Lost Email and Contacts in Thunderbird

Since I helped my Father resolve this issue this weekend, and it seems like a pretty common occurrence, I thought I would share the solution.  It was very easy to fix in the end, but in my google searches while many people were asking about how to fix the issue, finding a solution was quite hard.

For those of you who don’t know, Thunderbird is the Mozilla equivalent of something similar to Microsoft Outlook Express, which is an email client.  It is essentially the firefox for email.  I particularly like it, and if you are currently using Outlook Express, give it a shot.  If you are using lots of features inside the real version of Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird is probably not for you.

The Symptom

You open Thunderbird, most likely after an update, and all your settings, contacts, and email is gone.

If you use Thunderbird, but this has not happened to you, skip down to the end under Voila!

The Solution

Most likely, what has happened is, Thunderbird went ahead and created a new default profile for you, ignoring the original one, setting you back to the defaults.  Not to worry though, there is a solution.

Step 1

First, see if you have any other profiles on the system.  If you are the only user of Thunderbird, and the computer most likely you will not.

  1. Click: Start -> Run
  2. Type: thunderbird.exe -P
  3. Click “Ok”

You will be presented with a window that looks like this:

Profile Manager
Profile Manager

If all you see in the above window is one profile, and it is named “default”, then this solution will help you.S Simply click exit and move onto the next step.  If you see multiple profiles, try loading each one to see if any of them contain your information.

Step 2


  1. Click: Start -> Run
  2. Type: %APPDATA%
  3. Click: “Ok”

A Windows Explorer (NOT Internet Explorer), window should pop up.  At this point, find a folder called “Thunderbird” and double-click it.  Then, find a folder called “Profiles” and double click that also.

Inside you should see at least one, two if this how-to will solve your problem, folder.  The folder names will be something similar to “g4g1da13.default”, the characters before “.default” will be random.

If you see two folders with “.default” at the end, right click on each one and select “Properties”.  Make a note of the size of each one.  One of the folders there will be significantly larger than the other.  Write the name of this folder down.

Close Windows Explorer.

Step 3

Follow the steps in Step 1 again to open the profile manager, this time, we are going to create a new profile.  Click “Create Profile” and follow the wizard.  When prompted to name the profile, you can name it anything you want, just don’t call it default.  I will name mine “Bryan”.

Create a new profile.
Create a new profile.

In this window, the most important step occurs.  Click on “Choose Folder” as seen in the window above, and browse to the folder we wrote down earlier.  If the dialogue does not put you in the right place you might need to browse to it.

It should be located in: “C:\Documents and Settings\YOU\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\”

Select the folder name you wrote down earlier, click “Ok”, and finish the wizard.

Optional: Select the old default profile, and delete it.

In the profile manager, you should be able to select the profile we just created, and click “Start Thunderbird”.

There is a chance you will get an error saying “The profile is in use, unable to start Thunderbird”, or something very similar.  If you get this message, simply reboot your machine, and start Thunderbird after it comes back up.


If you were seeing the same symptoms as explained in this post, and you followed this step-by-step guide, you should now be back up and running in thunderbird with all of your old data in tact!

Since we created you a new profile, which is not named “default” anymore, you should never see this problem happen again!

If you are a Thunderbird user, and this has not happened to you yet, it is a known issue, and it could happen to you at any time as long as you are using a profile named “default”.  If you want to prevent it from ever occurring, open the profile manager as outlined in Step 1, created a new profile and point it to the current default profile folder as outlined in Step 3, and give the new profile a unique name, then delete the old default profile.  This should prevent you from ever having this issue.

If you have any questions, or this guide does not work for you, please feel free to comment!

7 thoughts on “Lost Email and Contacts in Thunderbird

  1. Thank you for your clever remedy to the TB problem. I had suffered exactly the same symptoms (lost profiles/mail/contacts), and following your guide… Voila! as you say….. Thanks once again.

  2. Didn’t work exactly, as there was only one profile. However, there were two pop mail folders. I swapped the data files in them and everything was restored.

    Thanks for telling me where to look.

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  4. I had a similar problem. Started Thunderbird one morning (having made no changes myself) and all but about 100 of my contacts had disappeared. I was trying to address emails – and the ‘To’ box was not filling in automatically. I have looked around for solutions and found years. Alas, it didn’t work for me because I only had the one profile. However I did find different profile folders (with the same name) but one in ‘Local’ and the other in ‘Roaming’ – one folder was substantially larger than the other. Local was 360 MB and Roaming was 5.4GB. I tried creating a new profile and pointing it at the larger Roaming folder – but the contacts still did not appear. Can you offer any help?

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