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Thunderbird Shortcomings: Outlook Import Support

Posted: February 26th, 2005 | Author: | Filed under: Open Source | 46 Comments »

Don’t let the subject of this post fool you: Thunderbird can import emails and folder and all that from Outlook, but not neccesarily in the best way. I’m not sure how this works on the Macintosh, but at least one Windows, you can’t just point Thunderbird at a .pst file as I was hoping.

I’m in the process of migrating between two corporate boxes, and thought I’d take the opportunity to switch from Outlook to Thunderbird. I ended up trashing my profile and starting from scrach (it has a nice spring cleaning feel to it). I wanted to switch over to Thunderbird immediately, so I installed it and went searching for how to point it at my Outlook .pst.

It turns out that it’s not that simple. You can’t just point Thunderbird at a .pst and run. You need to have a copy of Outlook installed, as aparently Thunderbird relies on it for the import process. That approach is probably the easiest way to get the import done, but it would be really nice to remove Outlook as a requirement for importing old Outlook data. I would have prefered to not have to reinstall Outlook on this particular box and stuck with a Firefox + Thunderbird + OpenOffice environment.

This isn’t the end of the world, and definitely not a showstopper, but gosh darn it I’d like to be able to import my Outlook messages without requiring Outlook to be installed.

46 Comments on “Thunderbird Shortcomings: Outlook Import Support”

  1. 1 Decklin Foster said at 9:58 am on February 27th, 2005:

    *especially* when you’re setting up someone’s new PC from scratch and restoring their files from backup. (grumble.)

  2. 2 Dennis said at 5:32 am on March 9th, 2005:

    The real pain in the neck with Thunderbord is the difficulty to export mails to outlook (or export mails in general).
    Perhaps the developers are doing this deliberately to force you to stay with Thunderbird once you have switched

  3. 3 Allesholz said at 3:36 am on March 21st, 2005:

    Hard to say if the various import/export functions are limited deliberately. I doubt though any solution for exporting to oultook will come from the community as most threads out on the net will say (“who wants to go back to outlook”), not understanding that most people do work in some office which does use outlook.
    There was a way however going via netscape and then using the import function in outlook. But the lastest version of netscape is not supported.

  4. 4 Rohitdev said at 2:11 am on May 15th, 2005:

    Hey people chill,
    There is a way to export files form Moz to OE.
    Download the tool “mbx2eml” from http://home.arcor.de/luethje/prog/ & export all the mesasages from moz to *.eml format & simply drag & drop into OE.
    VOILA u have a working export process
    Bye n NjOy!!!

  5. 5 eyezberg said at 8:22 am on July 2nd, 2005:

    Rohitdev, thank you so much for that link, thanks Google for finding this page, and above all, thank you, Jürgen Lüthje for writting this!!

  6. 6 wind_season said at 10:33 am on August 22nd, 2005:

    It’s so great! Thank you, Rohitdev !

  7. 7 WarpKat said at 11:42 am on September 28th, 2005:

    You could always install Thunderbird on the machine with Outlook on it, import the files there, then simply copy the files over to the machine that just has Thunderbird on it. It’s an extra step, but it works.

  8. 8 crampy said at 2:25 am on November 24th, 2005:

    Man, try the opposite direction. 😉 This is so easy. Migrating mails from Thunderbird to Outlook is the real challenge. 😉


  9. 9 Marian Iordan said at 10:01 am on December 21st, 2005:

    I have Outlook installed but the PST files are not in the default directory; rather they are set-up on a different drive. I’m getting “Unable to find mail to import. Check to make sure the mail application is correctly installed on this machine”. I can drag-n-drop emails from outlook to folder/directory, or even applications, but not to Thunderbird. I’ll give a try to 1.5 Beta, if it does not work there, I’ll postpone or just use Eudora.

  10. 10 Andrew said at 2:50 pm on January 20th, 2006:

    Yeah, I heartily agree. I tried T-bird back in version 0.8, and never could get it to work right. I just tried again in version 1.5, hoping it’d be better. But I still can’t migrate settings and mail from Outlook, so I have to give up on the product again. Such a disappointment after my beloved Firefox!

  11. 11 Andyb66 said at 10:25 am on February 27th, 2006:

    If you experience problems trying to import an outlook pst using T’bird, try first importing into outlook express and then into T’bird.

  12. 12 pixelkitten said at 12:23 am on March 15th, 2006:

    how do I import a .pst file into outlook express if i don’t have outlook installed? that doesn’t seem to work either!

  13. 13 Eljay said at 11:42 am on March 21st, 2006:

    How do I import a PST file (from 1999) into Thunderbird, on OS X.

    I don’t have Outlook nor Outlook Express. They don’t seem to be available for OS X.

  14. 14 Bill R. said at 8:01 am on June 27th, 2006:

    Hey Team,

    An even bigger problem…you all keep talking about Thunderbird to OE but I need to go from Thunderbird to Outlook. Outlook and Outlook Express are different animals. Can anyone PLEASE help me. I loved using Thunderbird up until a few days ago. It started freezing up whenever I would try to print. Then it started getting my emails from 6 months ago every time that I would check for new mail. Strange, I know, but it is starting to cause problems with utilizing my emails…so I guess its back to a Microsoft product…any help is greatly appreciated.


  15. 15 Dave said at 9:48 am on June 28th, 2006:

    Bill, have a look at this page: http://www.broobles.com/imapsize/th2outlook.php

  16. 16 jomon varghese said at 4:24 am on July 27th, 2006:

    so here is an odd question.

    how can i migrate to netscape from thunderbird. i recently married thunderbird, divorcing netscape 7.2. as i am facing some problems with some e-mails, i have to check whether it is a problem in thunderbird or not. i am not uninstalling thunderbird. i have to transfer all the mailsettings from thunderbird to netscape. could you please help.



  17. 17 Jack S said at 12:05 am on September 21st, 2006:


    I am trying my best to move from OutLook to TBird. I do have the same issue with PST file. I have to keep OL when in office but also need TB when using VPN (OL too slow and disconnect multiple times) The TB is quick but can’t read my PST.

    Is there a common format which I can use? Or can export file may be sync that every night?


  18. 18 Jack S said at 12:06 am on September 21st, 2006:


    I am trying my best to move from OutLook to TBird. I do have the same issue with PST file. I have to keep OL when in office but also need TB when using VPN (OL too slow and disconnect multiple times) The TB is quick but can’t read my PST.

    Is there a common format which I can use? Or can export file may be sync that every night?


  19. 19 Jon Jenkins said at 5:28 am on December 27th, 2006:

    How to Move .pst files from Outlook to TB:

    1: Open **ALL** your .pst files in Outlook so they appear as folders
    2: Close Outlook in this state
    3: Open TB and import Outlook files into corresponding folders
    4: Download and install mbox import/export extension for TB
    5: Export TB folders => mbox folders
    6: Delete folders from TB, empty trash, compact folders
    7: Open Outlook and close the archive folders, close Outlook

    Now have all Outlook mails in mbox format which can be imported back into TB as required. Would be nice to be able to search them but you can’t have everything 🙂


  20. 20 protocol7 » Blog Archive » Email backup said at 6:27 pm on January 5th, 2007:

    […] So, I fired up the trusty Thunderbird and set GMail as my POP provider. 10 minutes later, all email in GMail was nicely backed up as mbox. Now, how about those .pst files? I googled, found some tips but none of those that looked attractive and efficient actually worked for me. Having Outlook Express around might have helped, but I don’t any longer. So, the obvious but boring choice of using IMAP to transfer all the emails was made. And, for the last couple of days my poor laptop has been humming away transferring email back and forth to the IMAP server I installed locally. More than half of the data has now been migrated and the result looks really good. Before the weekend is over I should hopefully own my data for good […]

  21. 21 marcan said at 12:29 pm on January 13th, 2007:

    Hi people,

    I know this blog post is kind of old by I stumped on it when trying to troubleshoot my problem of importing mail folders from Outlook to Thunderbird.

    I found what was causing the problem from another post:

    [quote=”franklin030107″]In order to import mail from Outlook 2003 (or Outlook Express), you need to have Outlook not only installed but also set as the ‘default mail client’.
    http://kb.mozillazine.org/Import_from_Outlook_Express – this also applies to MS Office Outlook though many users have found it smoother to import to Outlook Express first, then import from OE to Outlook.[/quote]

    Just my 0.02

    Cheers !

  22. 22 Antony Quinn said at 8:27 am on April 3rd, 2007:

    its all very well saying importing emails to outlook is easy – it is if you can install outlook. i had a power outage when archiving on outlook, and ever since then it no longer works on my computer (i’ve tried everything inc reg editors etc). This now means i can’t get my old emails onto thunderbird until they decide to start reading pst files independantly. Surely it can’t be that hard??

  23. 23 Dikran Seropian said at 9:52 am on April 3rd, 2007:

    there is a program called libpst that coverts outlook to mbox (thunderbird compatible) http://alioth.debian.org/projects/libpst

  24. 24 Chris said at 9:53 pm on May 2nd, 2007:

    im still not really clear so i was wondering if you can import Microsoft Office Outlook stuff (contacts, calander and other thing like that) to thunderbird thatks

  25. 25 Rogerio Neiva (Roger) said at 9:40 am on May 20th, 2007:

    I opened by mistake OE and, due to the fact that it uses different MAPI from Outlook, it fucked up my Outlook. I’ve disinstalled Outlook, Office, re-installed, etc. Nothing seems to work. I want to point out that these are 2 programs from the same company for doing more or less the same.

    Well, as I cannot open Outlook, I cannot import data to OE or TB. Does anyone have a solution, meaning, importing ti TB directly from the PST file. From what I’ve read in this thread I do not have a lot of hope but who knows.

  26. 26 calander said at 6:13 am on June 9th, 2007:


    Please visit my site, …Alice Deejay…

  27. 27 James said at 12:38 am on June 10th, 2007:

    To import outlook PST on Windows to Thunderbird on Linux, try the following.

    Install Mozilla on the Windows PC where the .pst file resides.

    Use Mozilla to import the .PST file. Mozilla will create a directory structure somewhere like:
    C:\Documents and Settings\fred\Application Data\Mozilla\Profiles\default\hk2l1z6b.slt\Mail\Local Folders\Outlook Mail0.sbd

    Install Thunderbird on Linux box. Create a folder named outlook_import in Thunderbird. Create another folder named dummy under outlook_import. This is needed because of the way folders and sub-folders are recognised by Thunderbird. You should now have a folder on Linux named something like the following.
    /root/.thunderbird/4jkb6o2f.default/Mail/Local Folders/outlook_import.sbd

    Then copy the sub-folders from Windowe under Mail\Local Folders\Outlook Mail0.sbd to Linux to Mail/Local Folders/outlook_import.sbd.

    Stop and start Thunderbird. You should now be able to read your old .PST mail in Thunderbird.

    Tell everyone else who is having this problem. There seem to be many comments out there.

  28. 28 Mike said at 8:03 am on June 29th, 2007:

    Hi folks! Is there a way to import all the other stuff besides the mailboxes? I have contacts and the calendar there, and I can’t open my outlook, somehow it stopped working 🙁
    Also, I can’t find in TB a way to even import mbox files… so frustrating. Thanks!

  29. 29 outlook express said at 11:33 am on July 21st, 2007:

    outlook express…

  30. 30 Metalcross said at 11:37 pm on September 11th, 2007:

    if you are looking for this path Thunderbird to OE/Outlook, here’s the bridge http://www.broobles.com/imapsize/th2outlook.php

  31. 31 Mike said at 11:45 am on January 17th, 2008:

    Hi folks,
    any way to transfer outlook contacts on office pc to a personal pc using Thunderbird? I went looking for a way to export outlooks contacts to a folder that I can just email to the other pc but can’t find.

    Mike V

  32. 32 mips said at 7:04 am on February 18th, 2008:

    There is a plugin available for Thunderbird to import .PST files.


  33. 33 IceD'Bear said at 2:50 am on February 27th, 2008:

    Thanks mips, you saved my day!

  34. 34 Ross Padwick said at 7:50 pm on April 3rd, 2008:

    Mozilla Thunderbird can be used to extract email from a damaged pst file using the import feature.

    Particularily useful if you take a copy of the damaged pst file during the investigation and just want to check you have some accessible email.

    Then look at the dates to see if the date range you need for the clints data recovery are available.

    Other wise send in to your nearest foensic data recovery partner to get the drive completely recovered.

    If there is an exchange mailbox and it is above 2gb you might be experiencing problems due to the limitations or settings of the server operating system.

    Either way best to look for help from a company like Technology Support UK (www.tsuk.eu) if you hae an Exchange server failure.

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  37. 37 Data Recovery Tech said at 8:14 am on June 9th, 2009:

    You can use this program to convert thunderbird mail (mbox) to Outlook pst. It is called Aid4Mail. Do a google search.

  38. 38 Graham said at 7:29 pm on February 27th, 2010:

    What gets me is the time it all takes. The import wizard has now been running for 18 hours and still hasn’t finished. That’s the second time too – as I aborted the first after 18 hours becuase I thought something must be wrong. Meanwhile, I am having to continue using Outlook in order to get new emails.

    Cheers, Graham.

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