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Thunderbird (2.something here as 3 is still not stable and had some nasty bugs last I tried) sorts mails by date by default. This is fine, however, it sorts them so that the newest ones are at the bottom of the list, which ... is not fine. Since Thunderbird saves its sort settings on a per-folder basis (and I have many folders) I regularly run into folders I've rarely or never been in which still have the old sorting order.

Is there any way to globally change the default sorting order to "Threads, newest messages at the top" (or anything else, which, I assume might be possible as well then)?

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10 Answers 10

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Open the Config Editor from the following menu options:

Preferences > General > Config Editor

You might also find it at:

Tools > Options > Advanced > General > Config Editor

Or if you are using an older version of Thunderbird:

Preferences > Advanced > General > Config Editor

Type mailnews.default in the Filter bar to bring up a small list of preferences to configure. It will display similar to below:

Preference Name                      Status       Type        Value
mailnews.default_news_sort_order:    default      integer     x
mailnews.default_news_sort_type:     default      integer     y
mailnews.default_sort_order:         default      integer     x
mailnews.default_sort_type:          default      integer     y

In the above, replace the x and y of the value by double-clicking the name of the preference and replacing it with one of the following values as required:

x (see https://developer.mozilla.org/en/nsMsgViewSortOrder)

1 = Ascending
2 = Descending

y (see https://developer.mozilla.org/en/nsMsgViewSortType)

17 = None
18 = Date
19 = Subject
20 = Author
21 = ID (Order Received)
22 = Thread
23 = Priority
24 = Status
25 = Size
26 = Flagged
27 = Unread
28 = Recipient
29 = Location
30 = Label
31 = Junk Status
32 = Attachments
33 = Account
34 = Custom
35 = Received

So if you wanted to sort all mail by Thread, Descending (newest at top), the preferences in the config editor will look like this:

mailnews.default_sort_order:    default     integer      2
mailnews.default_sort_type:     default     integer     22

There are also default_(news_)view_flags settings (for mail and news), which allow to turn on the "Threaded" flag:

view_flags -- the second group of values can be added to one of the first group to combine effects, with several limitations:
  Unthreaded       0
  Threaded         1
  Grouped         64  [mail only (?)]

  ShowIgnored      8  [news only]
  ShowUnreadOnly  16
  ShowExpanded    32  [doesn't seem to work]
ShowUnreadOnly will check the View|Threads|Unread menu; this will cause only
unread items to be seen, but doesn't force a threaded view.

(See also: https://bugzil.la/86845#c74)

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  • 19
    Using thunderbird 3.1.10 in Ubuntu : the menu is "Edit > Preferences > Advanced > General > Config Editor"
    – LeGEC
    Jul 6, 2011 at 7:14
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    Still valid for 31. Note if you have already opened one folder, it will not be sorted by the new order: it only affects folders which are first opened after this tweak. Sep 13, 2014 at 12:18
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    fossilet is correct, but there's a way to make it work for existing folders as well. Close Thunderbird, go to your Thunderbird profile folder, delete all .msf files, and open Thunderbird again.
    – Danation
    Nov 16, 2015 at 20:45
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    In Thunderbird 78+ (on Windows, anyway), it's necessary to hit the Alt key (to reveal the application menus) and then go to Tools -> Options and search for about:config, and then click the Config Editor button in the results. Beyond that, this answer still applies. Sep 11, 2020 at 0:50
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    2021, v91+ : See this other solution in this same thread: superuser.com/a/1514191/295671 This old accepted answer is correct to set the default for new folders but does not address re-sorting of existing folders. The new answer applies the preference to all existing folders. So the current correct answer is to do both of these operations.
    – TonyG
    Oct 7, 2021 at 4:39
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A simpler solution : Using the Thunderbird SortPref module.

enter image description here

Provides settings to control which order messages are sorted initially and by which field as well as whether to display in threaded mode. Please note this data ends up stored in each folder, so changing control values only affect new folders or those with a rebuilt index. The mechanics are described in https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=86845 - this extension merely adds gloss to somebody else's actual code.

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    Not relevant anymore. The extension is outdated and newer versions dont let the extension to be installed
    – Eksapsy
    Nov 8, 2020 at 21:15
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Finding this in 2020, just in case someone else finds this, there is an alternative to the above methods to set an ordering and apply it to all of the folders:

  1. Go into one folder (eg: Inbox) and set the date ordering by clicking on the "Date" heading.
  2. Right click on the "Date" heading (or any of the other headings, actually) and select "Apply columns to" > "Folder and its children" > [Your mailbox name] > [Your mailbox name (top item in the list).

... this will apply the sorting to all folders, and has the advantage of not requiring you to edit config files.

Bonus/Warning: This will also apply reordering of columns, additions of columns, etc... to those folders, too (but that was desired in my case).

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    For me this only applies the columns used, not the sort order.
    – stijn
    May 12, 2020 at 12:10
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    Verified column order and sort order in TB 91.2.0. This is the current solution! TY @mr-smudge.
    – TonyG
    Oct 7, 2021 at 4:34
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    TB 91.10.0 (Win64): For me this is not changing the sort order, only the column order. Jun 17, 2022 at 19:44
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    I had to select "Apply current view to" instead of "Apply columns to" in order to make it work. Sep 22, 2022 at 2:02
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    When using Cards View with Thunderbird 115+, one has to switch to Table View, click the "Apply current view to..." and then switch back to Cards View. Jul 17, 2023 at 0:47
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This is just an extension to the accepted answer, since unfortunately such types of edits are not accepted.

The only problem that the answer doesn't address is getting this applied everywhere, not only to the folders that were first opened after the change. Thanks Danation for providing the idea.

  • Close Thunderbird
  • Locate your Thunderbird profile folder (mine was under /home/my_user_name/.thunderbird)
  • cd to that folder
  • Run find . -name '*.msf' -print0 | xargs -0 rm
  • Open Thunderbird
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    Will this delete all the emails? Or only the preferences of the folder? I'm not keen on trying it on my user as re-sync of emails will take forever on my home connection. Thanks in advance. Jul 1, 2016 at 6:29
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    Sorry for the late answer. No emails will be deleted, go for it, this is just the summary file: "Each mail folder (Inbox, Sent, etc) is stored as two files; one with no extension (e.g. INBOX), which is the mail file itself (in ‘mbox’ format), and one with an .MSF extension (e.g. INBOX.MSF), which is the index (Mail Summary File) to the mail file."
    – OmarOthman
    Jul 1, 2016 at 17:07
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    It will, however, delete any Tags you have assigned to messages. If your IMAP server supports keywords (many do not), you should be able to recover them, but if not then this step is irreversible in that regards.
    – r2evans
    May 2, 2018 at 15:20
  • After doing this with v91.11.0 GMail/IMAP, I need to download all my emails again, not terrible but not so nice just to refresh display settings.
    – ideasman42
    Jul 28, 2022 at 5:06
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For anyone in 2023 using v115+ (supernova).

  1. Sort one folder as you wish. Let's say we sort the Inbox folder to Date, Descending.
  2. Now we right-click on date ->
  3. Apply current view to ->
  4. Select Folder and it's children ->
  5. Select [email] ->
  6. Select [email at the top of the option].

All the folders in that [email] mailbox will open with this new sort order.

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    For me this only works if I use the 'Table view' instead of 'Cards view'.
    – NemoXP
    Dec 12, 2023 at 10:36
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In Thunderbird 45.8.0 the Config Editor (also known as about:config) can be open via

EditPreferencesGeneralConfig Editor...

The option is still called mailnews.default_sort_order and is set to 1 by default.

2 is for descending and 1 for ascending.

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    Just in case, *_sort_order set to 2 is for descending, and 1 - ascending.
    – Artfaith
    Dec 11, 2023 at 7:11
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Using about:config (under Preferences -> Advanced -> General)

mailnews.default_news_sort_order: news sort order
mailnews.default_news_sort_type: news sort column
mailnews.default_sort_order: mail sort order
mailnews.default_sort_type: mail sort column

had this saved in a text file, got it from an article a long time ago don't remember where, but those are the values that will flip sort order.

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Actually, in version 17.08, you just need to go to Menu > View > Sort by > Date > Descending, and voilà.

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    This only changes the sorting for the current folder and its subfolders.
    – doncherry
    Sep 27, 2013 at 16:18
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    As mentioned in another comment above: When using Cards View with Thunderbird 115+, one has to switch to Table View [under message list display options], [right click on any column header] click the "Apply current view to..." and then switch back to Cards View. Dec 13, 2023 at 6:54
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I had this same problem. I solved it by: Clicking on the drop down menu titled as "select columns to display" when you hover over it. The menu icon is on the right of the inbox - it looks like a picture of two columns. Tick the option "Order recieved". This adds a new column to your inbox titled "order recieved". When you click on this title, the order of mail received will change so that newest emails are at the top of the inbox. When you're done just untick "order recieved" from the list of optional columns.

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I'd like to make @Tarek's answer a bit clearer on how to do this in Thunderbird Supernova. I am on version 115.9.0 on the 25th of March 2024.

This only seems to work for "Table view", so you'll have to settle for that.

  1. Set the view to "Table View" enter image description here

  2. Configure the view/sorting as you wish

  3. Right click on a column head, and select Apply current view to... -> Folder and its children... -> choose a folder or an entire mail account. enter image description here

That's it. Repeat this for any folders necessary.

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