Organization by Folders in Mozilla Thunderbird

A wall full of binders and folders

 Domiriel / CC BY-NC 2.0

Filtering incoming mail to folders based on the sender or certain keywords is a practical way of getting mail pre-organized in Mozilla Thunderbird.

Most Messages Belong to More Than One Folder

Unfortunately, most messages really belong to more than just one folder. If you file your mail manually, you probably have problems deciding which folder is the right folder, but this one folder per message approach is even more detrimental to the usefulness of the folders: relevant messages often don't show up in a folder because they have been moved to a different one.

Fortunately, there's still search, and you can probably find the missing message employing Mozilla Thunderbird's search dialog and a number of criteria. Even better, using ​Saved Search folders you can create "virtual" mailboxes that automatically search for messages matching their criteria in all your Mozilla Thunderbird folders. While the messages remain in the folders they have been filed to, they also show up in all Saved Search folders that find them.

Organize Mail Flexibly Using Virtual Folders in Mozilla Thunderbird

To organize mail flexibly using virtual folders in Mozilla Thunderbird:

  • Select File > New > Saved Search... from the menu.
  • Type an appropriate name for the virtual folder under Name:
  • Create your search using the available criteria under Configure the search criteria used for this virtual folder.
  • Optionally, choose the folders to search using the Choose... button under Select the folders to search:
    • By default, Mozilla Thunderbird searches the Inbox folder of the Local Folders account (which typically holds all your incoming mail from POP accounts).
    • You can choose any folder in any account (IMAP mailboxes, too), but all folders must be under the same account. You cannot aggregate messages from your Local Folders Inbox and from an IMAP account's Inbox to the same Saved Search folder, for example.
  • If you do not want the new virtual folder to appear as a sub-folder of Local Folders, choose a different parent folder under Create as a subfolder of:
  • Click OK.

You can set up a Saved Search folder that displays mail from people you know received during the last seven days, for example. For this search, make the criteria read:

  • Sender is in my address book Personal Address Book.
  • Age In Days is less than 8 while making sure that Match all of the following is selected.