Using an external editor with Thunderbird

Ever wanted to use an external editor, like vim, with Thunderbird for composing email? Rock out.

Replace vim with your editor of choice below. Replace Windows with your OS of choice below.

  1. Install vim, an open source vi clone for many OSes. The link goes directly to the Windows installer. Other stuff can be found at the vim homepage.
  2. Install the External Editor Extension for Thunderbird. Installation and configuration is poorly documented. This is a walkthrough.
    1. Download the .xpi file to your local PC
    2. In Thunderbird, go to Tools -> Extensions
    3. Select ‘Install’ and point it at your .xpi file.
    4. Close all Thunderbird windows.
    5. Start Thunderbird. Compose a new blank message.
    6. In that COMPOSE window, not the main Thunderbird window, go to View -> Toolbars -> Customize
    7. Drag the icon for ‘External Editor’ up to the COMPOSE window’s toolbar and place the item where you want it. Release your mouse button to drop it.
    8. Close your empty compose window. “Don’t save”
    9. In the main Thunderbird window, go to Tools -> Extensions. Select (single-click) the External Editor extension. Click the Options button.
    10. Browse around for gvim64.exe as the editor to use. Leave the rest alone. Windows users ignore the warning information at the bottom of the ‘Usage’ web page for the External Editor Extension (-nofork does not work with gvim64.exe)
    11. Click “OK” for the options window if you have not done so yet. Close the Extensions window.

From there on out, any time you are in the compose window (reply, reply-all, new message…etc), clicking the ‘External Editor’ button in your toolbar should throw you into gvim64.exe with your message and headers. Do your editing, save + quit as normal. Your GUI window will update with the altered contents, including headers.

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