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In an external hard drive I have a backup of my email when I use Thunderbird (late 2009), it i around 12G. Now I need to find some old messages and using OS X Lion, I wonder how could I access and search through all that email messages, not importing all email to my laptop's hard drive. I wonder if using Thunderbird (last OS X version or a previos one) one can just tell Thunderbird to read all email from those files but not importing them.

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You can tell Thunderbird to use your external profile by running firefox -profile "/path/to/your/profile". This will not affect any data on your local profile nor copy any data to your local hdd.

Reference is here: http://kb.mozillazine.org/Command_line_arguments

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Along similar lines you can add a separate dummy email account to TB and tell it that the local files are stored on the external drive (and never check for new messages, etc). The mail server settings can be set to something that looks valid like 'dummy.someplace.invalid' at the default port. Tell it the local directory is cooresonding folder the external where the backup files are. –  martineau Jun 9 '12 at 16:49

Thunderbird stores the text messages at plain text files so you should be able to use any text editor to read and search individual files. You should also just be able to search the files too (though as I'm not a Mac user I couldn't say what's the best program/tool to use).

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