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Copying and Restoring Mozilla Thunderbird Contact Groups

One of the most serious problems with shuffling Mozilla Thunderbird from one place to another is the spotty import/export capabilities. While it's extremely simple and straightforward to move mail folder files from one profile to another, as well as the primary address book (abook.mab), it's not so straightforward when you want to move custom address books over.

However, the most problematic thing about Thunderbird's Address Book management is that there is absolutely no method whatsoever available to import and export all distribution lists and mailing lists, period. This has been brought up repeatedly in the Mozilla forums and inevitably some moderator will always appear and give a non-answer along the general lines of "use X plugin and you can export a single mailing list" or "Distribution lists are linked to the parent address book, there is no way to import and export them because of this."

Those answers are very poor. The only plugin we found which adds import/export of individual lists does just that: export a single mailing list as if it was an address book. We had a customer with about 60 mailing lists and this was an outrageously time-consuming and impractical option. Thus, we set out to figure out where this stuff was stored, how it was stored, and how we could pull it back into the almost-complete new profile on the new computer...and I have figured out how to move around these otherwise unmovable lists.

There are two parts which need to be moved over: the file which contains the actual address book, and the preferences which tell Thunderbird that the book exists and what it should be called. The file in my case was called imapab.mab and is simple enough to copy over. The hard part was fishing out the configuration options, which are very strange because they have "ldap" (lightweight directory access protocol) in their names. Because your situation may have slightly different names involved, we'll reproduce the configuration lines we had to hand-move over exactly as they were on the old profile. You will need to copy and paste these lines out of and into the corresponding prefs.js file in the Thunderbird profile folders WHILE THUNDERBIRD IS COMPLETELY CLOSED.

Here's what you are looking for:

user_pref("ldap_2.prefs_migrated", true);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.NNdbase.description", "NNdbase");
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.NNdbase.dirType", 2);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.NNdbase.filename", "impab.mab");
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.NNdbase.isOffline", false);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.NNdbase.protocolVersion", "2");
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.NNdbase.replication.lastChangeNumber", 0);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.default.filename", "default.mab");
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.default.replication.lastChangeNumber", 0);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.default.uri", "moz-abldapdirectory://default.mab");
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.history.replication.lastChangeNumber", 0);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.pab.replication.lastChangeNumber", 0);

Move these lines over to the new preferences file, and move the address book file(s) mentioned by the options containing the word "filename" into the new profile, and you will have the custom address book and all of its corresponding mailing/distribution lists back, exactly as they were before. It's not a pretty way to move these things around, but when we tried to find this kind of information on the Internet, we came up 100% empty-handed.