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 179971 times

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

Reaction #43 

by WRFemacsuser 25/05/2017 @ 05:14

Thanks for the updated external editor addon.   I use it for almost every email.

Reaction #42 

by psz 18/05/2017 @ 07:26

People using with Thunderbird 52, see:e
(quoted from the forum "Topic #364 - Stopped working with TB 52.0"
and see there for details).

Reaction #41 

by Scott 17/05/2017 @ 23:07

Same issue as already reported. Cannot set the editor in Thunderbird 52. Using Xubuntu 16.04.

Reaction #40 

by sanette 17/05/2017 @ 18:13

Same as Eliot Mos.
Can't click OK in preferences.
No editor is launched.

Thus just occurred after last thunderbird update (linux Mint 18)

Reaction #39 

by unbedroht 15/05/2017 @ 03:53

@unbedroht (on twitter) is offering a 0.1 #bitcoin bounty to whoever fixes the external editor extension for #thunderbird ver. 52

Reaction #38 

by el 10/04/2017 @ 06:34

I have the same issue as Elliot Moss, doesn't work on TB 5.2 on Mac OS Sierra 10.12.4 any more, which makes TB basically useless smile-O


Reaction #37 

by eliotmoss 07/04/2017 @ 00:42

I have loved this extension for a long time ... but it seems to have broken with TB 52.0.  I can no longer click OK after editing the options, so I can't direct it to my editor, etc.  Regards - Eliot Moss

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
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