Notes on using Thunderbird email client with the Vanderbilt Medical Center's Exchange Server email server

  • The only client program that works directly with the Exchange server is Outlook, but Outlook runs only on Windows.

  • The web browser client is Outlook Web Access (OWA). The “premium” version of OWA runs only in Microsoft Internet Explorer. The basic version is available for other browsers. OWA is the client to use if there is some function you need that is not available in Thunderbird.

  • Functions not available in Thunderbird are access to public folders and retrieving archived email.

  • There are different methods for delivering electronic mail. Thunderbird can be configured to use Post Office Protocol (POP) or Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). POP moves your email from the email server to a single desktop computer. When you start a POP email program, all the mail in your inbox is transferred to your desktop computer. Once that mail is forwarded, it is usually deleted from the server. In contrast, IMAP uses a client-server model, in which your email program is a client that interacts throughout a session with the email server.

  • We believe that the best way to use Thunderbird is as an Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) client. The rest of this discussion assumes that Thunderbird is being run as an IMAP client.

  • To get the Sent Items and Drafts folders to work right, set up the Copies & Folders item of Account Settings like this:


  • If you already have a “Sent” folder and a “Sent Items” folder, you can switch to using the “Sent Items” by making the changes shown above. After Thunderbird is stopped and restarted, the contents of the old “Sent” folder can be moved to the “Sent Items” folder and the old “Sent” folder can be delete.

  • “Trash” and “Delete Items” are a bit more troublesome. “Trash” is the folder where, by default, Thunderbird sends items that are deleted. “Deleted Items” is the default Exchange folder where delete messages get sent. The problem is that Thunderbird always sends its deleted items to Trash, but OWA sends its deleted items to Deleted Items. The Trash folder does get created on the Exchange server so you can see what you have deleted from any platform. It is kind of confusing having two locations for deleted content.

  • There is a procedure for changing the name of the folder for deleted messages from "Trash" to "Deleted Items". See for that information. In this write-up they mention editing a file called "user.js". On my computer this file did not exist so I had to create it in the same directory with "prefs.js".

  • Another confusion is that, with the default settings, Thunderbird does not actually delete a message from the Exchange server Inbox when the user deletes the message. In Thunderbird, the message moves from the Inbox to whatever folder is defined to be the trash folder, but when viewing the Inbox using OWA the message is still there. This is solved by checking the “Clean up (“Expunge”) Inbox on exit” check box.


  • With the expunge setting checked, the deleted items get cleaned out of the actual Exchange Inbox when Thunderbird exits. Of course, it is a little inconvenient to have to exit Thunderbird to synchronize the state of the delete items. That takes us to the next item.

  • There is a Thunderbird extension called Xpunge that allows one to clear the items marked for deletion without having to exit and restart Thunderbird. See for information on the Xpunge extension. By default, this extension empties the Delete Items folder when it clears items marked for deleting. You can disable this by unchecking the appropriate box in the Xpunge Preferences window.

  • Notice that Thunderbird shows the date that a message was sent and OWA shows the date that the message was received. This can cause messages to sort in different orders on the two systems.

  • Email archiving and removal policy summary:
    • messages in the Deleted Items folder are removed when they are older than 30 days
    • items in the Sent Items folder are archived when they are more that 90 days old
    • all other items are archived when they are more than 180 days old.

  • We've noticed that some mail boxes are not being archived and asked the help desk why not. Here is the response From the email team: "All users are subject to having their email archived if they have a mailbox over 100 MB. However, there are some users over 100 MB that are not archived. We have 6000 user licenses (soon to be more) for the archive system, and we have targeted the largest users thus far. I send notifications out several days in advance to all users I am about to enable and archive."

  • It may be easier and simpler to handle the archiving of old email yourself rather that letting the Exchange server do it. The old emails could be stored on the local workstation. This might be a problem for some users since the archived messages would not be available unless the user is at her workstation.

  • Thunderbird can use the Vanderbilt directory server for email addresses and autocomplete the email address as you type. See ThunderbirdExtensions for how to set that up.

  • Folders can be set up to help organize a large amount of messages. The folders can be stored on the Exchange server for access from both Thunderbird or OWA or they can be stored locally. Locally stored folders might be used for archive storage of old messages.

Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
snapshot1.pngpng snapshot1.png manage 54.9 K 05 May 2006 - 11:28 DalePlummer  
snapshot2.pngpng snapshot2.png manage 50.7 K 05 May 2006 - 11:29 DalePlummer  
Topic revision: r8 - 25 Sep 2018, DalePlummer

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