5 Extensions to Make Thunderbird Gmail-Friendly

David Pierce
Jun 4, 2009
Updated • Jul 25, 2014
Email, Thunderbird

I've spent the last several months trying to figure out, once and for all, my perfect email system. All my email is in Gmail, but there were certain things I didn't love about using Gmail – the offline features are hit-or-miss, there's no reading pane, and a few notably missing keyboard shortcuts caused me some problems.

Other than that, though, Gmail had a ton to offer – integration with my Google Calendar, the ability to send and receive emails from a number of different accounts, and ubiquitous access to my updated email inbox from any computer.

My ultimate solution has been not one or the other, desktop or web-based, but both. Gmail is still my hub for email, but when I'm at my own computer, I'm in Thunderbird, Mozilla's fantastic and free desktop email client. Thanks to five great add-ons, Thunderbird is able to capture almost all of the features of of Web-based Gmail, and add a couple of capabilities of its own.

Lightning/Provider for Google Calendar

One of the great things about Gmail is that, through Gmail Labs, you can put your calendar right in the sidebar next to your email. Adding and viewing calendar events is easy, and Gmail even tries to guess when someone suggests an event for you by email, and lets you put it automatically in your calendar.

All this can be replicated, and in my opinion improved, by using a couple great Thunderbird add-ons. The first is Lightning, which adds a calendar into Thunderbird, making it more of a personal information manager than just an email client. Then, by installing Provider for Google Calendar, you'll be able to sync your Lightning calendar back and forth with Google Calendar. That way, it's always available online, but looks and feels just like a desktop calendar within Thunderbird.


Zindus is basically just like Lightning, but for your Google contacts. Zindus automatically syncs your Google contacts with your Thunderbird contacts, and any added or edited contacts are automatically synced to both.

Zindus is great, because it both keeps a backup of your contacts online and off, and because it means you've always got your contacts available to you in your application of choice.


One of the fantastic things about Gmail is how easy it is to plow through your inbox – tons of great keyboard shortcuts and useful buttons let you deal with every email quickly and easily. Nostalgy, a favorite Thunderbird add-on of mine, adds much of the same to Gmail.

Using a few choice keyboard shortcuts, Nostalgy lets you move items between folders, go to folders, show and hide messages and folders, and even search through your email. You can create your own rules and scripts, to be executed by triggers in the email itself, or by a given keystroke. With Nostalgy, you can go through your Thunderbird inbox every bit as fast as in Gmail.


GmailUI is much like Nostalgy, in that it adds some of what makes Gmail so great into Thunderbird – the navigation shortcuts. For instance, GmailUI makes it easy to archive email in a single keystroke – which is notably missing in the normal Thunderbird interface.

GmailUI also creates shortcuts to move between messages, search in one click, and even improve Thunderbird's ability to search using things like "to:David Pierce" to find what you're looking for even faster.

Signature Switch

As I mentioned at the beginning, one of my favorite things about Gmail is that it handles multiple identities well – I can use personal, work, and blogging email seamlessly all within Gmail. Using a Thunderbird extension called Signature Switch, and a little known feature within Thunderbird itself, Thunderbird does the multiple identity thing even better.

First, go to "Tools","Account Settings" within Thunderbird. On the right side of that window, click "Manage Identities." There you can add as many other emails as you want – Thunderbird lets you send emails from a number of different addresses, all within the same account.

The Signature Switch extension lets you create a number of different signatures for your emails, and then insert whichever one you want into your emails. It's a simple extension, but actually handles multiple signatures for multiple addresses better than Gmail itself.

There's something special about a desktop email application for me – I like the reading pane, I like the look and feel of the apps. The ubiquity of Web email, though, can't be ignored. Using these extensions, I get the best of both worlds – all the goodness of Gmail in Thunderbird, and all my email and data is up-to-date in Gmail when I'm away from my computer.

What do you use for email? Thunderbird, Gmail, something else?


Tutorials & Tips

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  1. Richard said on April 11, 2010 at 10:01 pm


    No, I hadn’t. And now I have. Pretty impressive – this might actually be enough to switch me back to a mail client.



  2. Anders Vinther said on April 11, 2010 at 11:17 am


    Have you tried the new search in TB3?

    I am like you: I archive my email in event order in my inbox – or in other words I don’t label of organize my emails.

    Until recently I have only been using Gmail, but now I am using Thunderbird on my own computers and Gmail when I am away….

    And I am quite happy with the new Search in TB3.

    I like the easy attachment handling and the fact that on my netbook I can read and respond to my emails offline, and then send them when I get a connection…

    Anyways, just my two cents…


  3. Richard said on April 11, 2010 at 1:05 am

    TBird lacks the ONE most important thing about GMail for me … good search. I am not an organised and consistent enough person to use folders and labels effectively, so the ability to search through all of my email effortlessly is essential. Also, I don’t want to store gigabytes of email locally in TBird.

  4. Mark said on November 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I have in my gmail a second email added, which is my standard email address instead of [email protected] I have my own mail address [email protected]. I know want to use thunderbird to send and receive with gmail imap, but with this second added email address?
    Does anybody have any suggestions?

    1. AndersVinther said on February 21, 2010 at 3:51 pm

      Hi Mark,

      We have just released a step by step guide for how to set up Thunderbird and Gmail to work seamlessly together. You can get a free copy at http://www.Easy-Email.net.

      It tells you everything you’d want to know about this stuff…



  5. Dima said on October 19, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Thanks for the overview from someone just starting with Thunderbiurd! Saved me few hours of research!

  6. trflick said on June 18, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    6 person business on Outlook 2003 too heavy slow and time to move. HEAVY users of folders that are making pst’s huge. Only POP3 no Exchange. Do use iPhone and Blackberry for remote making web based less important. TBird or Gmail?

  7. TJ said on June 6, 2009 at 6:34 am


    Does the conversation style you suggest show the emails you wrote in that conversation as well?
    I hope this style doesn’t collect mails by same subject line, like I have 100 emails with Hi There as a subject line written to or recd from different people over the period of time, does it take all those emails together (as Outlook 2007 does)

  8. SteveA said on June 5, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Thunderbird does support viewing by conversation:
    View -> Sort by -> Threaded | Unthreaded

    Just like Gmail only easier to read.

  9. yogi said on June 5, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    David – I’ve only been using it a week and the main use is as a local backup for gmail.
    So for me gmail is still the main interface and will be forever as far as I’m concerned.

    That said, in this short time I’ve been impressed by how quick the application is and also by the tabs that allow easy access to attachments.

    But I still haven’t found a way to display or print all my contacts which is weird.

  10. Gabriel said on June 5, 2009 at 9:06 am

    very nice article, may I can advice some other plugins. First one is ContactSidebar, that showes your adressbook in your sidebar. Another is Quickfolders. I have written an articel over that plugin. Here it is: http://opencom.redio.de/programmvorstellung/quickfolders-addon-fur-thunderbird.html but I’m sorry, it is written in german not in english

  11. TJ said on June 5, 2009 at 8:10 am

    I second Yogi. I don’t care about other features but all I want is Gmail like sorting. None of the email clients do it so far. Even I am using Postbox but still Postbox shows Gmail like view only when you open that email and click on ‘Show All’ button. Its still not a replica of Gmail, definitely better than what Thunderbird can offer.
    Only complaint with postbox is, the user guide is not extensive but taking into account, its in beta, its acceptable.

  12. David Pierce said on June 5, 2009 at 6:55 am

    @Yogi – What’s your impression of Postbox so far? I used it some, loved how good it was at searching, but never really got excited about anything else. What do you think?

  13. yogi said on June 5, 2009 at 6:51 am

    I’ve always found thunderbird to be very slow, and I can’t stand not being able to sort emails by conversation’ like in gmail.

    I use gmail with a new desktop app I’ve just heard about: postbox. It’s like gmail but on the desktop.

  14. robin said on June 5, 2009 at 6:45 am

    def use thunderbird every day. just old school and prefer the client-side approach to email. like you it all comes through gmail.

    keeping an eye on this new product:


    have to see how it matures, see if they have a linux version, get a gauge on their staying power. tb is under active development by mozilla, but this looks nice. hope they have the $$$ to keep at it.

  15. Martin said on June 4, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    David nice article. I personally use basic Thunderbird with just a few add-ons installed but nothing that adds anything that Gmail offers but Thunderbird does not. Until now I have not missed a thing.

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