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Introduction to Thunderbird, part 2, basic use

So, let's start with the initial view of Thunderbird, when you've just started it:


Thunderbird start screen


The part of interest here that we'll cover, is the standard toolbar, which you'll see here:


Thunderbird toolbar


To start, there is the "Get Mail" button.  Click on this to check for new messages and download them.  The Write button is pretty self-explanatory, you can use it to create a new message.  The chat button, address book, tag and quick filter features we'll cover a bit later.  But at the very right, you have a button with 3 lines.  Click on this and you should get the following view:


Thunderbird global menu screen


Here there are a number of things one can do, if you like, explore the menu a bit to see the options that are available.

If that button isn't available, or you are used to the older versions of Thunderbird, you can try to press F10 to make the "old" toolbar available, so press F10, select View and then enable the Menu bar, as highlighted here:


Thunderbird, selet make menu bar visible


Now, that the main toolbars have been covered, we can start having a look at reading and browsing messages.  I've opened the folder in the left hand panel, and clicked on a message subject in the top right panel, and the message shows up in the lower right panel:


Thunderbird browse folders, list messages, open message, message button, remote images screen


There you have some standard buttons highlighted, such as reply, forward, archive, junk and delete.  Reply and forward are what you could call standard mail actions, to send an answer to an email, press the reply button, to send a copy of the message to someone else, click on the forward button.

The archive button is a bit more interesting;  on standard IMAP mail servers, Thunderbird will move the message to the "Archives -> Year (2013) folder".  On GMail for example, archiving moves the message to the "All Mail" folder.  So, the Archive button only moves messages to different folders, it doesn't change the message in any way, it is a convenience function so that you don't have to find the folder to put it in and so on. :)

Pressing on the Junk will tell Thunderbird that the message is junk, in other words, unwanted and can be classified as Spam.  The first time you press the Junk button you should get the following message:


Thunderbird Junk mail information screen


And as it says, pressing the Junk button on messages that are junk, will train Thunderbird to recognize and filter away unwanted messages.  In a later article we will go in-depth on how to filter messages that are considered Junk to their separate folder for example.

Finally, we have the delete button.  This removes the message and puts it in the Trash folder.


Thunderbird show remote content menu


There is one part highlighted in the image above and shown again right over this paragraph that also needs some explanation, and that is light-yellow status-bar which says "To protect your privacy...".  Long story short, it is possible for spammers to include for example remote images in emails, which are loaded when when message is opened.  This way, a spammer can confirm that someone does read email at an email address, and start spamming more.  Thunderbird protects you from these kinds of attacks/exploits, and you need to explicitly say that you want images displayed.   There are two options, either to always show images sent from the sender of that email, or show images just this one time, by clicking on "Show Remote Content".

Another important thing to mention here, is that Thunderbird by default displays attachments "inline" the message, in other words it opens them.  This can be a security concern, so if you don't want attachments displayed inline, go to one of the main toolbars (as shown above), select View and then remove the tick from "Display Attachments Inline".

OK, that's it for this article, I hope you found it useful.  :)

This is the second article in a series about Thunderbird, if you have Thunderbird-related topics you want covered here, let us know. Comments on this article, thumbs up or flames, can be sent to If you need help using Thunderbird, we recommend using the Thunderbird forums.

If you know a language or languages besides English and would like to translate these articles, let us know via as well. :)

Click here to go on to the next article, email message signatures and writing email messages.