Thunderbird's Address Book

First of all, some unfortunate terminology needs clarification. Thunderbird has an Address Book. It contains within it two further subdivisions, named Personal Address Book and Collected Addresses. So, somewhat confusingly, inside the Address Book is an Address Book. And the menu lets you create more:

File|New|Address Book...

I'm reluctant to invent any new terminology, so hereon, when I write about the Address Book and its contents, I refer to items such as Personal Address Book and Collected Addresses as address books, deliberately in lower case.

The two address books mentioned already are built into Thunderbird. You are not permitted to delete or rename them as you can with user-defined address books. It is possible to rename them via the Config Editor, but doing so is likely to cause later confusion.

Personal Address Book is intended to be the default working address book, for your own use. If you have no need for any further subdivisions, this address book could be all you need.

When you send a message, Thunderbird checks all the addresses it is being sent to, and if it finds an addressee whose address is not in any of your address books, this address is added to Collected Addresses. This feature may be disabled or modified here, via Thunderbird's main menu:


The Address Book also supports Mailing Lists. A Mailing List is a collection of Contacts, within an address book, which permits a group of several Contacts to be added to a message as a single item.

The Address Book is organized rather like the main Thunderbird window; there is a narrow pane at the left which shows address books, a larger pane at top right which shows the contents on the currently selected book or Mailing List, and at bottom right, the contents of the currently selected Contact. Mailing Lists appear in the left-hand folder pane as if they were subfolders of address books, but it can be somewhat misleading to think of them as subfolders. They can be shown or hidden, depending on whether you choose to expand or collapse the folder tree.

To create a new entry ("Contact") in an address book, you can use the toolbar button, or go via the menu:

File|New|Address Book Contact...

To Edit an existing Contact, double-click it and the Contact properties editor will appear.

Additionally, when you're reading an email message, the sender's address will appear next to a star. If the star is white, or clear, then this Contact isn't in any of your Address Books. Clicking on the star will open a dialogue that allows you to add the address as a new Contact. When you've added this Contact, it will have a yellow or gold star to show that it is known. Clicking on a gold star will open a dialogue that lets you edit the Contact, either in-place, or by opening its entry in your Address Book. The dialogue also allows you to choose which of your address books you wish this Contact to be stored in.

To create a Mailing List, select the address book you want to put it into, and either use the toolbar button, or via the menu:

File|New|Mailing List...

and the Mailing List editor will appear. You can type Contacts into it, and the Address Book's auto-fill system will offer matching addresses from the parent address book.

An alternative way to fill a Mailing List is to close it, and expand the parent address book in the folder pane so you can see the Mailing List's icon. You can now drag and drop Contacts from the open address book onto this icon.

Note that a Mailing List can only contain Contacts found in its parent address book. If you attempt to add a new Contact, or a Contact from a different address book, TB will create a skeleton entry for your new Contact in the Mailing List's parent address book.

To edit a Mailing List, double-click it and the Mailing List editor will appear.

There are several ways to use Thunderbird's Address Book.

Open the Address Book, select an address book, select a Contact (or several Contacts) and click the "Write" button (in the Address Book). This will create a new message, with the selected Contacts added to the To: address boxes. This approach has two major disadvantages; it can only be used to start a new message (it's of no use when replying or forwarding) and all the addressees are placed in the To: box, which is undesirable, unless you know for sure that all of these addressees have consented to their addresses being shared amongst them. This is fine between colleagues in the workplace, but unacceptable with friends' private email addresses.

If you select a Mailing List and click on "Write", then again a new message will be created, this time with the Mailing List's constituent Contacts all filled into the new message's To: boxes. This might be useful if you wanted to omit a Contact from a group mailing.

As mentioned above, there is an autofill system. Another way to use your Address Book is to start a new message (it could also be a reply or forward). If you don't want to send using To:, click on To: and alternative sending modes –Cc:, Bcc: etc, will appear. Select one, then just start typing a name or address into the address box. Suggestions that match what you've typed will appear. Move to the correct address and click it or press return, the address will be filled in and the cursor will advance to the next line. Even though there are, typically, only four address lines on show, Thunderbird will keep adding new lines and offer a scroll bar to allow them to be seen. You can grab and drag the top edge of the message text pane down to make more room for the display of addresses.

If you prefer a visual prompt, then when composing a message, use the F9 key, or via the compose window's menu:

View|Contacts Sidebar

and a sidepane will show you a compact view of one of your address books. You can now select Contacts, and use the Add to... buttons at the bottom, or drag-and-drop Contacts into an address box, or right-click and select an option from the context menu.

Mailing Lists will appear intermingled with your discrete Contacts, and can in principle be used in place of a Contact to stand for all the member Contacts stored in the Mailing List. The sending mode will be applied to each of the member Contacts within a Mailing List, so if you send to a List using Bcc:, it will act as if each of the Contacts named in the list was individually addressed using Bcc:.

A very useful set of enhancements for Thunderbird's Address Book can be found in this add-on:

More Functions For Address Book

Another add-on from the same site,

Email Address Crawler

allows you to harvest addresses from the headers and bodies of email messages in your account folders.

More about addressing can be found here: How do I send to everyone in my Address Book?

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