Goodbye Outlook: Syncing Thunderbird and Gmail

Mikey 6 comments
Goodbye Outlook: Syncing Thunderbird and Gmail

Given my boisterous attitude towards all things open source, particularly Mozillas Firefox web browser, you might be surprised to learn that I have always shown resistance towards the 'other' Mozilla product, namely Thunderbird.

My resistance was never unwarranted though. You see I was an Outlook devotee for many years, mainly because I used it in a bushiness environment at work, so I naturally used it at home without giving it much thought. But as my faith and confidence in open source products grew, thanks to Firefox being so damned terrific, I started to think about how I might be able to replace Outlook with something a bit more, um... free and less bloated.

So my first foray into Thunderbird last year didn't afford it the best chance, as I had started thinking going totally web based - with Gmail. Gmail is great, but as I have mentioned on Rusty Lime before I think the interface leaves a lot to be desired and the usability is dreadful. But I had to give up those 'luxuries' for the benefit of having my email accessible anywhere any time.

I had missed certain things though, like being able to send a fancy HTML newsletter to our subscribers, offline access, and the speed of a desktop client.

But now Gmail and Thunderbird can be used together - in seamless harmony - in sync. I've been using them in this way for a few weeks now and I think it's safe to say I am now a Thunderbird evangelist.

Using Gmail's IMAP configuration, you can sync your Gmail with your local Thunderbird client. This is cool because if I send an email from my Gmail account from another location, the message will also appear in my sent items in Thunderbird when I get home. Likewise doing anything within Thunderbird will be evident when I log into my Gmail account elsewhere. Totally in sync.

Setting up Thunderbird to sync with Gmail is easy. The following steps might look scary but it only takes a few minutes.

  • Login to Gmail and hit Settings
  • Go to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP section
  • Select the Enable IMAP button
  • Hit the Save Settings button
  • Open Thunderbird and select Tools > Account Settings
  • Click Add Account
  • Select the Email account radio button and click Next. The Identity screen appears
  • Enter your full name in the Your Name field. Enter your full Google Mail email address ( in the Email Address field and click Next
  • Select IMAP as the type of incoming server you are using. Enter in the Incoming Server field
  • Set the Outgoing Server to and click Next
  • Enter your Google Mail username (including in the Incoming Username and Outgoing Username fields and click Next
  • Enter a name for your email account in the Account Name field and click Next
  • Verify your account information in the dialogue box and click Finish
  • Select Server Settings from the folder list below your new account
  • Update the Port value to 993
  • In the Security Settings section, select SSL from the Use secure connection options
  • Select Check for messages at startup and Automatically download new messages
  • Click Outgoing Server (SMTP) in the folder list
  • Select the (Default) entry from the list and click Edit. The SMTP Server page appears
  • Enter as the Server Name and set the Port to 587
  • Select Username and password and enter your Google Mail username (including in the Username field
  • Select TLS from the Use secure connection radio buttons and click OK
  • Click OK to save your changes and exit the Account Settings dialogue

Now you're done. The problem here though is that Thunderbird is essentially grabbing your email from Google's server every time you click on a message. There is a clear delay from the time you click until the time the email is served.

To combat this you need to setup Thunderbird for off-line access. Here's how.

  • Go to File > Offline > Offline Settings
  • Select the Make the messages available in my inbox available when I am working offline tick box
  • Hit the Select folders for offline use button
  • Check the boxes next to the folders you want to make available offline and hit OK, and OK again
  • Go to File > Offline > Download/Synchronise now

And now the waiting begins. Depending on the amount of email you have, this could take a long time. Watch the progress in the lower left and you will see what I mean. But it's worth the wait.

In my next tutorial I will show you some of the cool stuff you can do in Thunderbird that might put you a step closer to using it full time.

Happy Thunderbirding.

Not a Member!


Sunday 9th November 2008 | 10:18 PM

I've been doing this a while and it's great. Slow, but great.

The Movie Whore

The Movie Whore

Tuesday 11th November 2008 | 03:20 AM
95 total kudos

I have been using Thunderbird for about 6 months now and I love it. I have 5 different email accounts set up that I access all in spot. I can even send from any of the accounts with a simple pick and click. I am not overly happy with the calender but not dissatisfied enough to make me use something else. Over all I love using it. The best part. It is free.

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Tuesday 11th November 2008 | 09:54 AM

It’s amazing how many people will use another product even when it is proven that it is no match for the originally used product.
It's free? Winmail comes with the OS package so saying the new product is free isn't quite so - you still had to buy the OS, well most of us did anyway.
It’s bloated? Who cares? I spent good money on a quick PC, hard drives and RAM so why not utilize the benefits that I paid for?
If something is big in bytes then it is due to the ongoing process of improvements. If people want more then you have to build on what you have thus increasing the amount of code. It’s very well to say "well the other products are not as big", and the reason is they have probably built the code from scratched which is far easier then redesigning with existing code that is interweaved with other needed code.
Using two packages to do the same as one and with less functionality makes no sense to me and as far as memory and bloat is concerned - 2 is more then 1.



Tuesday 11th November 2008 | 11:11 AM
55 total kudos | 2 for this comment response to this comment by Bob. Proven to be no match? I would like to see the source on that one.

The author was obviously offering an alternative. Outlook isn't free remember and for some people Outlook Express just doesn't cut it. And syncing with gmail is a good idea. Can you access your Outlook email when you're away from your computer? No you can't unless you have an expensive Exchange system put in place. But if you do that you're then committed to using Internet Explorer.

Mikey - love what you have done with the place.

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Tuesday 21st September 2010 | 02:19 AM
No total kudos

Great tutorial

In case what you are looking for is a way to sync your iPhone with Thunderbird Contacts and Calendars, I found that one

which was very helpful

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Sunday 17th April 2011 | 03:57 AM

When I sorted my emails in Thunderbird, will it be sorted too in my gmail account?
If so, do I need to change any setting?

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