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Migrating from EarthLink Mailbox to Mozilla Thunderbird

If you or your loved one has suffered the unfortunate fate of having used EarthLink Mailbox as an email client, there is hope. I recently got sick and tired of that poisonous piece of software. A recent Spybot S&D scan apparently sent EarthLink Mailbox into a frenzy. One of the user profiles on the system was partially reset and EarthLink Mailbox decided to reinstall itself for everyone. Of course, for the one person who actually used it, it would no longer recognize the user “identity”, and it took some registry editing to get it to read its own data files again. So it was time to end it.

Moving your emails to Thunderbird or any other client with some form of actual import/export capability is possible, albeit very annoying. I found a few methods through a Google search, though it was hard to find anything at all.

First I tried the “synchronize local folder to an IMAP account”, which seemed pretty clever. The idea is you install a [free] mail server on your computer, create an account, access it via IMAP, then in EarthLink Mailbox you synchronize your local folders to the IMAP account. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work in this version of Mailbox (“Product ID 2005.3.14.0”) because you cannot change the EarthLink account to IMAP instead of POP (and then lie to it and put your local server as the mail server).

Then I tried to select a bunch of messages, right click and select forward, then try to save the attachments as EML. I saw this described, but couldn’t understand how it was feasible because there was no “save all attachments” option. (More on this below.)

Eventually I just started doing the forward method, but sending the messages to a Gmail account, then saving all the attachments. The EML files themselves can be dragged-and-dropped into Outlook Express. (I didn’t try directly dragging them to Thunderbird.) I also tried forwarding them to my fake account on the local server I had just installed and then downloading them into Thunderbird, but for some reason the first EML file’s extension was changed to “txt” and the EML files themselves seemed to be infinite loops rather than the actual messages.

The problem with sending things to Gmail, aside from the horrible waste of time it is to transfer that back and forth, is the 20 MByte attachment size limit. If you’re forwarding too many messages or several with sizable attachments, you’ll easily violate this.

It was then that I realized that you can save all attachments to a folder from EarthLink Mailbox. You do as before—select a good chunk of emails at a time (I did from 300 to 600, depending on whether or not there were a lot of attachments. Right click on the selection, hit forward, and fill out just enough of it so that you can save it as a draft (the easiest thing for me was to simply close the message and ask it to save it as a draft).

Then navigae to the drafts folder, and select the email (do not open it, that is, do not double-click). In the header area of the email preview, there is an “Attachments” button. If you hit it, Mailbox has the audacity to create a menu on which each line is an attachment…. Scrolling will take forever, except that there is a trick! If you move the mouse so that it is over the first (or one of the first) item near the top, and then press the up arrow on the keyboard, it will loop back around and take you to the bottom of the menu, where the “Save [all] Attachments…” option is. In true Mailbox style, you cannot create a folder from within the browse dialog, so keep an explorer window open to create the folders in which to dump the attachments. Then you can just drag the EML files into Outlook Express, and, if Thunderbird is your final destination, you can simply import from Outlook Express from within Tools->Import.

Some tips:

  1. Although it would seem that you could save time by attaching a lot (say, 1000) emails at a time, don’t do it. It’s certainly not a linear process, and after 20 minutes of hard drive churn something will crash. So just be patient, and do 300 or so at a time (less if your emails have lots of attachments).
  2. For the subject line of each email-full-of-emails, I wrote the name of the folder, and some information about the last email included in the selection (in this case, the date and time). If you switch folders in Mailbox, it will not maintain your selection position, so this is a good way to keep track of where your selection stopped so that you don’t end up with duplicates.
  3. Although I didn’t do it this way, I recommend you finish saving all the EML’s to the hard drive first, then drag them into Outlook Express very carefully. If you accidentally drag into the wrong folder, and that folder already had stuff in it, you will have to reconstruct the folder from scratch (unless there is some clearly distinguishing property to distinguish the emails that were misplaced).
  4. I would create a backup of the Mailbox files first. I would also change the servers to non-existent ones before you start so that if you accidentally hit “check mail” or send, or whatever, it will fail. The Mailbox files are in the user profile in “Application Data\Earthlink\6.0\Identities” (where, I guess, 6.0 can vary). For situations like this I create a backup by compressing the directory without any compression at all using 7-Zip or something similar. It is fast and easy.

As a final check, you can verify the email count in the folders in Outlook Express matches those in EarthLink Mailbox. Of course if you find a discrepancy (there is one email missing from my inbox…) it is doubtful you’ll find what it is. If you care, you will have to redo that folder.

Note, also, that you lose any track of which messages are read and which ones aren’t. I don’t know what else you lose, but all the attachments are intact.

I just moved probably near 10,000 emails this way, and it took a while due to the exploration, but once I had it down I moved 4,000 of them in less than 10 minutes.


  1. Craig Stone wrote:

    Great tutorial. This works beautifully and was huge time saver. Plus it save my bacon.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 2:41 am | Permalink
  2. Scott Alle wrote:

    Works great for the most part. A few small glitches. It got to the point where I could only forward 50 or less files at a time before I would get an out of memory error. Apparently, Earthlink Email was keeping my deleted drafts in the trash and using up memory. Emptying the trash cleared up the problem. Maybe it was because my older older computer had limited memory (I was transferring files to a new computer) or because many of my emails have large attachments, but optimal speed for me was achieved by limiting the number of files to transfer at a time to 125 to 150. More than that would bog down the computer and sometimes cause a lockup or crash.

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  3. Andrew wrote:

    Thank you,

    After my parents’ computer crashed (about time…), we had backups of my parents’ Earthlink email…what a pain. I successfully move them over to Thunderbird, complete with dates, attachemnts, formatting, etc. Thanks for the help….this technique should be more well known!

    Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

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