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How to migrate from Ximian Evolution to Mozilla Thunderbird

By Nathan Willis on September 14, 2004 (8:00:00 AM)

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I've always liked Mozilla Mail -- when I have to use Windows, it's my preferred email client. So naturally I've kept an eye on the Mozilla Thunderbird standalone email application and given it a test drive or two. When the latest release hit the Internet a few weeks ago I decided that perhaps, as with the Firefox browser, it was finally time for me to make the switch.

Switching Web browsers is a comparatively easy task; essentially the only data you have to worry about moving is your bookmarks. An email client, on the other hand, may archive thousands of old messages you can't just leave behind, and you need to move your server settings and address book to the new program as well.

Here's how I migrated away from Ximian Evolution to Mozilla Thunderbird. I'll point out some of the pitfalls you'll want to avoid when making such a move yourself.

The first thing to do of course is to download Thunderbird. provides tar.gz packages, and you can find RPMs for most distributions through third-party Web sites; .deb files for Debian-based distros are also available. I'm not going to cover the installation procedure or how to correctly configure Thunderbird to send and retrieve mail, as these are well-covered elsewhere, but you must create a profile in Thunderbird and go through the usual setup steps before you can migrate your existing data.

I decided to start my own migration with my archived messages rather than my address book, reasoning that if that transition didn't go smoothly there would be little point to attempting the other. Thunderbird includes an Import tool under the Tools menu, but the Linux build appears to be capable of importing mail only from Netscape Communicator 4.x. This isn't the end of the world, however, because both Evolution and Thunderbird store email in the mbox format, so with a little trickery you can copy your messages from your old Evolution folder to your new Thunderbird profile and Thunderbird will recognize them automatically.

You might call the mbox format folder-centric: each folder you see in your email client exists as a separate mbox file on your hard disk, which contains every email message in the folder, all stuck together. You need to create a duplicate set of empty mail folders in Thunderbird, which will give you one empty mbox file for each folder of mail you want to migrate, and then copy the mbox file from the corresponding Evolution folder to your Thunderbird profile, overwriting the empty files.

Specifically, for an Evolution folder called, say, Santa, create a folder in Thunderbird also called Santa and then from the command line type something like cp ~/evolution/local/Santa/mbox ~/.thunderbird/ Folders/Santa. Note that in the Evolution hierarchy, each mbox file is actually named mbox and lives in a directory named for the email folder. In Thunderbird, all the folders reside in the same directory and each mbox file bears the name of the folder it represents.

It wouldn't hurt to browse through the two applications' directory hierarchies to get this distinction clear in your head before beginning -- it's not tricky, but if you have a lot of folders to migrate, it might get tedious and confusion could trip you up.

I didn't lose any email in this process, but I did decide to reexamine my love of creating folders and nested subfolders just for the fun of it.

When you've finished, your Collected Letters will be safely tucked away in their new home and Thunderbird should be able to see them all. They're probably all going to be marked as Unread, but you can fix that as you check the folders to make sure everything made it intact.

Migrating the address book

Of course, if you want to send any new email, you will have to migrate your address book data as well. Once again, Thunderbird and Evolution don't provide a direct way to move this data. The Thunderbird import wizard offers to import LDIF data and three varieties of text file: tab-delimited, comma-separated, and plain text. Evolution stores its address book internally and will export it only to a vCard.

vCard is a format designed for person-to-person contact information swapping and is supported by a lot of email clients (including the Outlook family and most of the popular Webmail providers), several IM programs, most cell phones, and the iPod. LDIF, on the other hand, is the LDAP interchange format that is supported almost solely by LDAP-specific software.

You have no choice but to select your entire address book in Evolution and export it as one large VCF file. I looked with Google for some way to automatically convert vCard data to LDIF format, but the results were spotty. There were a few homebrew applications (both compiled and scripted) written by others who had been down this path before, but none of them worked reliably.

Ultimately, the only method I found that afforded any degree of success was importing the VCF file into KDE's KAddressbook. For users of GNOME or other desktop environments, this may mean installing a lot of KDE-specific software that you don't need, due to dependencies. KAddressbook imported 57 of 58 entries in my VCF file, but not without problems. Two entries came through with blank name fields, and one contained just the letter "b." KAddressbook did not import any dates, job title/organization fields, or "notes," and only grabbed home addresses, not work.

When performing the import, KAddressbook opened a separate "edit Contact" window for every entry in the VCF file, which I then had to close manually. (The more popular you are, the more grueling this will be.) During this process, KAddressbook generated four error messages, but they popped up in generic windows while importing continued, making it impossible to associate them with the contacts that spawned them.

Once you have performed the vCard import, you can make corrections to the data before you export it again. I had read that KAddressbook could export data to LDIF format -- which was why I tried it -- but there was no such option in the Export menu. The only choices were "Export vCard 3.0..." and "Export List..." I chose the list option, and the result was a comma-separated text file.

Be wary of comma-separated-value files in this context. Some addresses have commas in them, as do some names and some organizations, not to mention any surviving "notes" fields. In general, putting structured data into plain-text files is red kryptonite (i.e., anything can happen and usually it's bad), regardless of the delimiter, but the comma is a particularly poor choice for contact information.

Thunderbird will open this CSV file, but you must match the comma-separated fields it finds to the address book fields it expects. This can be confusing, for a number of reasons.

Import wizard

First, the import wizard presents you with a two-column window -- one column labeled "Address Book fields" and the other "Record data to import." KAddressbook's CSV file, however, begins with a line that labels the fields in the records that follow, so you have two columns of field labels. Click the next-record button in the upper right corner to see the first address book entry, which will be much easier to align correctly.

The only method provided to align the fields is a pair of buttons labeled "Move Up" and "Move Down" out to the left of both columns. But highlighting an entry selects the entire row, leaving you to guess which of the columns will move when you hit the button. Spoiler alert: the Move buttons affect the left-hand column.

Also, you will find that selecting a row also unchecks that row, so you have to go back and check it again when you have the fields aligned. Moreover, moving a field displaces every field that it passes, so you have to start at one end of the list and adjust every single row in the window, in order.

Last but not least, KAddressbook populates its CSV file with a number of fields unused by any address book entry, which you then have to align with "custom" fields in the Thunderbird import wizard to keep the useful data straight.

Your patience will be rewarded, though, and Thunderbird will do its level best to import your data from the CSV file. Of course, given all the mutations the data has been through, you will want to go through the resulting Thunderbird address book and make corrections by hand. This would be wise to do no matter how you migrated the data, but I can tell you from experience that you may have to copy some data manually.

My last piece of parting advice is to keep Evolution installed on your system, for safety's sake, since there is no guarantee that the next Thunderbird update won't corrupt your data (or that this one won't: remember, it is still only a "preview" release).

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on How to migrate from Ximian Evolution to Mozilla Thunderbird

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Re:Migrating from Evolution to Thunderbird!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 21, 2004 01:11 PM
FWIW, I'm migrating my wife right now from Evolution to Thunderbird because she's switching off of Linux to Windows. She's been satisfied with Linux as a desktop for years, mainly because Evolution was so far ahead of any other mail client out there. However, years of fighting and generally losing with anything multimedia related have taken their toll, especially trying to get Audible books into her iPod (this involves VMWare and a few hours of struggle). Evolution 2.0 was the last nail in the coffin. Attachment forwarding is broken by design, an extremely annoying message duplication bug has cropped up, and the forced SpamAssassin integration has brought her older laptop to its knees (SA is running on the server, thank you very much). It's a sad day around here.


Re:Migrating from Evolution to Thunderbird!

Posted by: Administrator on July 07, 2005 11:02 AM
hello! i've tried this one. it work well in linux, but i haven't tried it in windoze. and also still searchin for importing the addressbooks.

<a href="" title=""></a>
hope it helps. good luck & good day.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:),


simply a better mail client

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 07, 2004 03:00 AM
I can't reply for the author of this useful article, but personally I'm migrating because I find Thunderbird to be a lighter and also more robust mail client. I'm ready to trade off calendar, to do etc. -- which I will continue to use on my Palm pilot -- in order to have a better mail client. Thunderbird's speed and added features such as the integrated junk mail controls make a difference for me.


Re:simply a better mail client

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 07, 2004 02:22 PM
I agree that Evolution is a bloated Outlook 97 look-a-like. What will happen when Microsoft changes the look and feel of Outlook in the coming years? I like Thunderbird because it doesn't try to copy Outlook.


convert VCARD to LDIF

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2004 09:15 AM
Since most of the conversion tools are quite old or don't work for me, or are otherwise unusable, i created a perl script to to exactly this job. At this time its just proven to convert my addressbooks form Evolution to Thunderbird. But if users tend to use it, i will make improvements, if there is some time. It converterts a fully filled Evolution Contact Sheet, into a fully filled Thunderbird Contact Sheet in the most simple way.

<A HREF="" title="">vcard2lid</a>

Greetings, astifter


Re:convert VCARD to LDIF

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 10, 2005 10:38 PM
Alternatively, I patched a Java vCard to LDIF converter.

It works well with the most common 2.1 and 3.0 vCard options, and is optimized for Thunderbird imports.

Comments are done properly, and is "character encoding" safe.

jar and source at:



Re:convert VCARD to LDIF

Posted by: Administrator on March 12, 2005 04:03 PM

If you use KDE, it's easy: simply use kaddressbook to import the vcard and export it to LDIF.

Then, in Thunderbird, you only have to import from LDIF.

Not that bad<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;-)


Novell Evolution

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 12, 2004 06:05 PM
Well, I don't know how old this article is, but here's one reason to convert: Ximian Evolution is no more.

It's now Novell Evolution, and isn't free, so unless you're completely happy with how your Evolution is working, you'll have to either buy Novell Desktop or switch clients to get anything updated. Personally, I'll switch.


Re:Novell Evolution

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 05, 2005 09:12 AM
No, you're wrong, it's still free.


Re:Novell Evolution

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 31, 2005 04:39 PM
Thats the point why I switch to Mozilla - with Thunderbird (E-Mail) & Sunbird (Calender) I have some thing like Outlook, runing on Win & Lin.
I'm wondering that Evolution is still part of Debian , as they don't like to use Property-Software.


Re:Novell Evolution

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 05, 2005 02:40 AM
It should still be a part of Debian as all open source software is the Property of *somebody* and Evolution is no different. It's still open source and released for free.


Export of mail

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 02, 2005 01:11 AM
Lacking a local imap server for transferring mail, the solution I came up with is as follows:

Select all mail in an evolution folder and go File>Save As. Dont put any extension on the file name

Copy this file into the Profiles\default.if4\Mail\Local Folders (only tested on windows but should have same structure under linux) under Thunderbird base dir

When you next run TB and open the folder it will generate the relevent index fields and Voila!


Re:Export of mail

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 25, 2006 07:06 PM
Help on the shell!
evolution comes with a tool called evolution-addressbook-export which can export csv!
<a href="" title=""><nobr>o<wbr></nobr> rting-evolution-contacts-to-thunderbird</a>


Online Converter

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 11, 2005 03:53 PM
Hello together,

I wrote a small webpage which is able to convert files between VCard and LDIF.

<a href="" title=""></a>

hope it will help a little bit.



Re:Online Converter

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 03, 2005 06:04 AM
Try this:

In OpenOffice (oo) go to tools/data sources

Evo should show up in the list of sources, just go through the steps to
add it as a source

Open a new spreadsheet, hit F4, select the table your contacts are in,
pick any or all and presto

I don't think it takes 5 minutes even. I was blown away when I first
found it and now use it frequently in oo to get mail addresses etc on
the fly plus you can link just as easily to mysql etc the same way.


Knoppix can help

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 31, 2005 04:29 PM
Very good article, only one Idea<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.... Since Evolution runs on Gnome most of the Geegs don't like to install KAdress (KDE) - Get a copy of KNOPPIX and you have all the "KDE" you need.


Re:Migrating from Evolution to Thunderbird!

Posted by: Administrator on September 19, 2004 02:56 AM
They're both great clients. Thuderbird is lighter & doesn't have gnome dependencies. Maybe the author doesn't need calendar,to do, etc. He also uses it on Widows & there are cross-platform advantages to Thunderbird.


Migrating from Evolution to Thunderbird!

Posted by: Administrator on September 15, 2004 03:56 PM
I'm currently using Thunderbird under Windows and in process of migrating to Evolution under Linux.

While Thunderbird is good, I don't understand why you would migrate from Evolution that has well integrated Email/Calendar/ToDo features, with smart new features being added regularly.

Wondering what your reasons were??


Migrating from Evolution to Thunderbird!

Posted by: Administrator on September 16, 2004 12:36 AM
Good article !! I did this about a month ago, initially to TB 0.7.3 and now using TB 0.8 -- everything is going smoothly.

Using SlackWare Linux and "evolution-1.4.5-i486-1rob.tgz", I found a utility called "evolution-addressbook-export". It reads the Evolution addressbook and dumps either a vcard or csv file (use --help for fuller details). After I got the csv file, I read it into a spreadsheet (, but gnumeric or ?? should also work) to rearrange the fields to match what TBird wanted (as noted in the article). Wrote out a csv file from the spreadsheet, read it into TBird and was basically done. It took about 10 minutes *after* I figured out what to do. Once all the addresses are in TBird, they can be rearranged pretty easily using TBird's tools.

I installed the TBird calendar plugin to deal with scheduling/todo functions -- seems to work fine for my needs, which admittedly are not that heavy at present.

All the data is stored in the TBird profile directory, so I moved the actual directories/files to another location and "ln -s"'d everything back to the profile(s) (Mail/, Calendar/, and *.mab). A quick bash script for backup and things seem fairly robust right now - no crashes. data loss, or other significant problems.

Oh, my reason for doing this has nothing to do with Evolution as an application, I've used it for quite a while and it did the job. I prefer a lighter weight "desktop", so I don't have Gnome installed -- maintaining currency/dependencies with Gnome for Evolution was the primary issue. Plus I use FireFox as my browser, so I decided to go fully Mozilla.


Use an IMAP server

Posted by: Administrator on September 16, 2004 11:00 AM
If you want to save yourself some time when you next decide to change your mail program, you should consider running your very own IMAP server. I use <A HREF="" title="">Dovecot</a>, with <A HREF="" title="">Getmail</a> delivering directly to Dovecot's Maildir inbox, and I can use any mail reader I like without importing or manually migrating my mail.


Easy migration of address book

Posted by: Administrator on September 16, 2004 06:05 PM
There is a little CLI utility that comes with evolution (at least, it does on SuSe 9.1) which will export your address book into CSV for you.

evolution-addressbook-export --format=csv > file_name

Then it's an easy matter to import CSV format files into Thunderbird.

You may need to open the CSV file and delete one column that Thunderbird doesn't have.


How to migrate from Ximian Evolution to Mozilla Thunderbird

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 29, 2008 07:52 AM
how can i migrate from evolution to outlook in windows, please help me out to solve the problems


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