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I'm putting this here for others to find since it has been bugging me for years and I've only just now found a workable answer that isn't a plugin which stops working when Thunderbird is upgraded.

The Problem:

I like to use Thunderbirds Tags to highlight emails different colours depending on whether they are for work or personal, etc. I like using the simple shortcut of pressing a number key (0...9) on my keyboard to assign the tag to an email.

Unfortunately Thunderbird has by default no way to reorder these tags or reassign the shortcut key for them. Furthermore even deleting all the tags and recreating them creates odd behviour such as assigning the NEW tags to the same order that the OLD tags had. (more on why this might be in the answer)

How can I change the order in which tags appear in the menu and the shortcut key they are assigned?

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Thunderbird Tags can be edited with the builtin about:config editor.

Go to Thunderbird Preferences (How you get there may change depending on your operating system) and on the "Advanced" tab click "Config Editor..."

enter image description here

You will probably (unless you've done this before and disabled the warning) be presented with a warning that changing these configurations can break Thunderbird. You'll need to click "I accept the risk!" in order to continue.

enter image description here

You'll then be presented with the about:config editor.

Type "tags" in the search bar

enter image description here

There are two entries for each tag.: A .color and a .tag

I'm not clear on whether Thunderbird records the Preference Name or the Value when you assign a tag to a message but I suspect that it is the Value because this would explain why when I deleted all my tags through the default "Manage tags" interface and recreated them they were given the same order they originally had and were already applied to my emails. Please leave a comment with your experience to help us all figure out which way it works

So here's how to recreate your tags in a way that you can later insert new tags in the position you want them to appear in:

For each of your tags that you want to keep we are going to create a new custom tag for it in the order you want.

Right click on the about:config window and select "New" > "String" Type Exactly but Replacing TAGNAME with a name for your tag. You can't change this once it's done but I believe you can unset it. mailnews.tags.100_TAGNAME.color

Press enter (or click ok), and enter #000000 (this will make the new tag black. Feel free to enter a different color value if you wish, but it's probably easier to edit the color later with the "Manage tags" interface) This Value field can be changed, it's just the "Preference Name" that cant, but it's the preference name that makes the entry a tag.

Right click on the about:config window and select "New" > "String" again This time type Exactly but Replacing TAGNAME with a name for your tag. mailnews.tags.100_TAGNAME.tag

Press enter and type in the name of your tag.

Repeat this process with all the tags you want to keep, in the order you want them to be listed, but increment that 100 for each one.

mailnews.tags.100_TAGNAME.color              #000000
mailnews.tags.100_TAGNAME.tag                My new tag 1
mailnews.tags.200_TAGNAME.color              #000000
mailnews.tags.200_TAGNAME.tag                My new tag 2
mailnews.tags.300_TAGNAME.color              #000000
mailnews.tags.300_TAGNAME.tag                My new tag 3
mailnews.tags.400_TAGNAME.color              #000000
mailnews.tags.400_TAGNAME.tag                My new tag 4

If you now go back to Thunderbird and open the "Manage Tags" dialoge (you'll see the new tags you've just created. Note: You may have to close and reopen the Thinderbird Preferences window for it to show up

enter image description here

You can now edit the name and color of the Tag in this dialog.

But Why go to all that trouble when I can just click "New..." to create new tags?

The difference is all in that "100" in the Preference Name.

Tags are sorted by their Preference Name NOT their Value. Creating a new tag manually with the Preference Name

mailnews.tags.100_TAGNAME.tag

means that if I later want another tag to appear BEFORE this tag I can create it with the name

mailnews.tags.050_TAGNAME.tag

and it will be listed first.

You might notice from the screenshot above that I figured this out after I took that screenshot, and in fact my tags still only have single digit numbers but they are in the right order for now so I'm not going to worry about it.

What about the shortcut keys?

I've found that the shortcut keys (0...9) for assigning tags are specified automatically to the tags in the order that they are listed in. Therefore if you later insert the tag above before mailnews.tags.100_TAGNAME.tag it will obtain the shortcut key that was originally assigned to mailnews.tags.100_TAGNAME.tag and bump all others after it up one.

For this reason I STRONGLY recommend that you only use Thunderbird Tags for temporary tagging and sort your messages into folders for more long term filing.

I hope this helps you customize your tags and improves your Thunderbird mail experience.

Feel free to ask questions or get in touch, but I'll warn you that I'm not quick to respond unless you can chase down my email address or phone number. ;-)

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  • I'm a T-bird user myself, have been for a long time, but I don't use tags, so I upvoted your answer just in case, even though I'll never apply those settings on my own TB copies. However, there's one thing to consider here: it may depend on whether you keep a local copy of each email your send and receive or not. I've set all my TBs not to, to save space and facilitate indexing, plus I don't use a disk cache at all, which means that I have to compact my folders more often, but new messages load faster too. Looking forward to reading new tips and tricks from you on this gem-app. Cheers mate! – Didier Apr 19 at 8:50

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