird 2/11/2016 , 9:53:26 AM ReFwdFormatter Preferences

That’s it. Click on Okay and you are done.

SmartTemplate4 is where your main formatting is going to happen.

This plug in uses HTML based formatting . When you click on options for this plug in following box will open up.

thunderbird 2/11/2016 , 9:55:33 AM SmartTemplate4 settings (en-US)

There are 3 tabs here and you can add your template here to format your new mail, reply and forwards. Also you can have different templates for different accounts.

The advanced button opens up the  HTML tags that you can use for formatting. In order to make the things simple I am going to give the sample templates for Reply and Forward that you can simply paste in those respective boxes.


Template for Reply

Note : Please replace the signature marked in red with your own. Also note that I have changed the color of the reply test to Blue, this is what Outlook typically does. If you don’t like that you can remove that line and the closing line for Font .

<font color=blue>
Mobile : xxxxxxxxxx
<b>From:</b> %from%
<b>Sent:</b> %X:=sent% %A%, %B% %d%, %Y% %l%:%M%%p(3)%
[[<b>To:</b> %to%]][[<br><b>Cc:</b> %cc%]]
<b>Subject:</b> %subject%

Template for Forward

<font color=blue>
Mobile : xxxxxxxxxx
<b>From:</b> %from%
<b>Sent:</b> %X:=sent% %A%, %B% %d%, %Y% %l%:%M%%p(3)%
[[<b>To:</b> %to%]][[<br><b>Cc:</b> %cc%]]
<b>Subject:</b> %subject%

Apart from template there are few more settings on Reply / forward template. Please use following image to set up accordingly.

thunderbird 2/11/2016 , 10:33:04 AM SmartTemplate4 settings (en-US)

Test your reply /forward is working as expected. You may want to tweak some of the settings. For those who want to explore more try the advanced box.


Some small but important notes.

  • Attaching files using Drag-N-Drop  – This is something not very intuitive at least I found it confusing. So thought of adding a quick note on that. The trick is to drag the attachment in the recipient ( To/ CC) list , when you do that  Thunderbird detects the dragged file and opens up the box for attaching that file.
  • In ThunderBird you can attach a mail as .EML file like in outlook
  •  Searching –  There are 2 search boxes one is local to the folder you are in, The other one is global search. It searches all folders across all accounts (if you have configured multiple Emails) The Global search presents the search in a separate pane with lot of filtering options.
  •  Getting the entire address book from your corporate address book is bit tricky. There are some plug ins available for that. But even if you don not configure the address book, as and when a new mail comes the Email IDs is automatically get added to the local address book and this could be sufficient in most cases.


Thank you for reading this post, I hope it was useful. Please send in your comments/ issues / suggestions if any so I can try to cover that.

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