Moving Thunderbird across distros

My normal practice is to use Thunderbird in one distro only, so all my email folders are in one place. I used Debian.
Unfortunately, recently my Debian became no longer usable. Fortunately the /home partition was separate so I still have the mail folder , which is called .thunderbird
I tries various ‘recipes’ from the web to import the old mail folder into my new Thunderbird, which is in MX. They all failed. Messages about not compatable and old versions.
I still have Devuan, which will boot in VGA mode, and it has the same version of Thunderbird as Debian had. So I renamed the .thunderbird directory in Devuan, and copied the Debian .thunderbird directory into its place. That worked. I can access my old email folders.

I am not fond of the idea that the only way I could access mail files was via Thunderbird, so I went looking . In the directory
:~/.thunderbird/295ucmda.default-default/Mail/Local Folders
there are files

 AustPost         ImportedMail         People       Telstra       Trash.msf
 AustPost.msf     ImportedMail.msf     People.msf   Telstra.msf  'Unsent Messages'
 filterlog.html   msgFilterRules.dat   People.sbd   Trash        'Unsent Messages.msf'

and those .msf files are text files - ie you can read them, and buried in a whole lot of meaningless guff, you can find the text of the mail message.
So if Thunderbird totally let me down, I could still access old mail , albeit with some effort.

Does anyone know a better way of archiving old mail folders? I dont want to ‘carry’ them forever in my current mailer, I will start afresh, but I need access to old mail occasionally. Keeping a whole distro like Devuan , just to access old mail, seem a trifle excessive.

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My email server uses imap protocol, not pop. All the emails I have saved exist on the server, not in any distro. I’m gradually moving the important things to protonmail, which is a good bit more secure. All part of my process of storing stuff in the cloud and not on my computer.

I use IMAP, but I have it set so that if I move an email to a local folder it is deleted from the server. Maybe I need to rethink that.

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I use thunderbird and save a copy about 1 a week of the .thunderbird folder to an exeternal usb stick.
That way I always have a backup copy, even though my Mail servers are IMAP. May be over kill but gives me peace of mine. I’m slowly putting everything to proton mail also.


Yes, a very active directory like .thunderbird should be backed up more frequently than perhaps the rest of the system.
I might set up an rsync to do just that. A usb stick is a good idea, although I could use my normal backup disk.

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That says you tried to use a profile dir with an older version of Thunderbird.
Check the version of TB you used in Debian, and look for a way to install that version into MX. I’m using Evolution, but at the moment I could use TB 102 on my Debian. Looking at MX21 packages Packages for MX-21 I see there’s TB 78.
Way behind Debian…
If you can upgrade Thunderbird in MX to the same version, you’ll be able to use just the very same profile directory directly.

Some hint:

“I run TB 102 from the mozilla tarball unpacked into my $HOME/bin folder and no issues. That can be a good alternative until TB 102 gets packaged for MX.”

Probably I’d go this way too.

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OK, I understand.
I managed to get a compatable version of Thunderbird in Devuan, but not in MX.
It might be easier to try Void

Down the track, what happens if I want to access something in an old .thunderbird directory?
Am I reduced to scanning the mail files with a text editor?

If you don’t want to download the newer thunderbird, extract and use it, there’s something you can try.
First back-up the .thunderbird directory as a whole, just to be sure.
Then navigate to your profile folder, something like
(Of course the exact name will be different for you).
Delete there the compatiblity.ini file.
After that start Thunderbird, but add the --allow-downgrade parameter.
Say, start a terminal, and run
thunderbird --allow-downgrade
Hope the best. After the downgrade finished, possibly you will loose stored passwords. Other than that everything should be fine.
If it really messes up, you’ll have the backup…
I don’t think there’s a way to use the same profile directory for multiple versions.

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I will do the experiment. Nothing to lose as long as there is a backup.
My general feeling is that thunderbird does not deal with long term storage issues very well.
It needs an archive database approach.