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 149234 times

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

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

Reaction #15 

by garyo 21/12/2007 @ 18:01

If you use recent (2007) emacs-w32 on Windows, then just use c:/<emacsdir>/bin/emacsclient as the editor.  This will wait for the currently running emacs (finish editing with Ctrl-x #), and it'll start one if none is running.  emacs-w32 already has (server-start) built in.  It's dead simple.

Reaction #14 

by foozle 22/08/2007 @ 21:11

For emacs on windows XP:  (if using the standard NTEmacs distrib),
you must set your path to the "emacs.exe" executable, not the "runemacs.exe"
as the "runemacs.exe" will fork another window.

I think a helpful debugging comment is:

If you invoke External Editor on a message and you can STILL edit in
Thunderbird's compose window (while your external editor is running),
then your editor is NOT running in the foreground and External Editor will not work

Hope this helps others.

Reaction #13 

by LT 16/05/2007 @ 04:42

Thanks for this great extension! I tried it and it works well with xterm and vim; unfortunately though it does not work with Terminal, which is the lightweight terminal program that comes with Xfce.

I tried configuring External Editor with this command:

/usr/bin/Terminal --geometry=80x40 --hide-menubar --execute /usr/bin/vim

Terminal launches with vim and the message contents; however, after I make changes and save and exit, the changes are lost and the original message re-appears in the Thunderbird compose window.

Reaction #12 

by mtk 21/03/2007 @ 15:47

thank you from freeing me from the tyranny of the thunderbird text editor!

Reaction #11 

by Keso 22/11/2006 @ 16:57


what about do binding for ctrl-r on message and call external editor directly, without need open thunderbird default editor first?

Reaction #10 

by L_V 27/09/2006 @ 11:14

Unfortunately, does not seem to be compatible with PsPad
You can edit but not save the modified mail.......

Reaction #9 

by mhooreman 29/08/2006 @ 08:17

My friends hate my ':wq' in my emails...

Very good job, thank you!

Reaction #8 

by n8gray 23/08/2006 @ 23:19

Here's a tip for OS X users. If you want to use an X11 editor you can use the "env" command to set up the display properly. For example, I use this line to use NEdit as my editor:

env DISPLAY=:0 /usr/local/bin/nedit


Reaction #7 

by dvdplm 23/08/2006 @ 11:42

For MacOSX users using TextMate: as the external editor executable, you need to use the "mate" script provided with your TextMate installation. I've put it in ~/bin , but you can put it wherever you like , preferebly in your path.

It does not work though! I save and nothing happens. I save and close the file in TextMate and still no reaction from Thunderbird. confused
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