How to Read a Saved mbox Formatted file

If you have archived a mail folder in raw mbox format, or you have an mbox file left over from previous use of a terminal mail reader like Berkeley Mail or Alpine here are two ways to read and search messages in the file. Following these instructions will make it possible to read locally saved/archived mbox mail with Thunderbird and with Alpine terminal mail reader. By configuring Alpine in addition to Thunderbird you will be able to refer to old messages when connected remotely without access to an X Windows server.


If you have never used Thunderbird email before you will need to launch it once. Allow it to create a new profile for you and then exit. You do not have to setup an online email account just allow it to create the profile for you which will create a "Local Folders" subdirectory. If you already have a ~/.thunderbird directory you are ready. If you need or want to start with a clean thunderbird profile move or delete the ~/.thunderbird directory so it can be recreated on first launch of thunderbird.


  1. (If you have never used thunderbird or removed the .thunderbird directory, launch it once as described above to create a profile) Exit thunderbird if it is running
  2. cd ~/.thunderbird and find a subdirectory either called default or something similar xxxxxxxx.default. If you cat profiles.ini it will have the path in there as well.
  3. cd to the default directory (mentioned in the profiles.ini file)
  4. cd Mail/Local Folders
  5. move or copy your mbox folder here. example (mv ~/mbox ./my.mbox)
  6. Launch thunderbird and you should see that the my.mbox (or whatever you named it) is a folder under Local Folders. Allow thunderbird to index the messages. It will display a message along with a progress bar at the bottom of the window that it is creating a summary. When the summary (indexing) is complete the messages will be visible, searchable and readable in thunderbird. (~3GB mbox file took ~5-6minutes to process) This is a one time process.


Alpine is a terminal mail reader. It can be used to read a raw mbox file if you add the mbox file as a folder collection to the .pinerc configuration file. The easiest way to do that is to use the Main Menu Setup screen.


  1. launch alpine
  2. S setup
  3. L Collection Lists
  4. A Add collection
  5. Nickname : Local mbox
  6. leave Server: blank
  7. Now add the path to the mbox folder we setup above for thunderbird. If you do not want to use thunderbird you can just include an absolute path to your mbox location here. Path: /u/USERNAME/.thunderbird/default/xyzaksdhg.sjg/Mail/Local Folders/
  8. leave View: blank
  9. ^X exit/save
  10. E exit setup
  11. L folder list -- choose Local mbox to display mbox messages

-- Dave Costello - 2016-02-17

This topic: Main > TWikiUsers > DaveCostello > DaveCostelloLeftBar > CsGuide > EmailandMailingLists > Office365Email > Office365Documentation > HowtoReadaSavedMbox
Topic revision: r1 - 2016-02-17 - DaveCostello
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