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I noticed today that, when I do a search within my emails with Thunderbird, it manages to get me references and mails that I had deleted years ago (entire folders that were knowingly deleted).

Yes, I have emptied the Thunderbird bin already. No, said emails are not on the smtp server anymore.

Yet Thundebird still manages to get results from them and is obviously able to produce the entire contents of those mails, as I can see from the search results previews. Though I have absolutely no idea where TB gets these contents from (am both appalled and incredibly angry that it manages to).

So, how does TB manage that ? And how can once and for all ensure that what I want deleted, is actually deleted from TB ?

  • Do you periodically compact your folders? Until you compact a folder, deleted e-mails remain there, though they are removed from the index. – AFH Mar 30 '16 at 20:18
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After some digging and experiments, it happend the phenomenon is due to the Thunderbird global database which continues to store messages texts even if the original message has been long deleted (and is not a part of the actual archives anymore). So, here the solution was to :

  • close Thunderbird
  • delete global-messages-db.sqlite. On Windows: go in Thunderbird's AppData folder, then inside Profiles, then inside the corresponding user profile folder : there' you'll find said file
  • restart Thunderbird. It will be rebuilding the global database, and any email that doesnt exist as of now (because deleted yesterday or five years ago) obviously won't be able to be a part of it anymore :)

You can check the rebuilding advancement under Tools->Activity.

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Have you checked the cache that thunderbird holds, it can be found in preferences under Advanced, network and disk space.

It could be retrieving results from there.

Additionally have you looked at the synchronisation and storage settings under the account settings, to check that emails are being deleted.

I have assumed that the folders have been deleted on the local machine that you can see the mail from.

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