How to search Thunderbird emails with Spotlight on a MacBookPro (OSX 10.5)

After upgrading from OSX10.4 -> OSX10.5, I was surprised to discover that Spotlight was no longer indexing Thunderbird emails.

I went back and rechecked all the steps in my earlier blog post, thinking maybe some files were lost in the upgrade, but all appeared ok. Using “/usr/bin/mdimport -L" I verified that the importer was present and still running. I even tried "/usr/bin/mdimportmdutil -E" to do a complete new re-index, in case it was somehow corrupted. Still no success.

Re-reading my earlier instructions, this step caught my eye:

  • Move Thunderbird.mdimporter to either “~/Library/Spotlight/” (which I did) or “/Library/Spotlight/” (as suggested in some other posts)

…so as an experiment, I moved the Thunderbird.mdimporter directory from “~/Library/Spotlight/” to “/Library/Spotlight/”, used "/usr/bin/mdimport -L" to verify that it was running in the new location. Immediately, Spotlight was finding matches within my Thunderbird emails.

The only change I did was to move the Thunderbird.mdimporter – could the location of this really be o.s. version specific? Maybe that explains why some people used one location, and some the other?

(If anyone reading this has done these same steps, I’d be very curious what location are you using for Thunderbird.mdimporter, and what version of OSX you are using!)

UPDATE: At first, Spotlight worked fine, but problems arose soon after the original blog post. Spotlight started giving garbage results pointing to unrelated files, showing confusing icons and filenames for matches, and eventually a system crash. I suspect that Spotlight from 10.5 got confused by the existing indexed data of Spotlight from 10.4, but have no data to back that theory.

To get Spotlight working with Thunderbird properly, I did the following:

  • move the Thunderbird.mdimporter directory from “~/Library/Spotlight/” to “/Library/Spotlight/”
  • use "/usr/bin/mdutil -E" to clean out the existing indices.
  • reboot the computer
  • use "/usr/bin/mdutil -E" to clean out the existing indices again. (maybe unneeded but by now I was being paranoid!)
  • used "/usr/bin/mdimport -L" to verify that it was running in the new “/Library/Spotlight” location.
  • wait a few mins, then try searching your email.
  • smile and celebrate with a cup of coffee.

Hope that helps – John. 04dec2008

2 thoughts on “How to search Thunderbird emails with Spotlight on a MacBookPro (OSX 10.5)”

  1. My recollection is that something that happened in Leopard broke Thunderbird 2’s spotlight integration code. Not sure what the current state of affairs on Shredder is…

  2. Trying to get this to work – few quick questions:

    1) I had installed Entourage and then switched to Thunderbird. I dragged entourage from the applications folder to the trash to uninstall, and now the Mac still wants to use Entourage as the default e-mail. When I do a spotlight search for a message, it tries to open entourage and gives me an error.

    2) I’m also a new mac guy and when you say “use /usr/bin/mdimport -L to verifiy that it was running in the new location”, i’m not exactly clear what I should be looking for. I ran a termianl session, cut and paste that command into there and it comes back with “>” and then I can’t do anything. IS that good? Bad?

    Any ideas?



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