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I have a few IMAP accounts set up in Thunderbird, and some of them are taking up quite a lot of disk space. To save space, I’ve now told it to synchronise only the most recent few days. One guideline I found says,

This won’t affect the state of messages that have already been downloaded to your email program immediately. It may take a while before the body of those messages does not show up anymore in the client. The emails are still listed, but when you click on them, they are downloaded from the server.

What is meant by “a while”? At what point can I expect to have recovered disk space? Is there anything I can do to speed this process up?

I’m running on Ubuntu, but I suspect that makes little difference.

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Messages that are already downloaded won't be deleted unless you tell Thunderbird to delete them. Try right-click on the Inbox and choose "Compact" to recover space from deleted emails. –  Debra Jan 20 at 20:07

1 Answer 1

Thunderbird will re-scan the IMAP account when you close and then re-open the account folder.

First, close all folders until only the "top level" folder for the IMAP account is shown.

Next, close Thunderbird and wait to be sure Thunderbird is closed, then re-open Thunderbird and open the "top level" folder for the IMAP account.

As Thunderbird processes the sub-folders, it should discard the "body" of each email. If this is not happening quickly enough, see below to re-create the IMAP account.

You will probably have to "compact" the mailbox to recover the diskspace.

The other thing you can try is to delete the IMAP account and then re-create it. (Note: the name and location where these settings can be found will vary depending on version and platform):

  1. Put Thunderbird in "Offline" mode: File -> Offline -> Work Offline

  2. Tell Thunderbird to "Not" get mail from this IMAP account (these will vary and some of these settings will not be present in some versions and platforms):

    a. Tools -> Account Settings -> [select IMAP account] -> Server Settings -> Advanced, uncheck the box "Include this server when getting new mail".

    b. Tools -> Account Settings -> [select IMAP account] -> Server Settings, uncheck the box "Check for new messages at startup".

    c. Tools -> Account Settings -> [select IMAP account] -> Server Settings, uncheck the box "Check for new messages every N minutes".

  3. Locate the folder for the IMAP account and make a note of it: Tools -> Account Settings -> [select IMAP account] -> Server Settings -> Local directory.

  4. Also make note of the Server Name, Port, User Name, Security Settings, etc..., and make sure you have the password available for the IMAP account.

  5. Edit the Server Name, and/or User Name, to some "nonsense" values to make sure Thunderbird can't communicate with your IMAP server.

  6. Close Thunderbird and wait to be sure Thunderbird is closed.

  7. From your favorite file browser or command line/shell, locate the folder you noted in step 3.

  8. Rename the folder to some "nonsense" name or move the folder outside its parent folder.

  9. Re-open Thunderbird.

  10. Open Tools -> Account Settings -> [select IMAP account]

  11. Click Account Actions (at the bottom left), select Remove Account, and proceed until the IMAP account is removed.

  12. Close Thunderbird and wait to be sure Thunderbird is closed, then re-open Thunderbird.

  13. Re-create the IMAP account: Open Tools -> Account Settings and Click Account Actions, then select Add Mail Account.

  14. Fill in the requested configuration information that you noted in step (4), and complete the IMAP account creation. (Make sure your "synchronization", and all other settings are as you want them).

  15. Thunderbird should begin downloading the message headers, (and message body's for recent messages).

  16. After you are confident everything is working OK, you can delete the folder you renamed (moved) in step (8) to recover your disk space.

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