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Thunderbird suddenly lost my settings? Can't get it to work

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Last seen: 15 years 10 months ago
Joined: 2007-06-10 20:57
Thunderbird suddenly lost my settings? Can't get it to work

I just tried to check my email. Started Thunderbird and it wants me to set up email accounts. It is acting like it can't find any of my settings, old mail etc.

Looked under the profile folder and there is no file "profile.ini".

Also, there is no user or default user folder. just the profile folder,then extensions, mail and webmail folders underneath.

If I look under the profile/mail folder, it looks like all my stuff is still there, I just don't know how to get Thunderbird to start using it again.


Ryan McCue
Ryan McCue's picture
Last seen: 14 years 6 months ago
Joined: 2006-01-06 21:27
Which file

Which file are you launching, ThunderbirdPortable.exe?

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate."

Aciago's picture
Last seen: 6 months 7 hours ago
Joined: 2007-01-24 14:23

Thunderbird Portable _only_ if that doesn't work... redownload and and reinstall, your settings will not be lost.

If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port,
and the bus is interrupted as a very last resort,
and the address of the memory makes your floppy disk abort,
then the socket packet pocket has an error to report Biggrin

Last seen: 15 years 10 months ago
Joined: 2007-06-10 20:57
Fixed it

I found a post that was talking about the prefs.js file, so I started looking at my portableapp backup. The prefs.js file on my usb drive was showing 3kb. The file on my backup was 13kb. Copied the one from the backup to the drive and it works fine.

I don't know why it changed. I came home from work and checked my email. Turned off my computer and went to bed. When I tried to check my email when I got up, it would not work.

I am using thunderbird portable I should have given more info when I first posted. Sorry about that.

Last seen: 5 months 1 week ago
Joined: 2007-08-27 13:35
Turned off?

You say "turned off" but I didn't see where you said you "exited cleanly from all apps".

Especially with the Portable apps, if you just shut down, the shutdown sequence can keep the portable program from writing settings files properly. (You can guess how I learned this.) It is best if you give the portable apps a head start so they can complete their own shutdown and cleanup, before you shut down your computer.

If the settings files are messed up, I believe TBP will "fix" things, which could explain why your account settings disappeared.

And good for you for having a backup! One of my favorite sayings is that the only time files will get messed up is if you don't have a backup. You're a counterexample for that rule ... excellent.


Last seen: 6 years 10 months ago
Joined: 2015-09-01 08:34
Thunderbird completely lost

I had the same issue,
after an unwanted crash of the notebook, due to lost electricity here in Westafrica.
Fortunately I'm going to make regularly backups.
So, reloading the last three month old backup and everything was working properly.
What I cant understand, why it shouldn't be possible to make a switch, that would sign Thunderbird such a crash and it could restart automatically correct...
Greetings from the rainy season


Last seen: 13 years 1 month ago
Joined: 2008-01-14 00:29
Reinstall did not helped

I have experienced the same thing. ( settings have lost, but the folders are still there. Version

The reinstall did not help. ( it asks for set up the e-mail account as it did before )

I do not have backup of previous pref.js file. Any idea how to make it work again ?

Simeon's picture
Last seen: 9 years 6 months ago
Joined: 2006-09-25 15:15
In my

/ThunderbirdPortable/Data/profile folder there are several prefs.js named
prefs.js, prefs-1.js, prefs-2.js. If thats the case with your copy too, then you could try renaming the latest one to prefs.js and retry.

Prefs.js is the file where Thunderbird stores all your preferences in. So if you lost that file, you'll have to set up all your email accounts anew. To do that ithout losing my email data, I'd backup my mail data (copy ThunderbirdPortable/Data/profile/Mail/ to my Desktop) and re-enter all my account info. I think then it is safe to copy the emails back while Thunderbird is closed and all the emails should reappear.
I am not 100% sure if thats gonna work so its best to make a backup copy before you start.

Good luck!

"What about Love?" - "Overrated. Biochemically no different than eating large quantities of chocolate." - Al Pacino in The Devils Advocate

Last seen: 8 years 4 weeks ago
Joined: 2007-05-02 19:15
Also a good idea...

When you get your Portable Firefox and Thunderbird's set up the way you want them, just make a copy of the entire folders and if something goes wrong, you can just use the backups and toss the ones that went bad. I execute the Portable TB backup to fetch all of the "POP" mail before deleting it off the server permanently and usually just do it once a week anyway.

I let the Lightning 0.3 update to the 0.7 and hated it because you couldn't view the little calendar under the Local Folders anymore. It ruined some settings that I got tired of trying to fix the files, so I just cloned then used the backup folder.

Last seen: 16 years 1 month ago
Joined: 2008-03-11 07:10
same problem: all accounts gone

hello, i've lost all my accounts, despite data is still available in the profile folder.

i noticed, as this thread mentions possible trouble with prefs.js, that this file is actually corrupted and cannot be opened anymore (neither with my text editor).

when i try to copy the content of prefs-2.js to prefs.js and then to start the program, the newly pasted content of prefs.js is replaced by some default data.

as a result, i am prompted to create a new account to use thunderbird!

does anybody have an idea on how to avoid thunderbird to override prefs.js?
thanks a lot !

Last seen: 16 years 1 month ago
Joined: 2008-03-11 07:10

it is important to overwrite prefs.js with prefs-2.js while thunderbird is not running, simply.

however, if you've got a suggestion regarding the reason why prefs.js got corrupted, please post.

Last seen: 10 years 10 months ago
Joined: 2008-04-03 03:14
prefs.js lost also, but this is a complaint, not a help request

I am glad I found this thread. I also just lost prefs.js and suddenly Thunderbird went flat, with no accounts and it acted like it was wanting to start from scratch... Fortunately I had it backed up so was able to restore once I determined the problem.

As a long time professional programmer (30+years, Computer Scientist) I am going to voice a strong criticism about the design of Thunderbird, some of the help/answers seen here, and perhaps take the trouble to find out where and how to submit this as a bug report. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR SUCH A POOR SOFTWARE DESIGN that allows such a critical resource file, like prefs.js, to be lost so easily! PERIOD! I see a number of people in this thread are having this problem. Thunderbird SHOULD back up automatically and restore if needed, critical resource files such as this one. Thunderbird should back up the file BEFORE it opens it for modification, writes to it, verify and persist a flag to disk to indicate a successful close occurred when finished. Thunderbird should verify the validity of such files on open, and the success or failure of the previous close. If the file is not valid or missing then look for a backup and automatically restore it. THIS IS SLOPPY PROGRAMMING and SLOPPY DESIGN of the software and should be fixed ASAP! This is such an easy design pattern to implement, many many many programs do it all the time and any decent programmer can implement a far more robust algorithm. Sometimes my fellow programmers sure can make me mad when such immature mistakes are made and can so easily be avoided!

And finally, telling users that they should be making backups of everything, so a restore can be done later is wrongheaded. General backups/restore operations are desperate "last ditch" emergency procedures and often leads to massive data loss regardless of how well/often done. (In particular recent changes/additions done since the last backup was preformed) A program which does not take its own steps to protect its critical data is treating its users in an extremely callous fashion. And remember USERS ARE NOT COMPUTER SCIENTISTS! They expect programs to be designed in a far more robust fashion and NOT have to become a debug expert in computer software technologies. Nor are many of them going to be able to find a guru to help them. As it stands, the error produced by the lost of prefs.js will guide a user to a potentially catastrophic solution - the loss of ALL email data - needlessly should he/she try to recover on his/her own and recreate the email account(s) information from scratch via the built in account wizard or GUI of Thunderbird.

Bruce Pascoe
Last seen: 12 years 3 months ago
Joined: 2006-01-15 16:14

I agree with everything you said except for the backup thing. Users should be advised to backup often, even with well-designed software... not so much to deal with software bugs but hardware failures.

If the hardware fails, then no matter how robust the software is it's still not going to be able to deal with it. At that point you have to buy a new piece of hardware, and if the data isn't backed up somewhere, you can kiss it goodbye.

Last seen: 3 months 1 week ago
Joined: 2008-05-02 19:25
So, long story short. I have

So, long story short. I have the same problem. BUT: You don´t tell me, that if the prefs.js is gone, and all backups I made now have the same prefs.js file, I can´t restore my Emails and settings anymore??? If a Microsoft product would do something like this on my computer, it would be gone within seconds, picoseconds, to be precisely. So, plz tell me how to restore it, or, how I rescue the Emails.
Thx 4 F1. St.

Last seen: 5 months 1 week ago
Joined: 2007-08-27 13:35
Your emails should be just fine.

Your emails should be just fine. Prefs.js is not where your emails are kept.

Look in ThunderbirdPortable\Data\profile. There should be folders there. Your mail should be in one (or more) of the folders. Before you play with things, make a good backup copy of the folders (and anything else you see there that might be important).

When I've had trouble with mail, I've just set up another Thunderbird (or more often Seamonkey) and then copied my mail folder into the right place. There's probably a better procedure to follow ... go to the Mozilla web site for more information.

I suppose it's possible that something else is going on, that the prefs.js file is not what is messed up (or not the only thing). If we're to help you sort it out you might need to provide a bit less polemic and a bit more information; but I'd be really surprised if your email was gone.

If you have a copy of prefs.js (e.g. prefs2.js or that sort of thing) you need to make sure to make a copy of it somewhere safe. If you try to copy it to prefs.js while Thunderbird is running, it will almost certainly get overwritten. So be sure TBP is not running when you try to recover the prefs.js file.


Last seen: 5 months 1 week ago
Joined: 2007-08-27 13:35

If your e-mail is so important that you go slightly frantic if it seems to be missing, then you need a backup. Period. (I'm glad you had one.)

I go by the rule: if there is exactly one copy of something, that copy will get messed up. (I think of it as a corollary of Murphy's Law.)

The last time I looked the data format for Thunderbird is relatively robust. If you drop mail data into the right place and start Thunderbird, it will find the data and start using it. If some of its other files (like prefs.js) are messed up, as soon as they are fixed (perhaps by making a fresh install) and you copy the email data into place, Thunderbird will sort things out. While the support files are sometimes messed up, it's quite rare that a catastrophe that would mess up email data happens at the same time.

I agree that it might not be obvious for a novice how to recover, and it would be much better if TB could do it on its own. I suppose it is possible that John could build into the launcher some checking that would recreate the prefs.js (or other files) if they appear to be messed up, which I believe will allow the mail store to appear and be quite usable.

As to what causes it: I'd expect that something is preventing TBP from writing the files to disk properly -- and only for certain people. The first thing I'd look at is whether the computer was shut down or the drive disconnected before TBP was finished (or the write-behind cache was processed). I'm sure you wouldn't do anything like that, but that is the main sort of thing that would cause prefs.js or another such file to be messed up. The main issue is how to prevent it from happening in the future. Making sure TBP has exited completely before doing anything else is a given. If you can identify other things, we'd like to hear about them.


Last seen: 3 months 1 week ago
Joined: 2008-05-02 19:25
Well, why I maybe sound like

Well, why I maybe sound like a frantic polemic Wink is, that the Mails are from my wife. She is a teacher and has a lot of important correspondency on that stick. And I argued to her to use that instead of her Labtop at school, because its lighter, cheaper if stolen (happens often) and noc problem to use because every class has their own pc now. So, what to do?
Setting up the Thunderbird in ver. Copying the mails from the old profile to the new profile.
Do I have to set up the email accounts again? Can I spell them different or do they have to be exactly the same name (don´t think so)?
I´ll give it a try later on. It´s Saturday and my wife will not need it till Monday. So two days should be enough to fix. Right?
Thx 4 F1. St.

Last seen: 2 years 2 months ago
Joined: 2022-01-16 21:46
Thunderbird Portable profile lost (forgotten).

Its surprising this thread is almost 14 years old and the same problem still exists today. I switched to Thunderbird Portable recently; running it from a portable SSD drive that I take with me between work and home or when I travel. Was hoping that TB Portable would be an easy solution in keeping work organized. In the 1.5 months I have been using TB Portable I have had to rebuild files 4 times! I have been exiting TB Portable from the software (File, exit) and closing the Portable Apps launcher by clicking on the "X" icon. Then, waiting about a minute or two before running the system shut down routine. For some reason the profile (prefs.js) keeps getting corrupted and unrecognized.

Anyone know what I am doing wrong and how to keep this from happening?



John T. Haller
John T. Haller's picture
Last seen: 4 min 18 sec ago
Joined: 2005-11-28 22:21
Drive or USB, possible things to look into

If the prefs.js has an issue in either local or portable Thunderbird, your accounts will disappear. That's one reason Thunderbird keeps a handful of backups, but it doesn't always do a good job of detecting when to use them. The corruption can be triggered by the drive itself, by the Windows PC if it's having issues, and by the USB port if either it or the cable is loose or if there is some internal connection issues. I'd suggest keeping a manual backup handy (it usually doesn't change much), scan the drive for errors, keep a log of when it happens to try to narrow it down to a specific PC (work vs home) or perhaps a specific USB port (front vs rear) to see if you can determine if there's a specific trigger.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

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