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External Editor - Usage


Allows to open and edit your messages in an external text editor such as NEdit, emacs, etc...


The External Editor button is not visible by default; you must customize your composer toolbar:
  • Open the compose window
  • Select the menu View/Toolbars/Customize..., or right click on the toolbar and select Customize...
  • Drag and Drop the new icon External Editor on your toolbar
  • Click OK
Then, open the extension option window and set your editor (without path or with an absolute path)


Just click on the extension button or use the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-E), edit your message in your editor (while editing, the compose window is disabled), save, close, and the message will be updated in the compose window.
Emacs users can install this major mode designed for EE (look here for details).

HTML Edition

When editing a HTML message, the External Editor button provides a drop-down menu allowing to edit as HTML (thus keeping all text enhancements), or as plain text.

Unicode support

Starting with version 0.6, unicode is supported. You must set unicode encoding in the Compose window before launching External Editor: Menu Options/Character Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8).

Headers Edition

Headers can be edited in the external editor, given as a comma separated list in a paragraph before the message content.

Supported headers are: Subject, To,Cc, Bcc, Reply-To, Newsgroup.

Subject:  Here is the subject
To: adressTo1, adressTo2
Cc: adressCc1
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=# Don't remove this line #=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
... the mail content begins here ...

But you can then modify it, use multiple lines, and add as many headers type as you want. Example:

To: adresseTo1, adresseTo2
adresseTo4, adresseTo5
Cc: adresseCc1
adresseCc2, adresseCc3
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=# Don't remove this line #=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-


  • Your external editor must run in foreground, i.e. must not return before you close the file.
    • NEdit: use "nedit" or "nc -wait"
    • gvim: use "gvim --nofork"
    • and for vim: use "xterm -e vim"
  • External Editor has been tested on Windows (XP) and Linux. It also works on Mac OSX, beginning with Thunderbird 1.1. Previous versions of Thunderbird could not use External Editor because of Mozilla bug 267269.

Creation date : 20/08/2005 @ 22:47
Last update : 14/04/2008 @ 21:15
Category : External Editor
Page read 117624 times

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react.gifReactions to this article (Please no question here. Use the forum instead)

Reaction #38 

by radio 17/09/2014 @ 14:32

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Reaction #37 

by Seb 07/02/2013 @ 17:53

If you want to use it with Apple Mac OS X Textedit then the command should be:


So you have to give the real path behind the Folder "".

Reaction #36 

by ttamttam 18/12/2012 @ 20:19

In order to use it with emacs under windows, I had to put this un the option box (essentially, the key was to had the --server-file option and the path of the server file):

emacsclientw.exe -a runemacs.exe --server-file c:\cygwin\home\matt\.emacs.d\server\server

Thanks for this extension

Reaction #35 

by Guido 17/01/2012 @ 11:42

Thank you for your work. I use gvim for almost all of my work and I'm very grateful because I can use my favourite editor also for e-mail messages (as it used to be centuries ago...).
Warmest greetings from Northern Italy! e

Reaction #34 

by charlene427 16/01/2012 @ 09:23

very good!

Reaction #33 

by nilnull 16/07/2011 @ 16:23

Bug: When configuring the extension I apparently made a mistake typing the path to my editor. (note: a "test" button on the preferences dialog could avoid that). To try it out I start editing a new mail, and I get a message telling me the editor I configured could not be started. So I want to close the "new mail" window to go change my settings, but the plugin won't let me close it, saying "close your external editor first" -- which of course makes no sense since it is not open. So I am stuck there with a window that's impossible to close...

Reaction #32 

by Max 07/07/2011 @ 10:57

Thanks a lot for the update. Works like a charm again (using TB5 & gVim)

Reaction #31 

by max 30/06/2011 @ 11:40

Is there a chance to get this nice add-on working with Thunderbird 5 as it did in v.3?

It tried using it with gvim --nofork and also the 'set guioptions+=f'' but no external editor showed up...

Reaction #30 

by karsten 13/03/2011 @ 14:25

Just responding to my own inquiry of last October:
1. I reinstalled Open Office. That solved it
2. I still get the message if an other Open Office Document is open. After close that the error message disappears

Reaction #29 

by ChrisDodd 31/01/2011 @ 18:21

I can't seem to make it work.  I use 'xterm -e vim' (as suggested) or 'gnome-terminal -x vim' (slightly better), and in either case it will run vim in a terminal to edit the message, but after a ':x' (save and exit) from vim, it doesn't read back the edited file in Thunderbird, so any changes made are lost.
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