Thunderbird Extensions
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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 183302 times

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

Reaction #26 

by Jeff 15/01/2010 @ 17:29

In the FAQ: "But Word is not a text editor, it's a word processor. Why would you use it here?"

Answer: As a WYSIWYG editor for composing HTML messages, for people who do not know HTML. I'm no fan of MS Word for composing simple HTML files anyway, because it inserts loads of special tags for Word and other MS products. So, if not Word, then what WYSIWYG  HTML editor/composer would you recommend?

Reaction #25 

by Jeff 15/01/2010 @ 16:47

This is a great idea (I haven't tried it yet, as I'm currently using Thunderbird only occasionally, as a newsreader). Unfortunately, this extension as described does not provide access to all headers as in console newsreaders and MUAs (trn, yarn, elm, maybe pine). In those, all the headers, just as they will appear in the outgoing email or Usenet post, are placed in the editor at the top. The user may then edit, add, and delete headers as necessary-- as they are treated just like the text in the body of the message. Perhaps it is a limitation of Thunderbird that it is not possible to give the user access to all headers in this way.

Reaction #24 

by AndyBoySouthPas 04/01/2010 @ 21:20

Thank you, from a confirmed emacs user.

Reaction #23 

by Geza 02/11/2009 @ 18:39

Wonderful! Many thanks for the great work! I had been wishing for just such an extension for years; I even looked for it, but apparently not well enough. Finally a ThunderEmacs for handling my email! smile

Reaction #22 

by uturn 26/06/2009 @ 16:29

An important thing I discovered in Mac. I had to add the EE button to the message toolbar before it would work. Just using the menu item, or the keyboard command didn't work until I added the button.

Reaction #21 

by Jason 26/05/2009 @ 15:35

For emacs, use neither runemacs.exe nor emacs.exe; instead, use emacsclient.exe (or emacsclientw.exe) and put in your .emacs file


That way, it will always open in your current emacs rather than opening a new instance.  Of course, this requires you to always _have_ a running emacs, which you should.

Reaction #19 

by albcamus 18/07/2008 @ 04:31

> Hi, thanks for your great  work, it's no nice an add-on for tb.

"no nice" -> "so nice". sorry for the typo.

Reaction #18 

by albcamus 18/07/2008 @ 04:29

Hi, thanks for your great  work, it's no nice an add-on for tb.

As for me, I specified:

 "konsole -e vim"

as the external editor.  But when composing in it, I found the textwithis set to 72, hence will wrap words automatically after 72 characters. But I have set this to 0 in my ~/.vimrc:

set textwidth=0

I don't like wrapping words, because that will mangle patches.. Any hint? Thanks in advance.

Reaction #17 

by Tim 15/07/2008 @ 05:13

I second mtk's comment, below! I have both GTK and GNOME set to use Emacs key bindings, but Thunderbird insists it knows best for some things (most notably C-f, C-n, and C-p). This allows me to forget about Emacs-like key bindings and just use Emacs itself!

Reaction #16 

by Daniel 10/07/2008 @ 09:40

*bug* ok editing the header tag in html doesn't work, it moves all the code to the body tag, kinda annoying
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