Thunderbried 3.0.x: make it download ONLY the selected folders

(Third and final Thunderbird post (promise!))

I had an idea; maybe if I deleted TB, then restarted it, and forced it to go offline first, THEN configured folders, THEN allowed it to connect, it might. just. work.

Of course, doing so discovered some obvious bugs in TB. Sigh. I got it mostly working in the end, after some false starts. So, if this is something you want to try, here’s how to do it:

1. Start TB, and give it your account details.

You want it to look like this (see note above; if you don’t do this correctly, you’ll get different settings, with no SSL/TLS)

Picture 95

2. QUICKLY go to offline mode (next step) or … unplug your internet cable – this may be easier

Why on *earth* do you have to do this?

Well … there’s a major bug in TB. If you do NOT create an account *the first time the app launches*, then you can never create a Gmail account. The code that configures email accounts *will not run* after that first launch.

Really, I’m serious: try it. It will – if you’re lucky – try to configure your gmail account with all encryption turned off, thereby sharing your emails with everyone on the network. Nothing you can do will make it accept SSL/TLS. Even typing the port number manually, it fails to work.

BUT … if you allow it to configure the account on first-run, it will correctly setup everything as SSL/TLS

3. Go to offline mode

Picture 96

4. Go to Synchronization settings (from the same menu – File menu)

Picture 97

Click the ADVANCED button (it’s not advanced, it’s basic, but this is a hangover from the Mozilla Mail days, when the GUI for configuring the app was poorly arranged)

5. De-select the folders that Thunderbird should never have pre-selected in the first place

NB: this is language dependent! Google “kindly” names some of these folders depending on your regional language. Great idea, unfortunately it makes config / instructions a bit more tricky.

In the UK (this is different in USA!), the folders you must untick are:

  • Bin
  • Trash
  • [Google Mail]
  • [Google Mail]Bin

Like this:
Picture 98

and this:

6. Are you finished ? No, you aren’t; There’s some “magic” folders left…

On the left, under Inbox, there are a couple of magic folders that don’t appear in the synch list – but will synch automatically, and kill your disk space. One of them in particular: “All Mail” (that is: every single email that Gmail has for you, ever, anywhere. All unsorted)

You have to right-click, and go to the 3rd tab, and deselect the checkbox, to make this safe:

Picture 101

You MUST also do a difficult one – the Trash folder.

Thunderbird will *not allow you* to deselect this one, but you have to expand it, and inside find the “Bin” and “Trash” folders, and manually deselect them as with “All Mail”.

Picture 102

NB: in the attached screenshot, I hadn’t realised this was needed, so you can see it’s downloaded my whole Trash folder from the server. Ugh.

NB: yes, in theory you have *already* deselected those folders. But with Gmail you can easily end up with two copies of the folders, both with the same name, but in different subfolders. Depends which clients you’ve used with Gmail in the past (ironically, in my case, they exist because I ran an earlier version of Thunderbird, where the Gmail integration wasn’t so good).

(you may also want to do the same for Sent Mail and Spam – depending on personal preference / need)

Picture 100

7. Finally (finally!) you can de-enable Work Offline, from the File menu

Now what?

Well, nothing happens. Because Thunderbird is “magic!”.

If you wait long enough, and you’re lucky, it will magically start to synch.

If you don’t like waiting, staring at a computer, you can force it to download – go to the File menu, and from the Offline submenu, select Download now.

HOWEVER once again there are issues: this will work outside the normal Activity Window system, so your download will be in the foreground, and doesn’t even appear as an “Activity”. Sigh. So, you might want to try waiting for the “magic” to happen instead, and hope you get lucky.

(in theory, it should be a 10 minute wait at most, but earlier versions of TB 3 used to have severe problems with this, sometimes never synching at all)


This is still imperfect. Thunderbird insists on “indexing” all 5,000 of my Sent Mail contents – although at least it’s no longer trying to download them all locally. It also insists on “indexing” the contents of things like “All Mail”, which is completely incorrect.

But I can find no way to remove the annoying “All Mail” folder, and if you ever click on it accidentally, then BAM! the expensive processing starts. The best you can do is use the little buttons at the top left hand side to switch mode to ”

Oh – and you aren’t allowed to stop it. The Activity Manager is missing a feature (which is already in bug reports from last year – I remember seeing people ask for it) : a “click to cancel” button for each activity.

Hopefully, though, so long as you remember to avoid clicking on those magic folders, you can at least make TB work normally…

Ditto for all the folders we chose not to download locally … and, ditto, I can’t find a way to remove them from the list, so there’s no way to stop myself from accidentally clicking one.

There are a few other things you should do too, to make up for the incorrect GMail setup. For instance, you should go to Thunderbird settings, and DISABLE the “save copy of messages in Sent folder”, because GMail will automatically do that on the server side anyway.


I was just about to press the post button, when I noticed something horrific.

TB just started downloading the 5,000 emails in a “Bin” folder … somewhere … despite my very clear instructions not to.

This is a buggy load of crap. Try the workarounds listed in this post – see if they work for you. But, ultimately “Don’t use it” is my advice.

4 replies on “Thunderbried 3.0.x: make it download ONLY the selected folders”

As a gmail user, I find it hard to justify the use of desktop clients…
Their interface are not as nice as gmail’s (well, all of those I tested weren’t), they need synchronisation, search isn’t as snappy…

Just… hard to justify.

I’m on record as admitting that Thunderbird was the first piece of software that showed me the true purpose of open-source design: the nature of the project makes it incredibly hard for me to track down everyone involved in its development and punch them individually in the face.

I use Opera’s built-in mail client. It does the job. As opposed to Thunderbird, which doesn’t.

Well, I just tried Thunderbird and got it set up, and it claimed I had NO mail at all, even though (using Mailwasher) I could see I had messages waiting to be downloaded…… so I guess it’sback to Windows Mail for me :(

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