Quick Filtering in Thunderbird

Today we’ve released a new add-on the Mozilla Messaging team has been working on for a little while, the Quick Filter.  A new single folder search and filter system that will work alongside our previously released Thunderbird global search.

The Quick Filter add-on is reminiscent of the old quick search system of Thunderbird 2.0  but we’ve improved it in a number of areas.  Here’s how it’s changed from the 2.0 days:

Search Message Types

Unread, Starred, Contact, Tags, Attachments are all types of searches you can toggle to turn on.

A Tag search presents the array of possible tags to help you filter down even more.

Filter Results Count

If your search returns a lot of results we let you know the search bar will let you know how many messages match.

And if even if the search query is too strict and there are no results the Quick Filter will display this inline.

Better Search Type Options

The old quick search tended confuse people because the search type settings were hidden in this popup menu:

In the new Quick Filter we’ve brought those options out every time you focus on the search entry so you always know what kind of search you are performing.

Space Saving Options

Last but not least we’ve worked hard to make sure that if you are using the Quick Filter on a smaller screen it converts down to icons only mode automatically.

Note for Techies: This change was made possible by the CSS  @media rule

Try it out!

You’ll need to be running Thunderbird 3 and then from the Add-on Manager (Tools -> Add-on)  search for “quick filter”.

Give Feedback!

We’re looking for feedback before this lands in Thunderbird as a core feature so any praise and/or comments you have would be greatly appreciated.  Leave your comments in the Quick Filter add-on reviews.

Something you might have already noticed is that this is a separate toolbar just for quick filtering but you can show or hide it as you need it.  Try out the keyboard shortcut and see how it feels.

Thanks for taking a look!


94 thoughts on “Quick Filtering in Thunderbird

  1. Hi Bryan,

    Is there a way with TB 3.1 to directly save a Quick Filter as a virtual/search folder ?

    I use this a lot in TB 3.0.x as I can type in the filter, see the result (instant feedback to the user, nice!) and then click the search box pull-down menu to save with “Save search as Folder”.

    In TB 3.1 it looks like I can do the quick filter but then I have to go elsewhere, “Views” I think, modify the folder name, re-enter the text I filtered on and the field to search for that text (potentially making a typo in the process) and then save it.

    Any chance of an Add On for those throwbacks like myself that actually prefer the old style single multi-function search box with confusing drop down menu ? Unfortunately I may have to revert to TB 3.0 as the new style split Global/Quick search boxes are currently too jarring for my current style of usage.


    P.S. Apologies for the negative tone, I can see that for many people this will be a big step forward in terms of usability so congratulations for pushing TB onwards, I’m just not one of them. Sorry.


  2. I agree with Ronan (April 3rd) and with others:

    1. Keep one search field (too much confusion and space taken with two).
    2. Keep a popup with desired search options (saves space and is intuitive)
    3. Keep emphasis on filtering using subject and sender/recipient, since filtering based on bodies takes a lot of time, if you have thousands of mails. I don’t agree that the pop up is confusing.

  3. Although I’m not a fan of two search boxes, I’ve found that in use I much prefer having the always-visible filtering options over the pop-up.

    With the pop-up box I was trying to think forward towards what options I would eventually select when I was composing my search terms, and I also had to re-read the options each time to sort out the correct combination in my mind. With the always-visible buttons I know exactly what I’m getting and exactly how to alter that.

  4. Thats fine Hugh, my Feature Request only asks for an optional standalone searchbox – with the new features (sticky-pin, and persistent drop-down for selecting/deselecting search terms) – that can be placed on any toolbar desired.

    The only button I would ever use on the quickfilter toolbar is the Read/Unread button, but I accomplish the same thing with the ‘View:’ selector – although I would nuch prefer a simple button toggle, which is why I alsp opened a FR to make those buttons moveable to other toolbars as well.

    I never change my search criteria, it is always ‘Subject, Sender or Recipient’.

  5. You know what? In my TB3.1 installation (which was over existing TB 2.x installation) it never showed the little “down arrow” along with magnifying glass (drop down list) for C+K search box! Also, the magnifying glass was on right side of the search box. On my colleague’s setup I found magnifying glass and the little down arrow on the left 🙂 Also, it never updated message list as I type in. I always had to hit Enter that opened new tab 😉 So, I’m lost. Seems a new bug??

    Also, I use IMAP and “Subscribe” feature didn’t show me all folders!! I even deleted my IMAP a/c and recreated but no luck. This setup is at my work so I couldn’t afford spending more than a day to fix this so I ended up switching back to TB 2.x!

    When I get hold of another PC or have more time on hand I’ll give a try to TB 3.1

  6. @Satyen

    Thats because it was only in 3.0.x… I think it was 3.1b1 that introduced the new Quickfilter Toolbar which replaced the old combined quickfilter+global searchbox…

  7. In TB 2, I was able to create my own filter that showed unread and starred. Is this possible in TB 3+? I’m at a loss.

  8. So… how do you now ‘save as search folder’? I cant figugre out how to do this anywhere, was so easy before o_O. Please advise. Thanks

  9. @Tom Talbott and @Simon:

    Yes, but you have to use the Advanced Find: Ctrl-Shift-F

    Create your query, then click the ‘Save as Search’ button at the bottom…

  10. Any chance of making this add-on available again. Ubuntu 64 bit users are stuck with TB 3.0 until the next Ubuntu release.

  11. Hmm… Tried @Charles suggestion, but didn’t get it to work. Kept saying “Searching…” at the bottom, but never came up with results. Also, it kept wanting to put the search folder under gmail and it got confused. I tried under “Local Folders”, but got the above result. At this point, I don’t see much reason to stick with Thunderbird and might as well go to Mail.app. Oh well.

  12. @Tom…

    What were your search criteria? How many folders did you include in the search? How big are they?

    Is the Virtual Folder you’re trying to create for an IMAP or POP account?

    As for where it puts the Virtual folder – it puts it under the account you create it for, so if it is putting it under.

    I loathe Mail.app, but whatever turns your crank… 😉

  13. One thing I really miss in TB3 is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to have a different filter setting for individual accounts. I tend to only want to see unread messages in mail and all messages in news. Right now I have to toggle the quick filter. Many thanks for TB!

  14. @Dave…

    I think what you’re looking for is the ‘View:’ filter selector – it is account+folder specific (remembers how it is set for each account>folder)… I rely on it heavily…

  15. Glad to help Dave… I hated TB3 at first, but have grown to really like it. There are only a few real irritations left – the Quickfilter Toolbar being one of them…

  16. It really really really sucks.
    – takes a lot of space. Very bad for people with low resolution laptops
    – when (for those space reasons) the tab bar is disabled, the quick search is not accessible anymore
    – the button style might be nice for dumb windows users. In fact, it needs much more clicking around before you really have filtered messages, in contrast to TB2 where you clicked once and that was it.

    I might be nice for some uses. Reading in http://getsatisfaction.com/mozilla_messaging you will find enough people who dislike the new way and want, like me, just the good old small straight quick search box from TB back, and in the mail bar, not in an additional unneccessary new bar.

    Why can’t you keep the old quick search box as addable field for the mail bar, in parallel to the global search field? Then everyone can chose between the new search bar + global search field, or just the old quick search field in the mail bar (possibly even hiding the tab bar).

    It’s never a good idea to change concept completely and then forcing everone to use it. Make it an option (and make it the default) while still keeping the option to revert to the old way just as it was, and everybody is happy.

  17. @Frank…

    I used to feel the same way, but it really really really doesn’t suck.

    In fact, the *functionality* is very much improved.

    Your gripe about the space it consumes is a valid one however, but you are wrong about the toolbar not being available when the tab bar is hidden (I keep mine hidden all the time). CTRL-F will bring it up (although this can be confusing because the ‘Find in message’ toolbar shares this keyboard shortcut) and ESC will hide it again – or you can always use ‘View’ > ‘Toolbars’ > ‘Quick Filter Bar’ to toggle it.

    I have used keyconfig to eliminate the CTRL-F confusion, so now for me CTRL-ALT-F brings up the Quickfilter bar and ESC hides it. This is bearable, but…

    Since I share your desire to have the old searchbox back, I opened bug 570815, to make the new toolbar optionally available as a standalone searchbox widget much like the old one in TB2, but with the benefits of the new functionality, so please feel free to add your vote:


  18. Thanks for your helpful comment! What you propose in the bug report is exactly what I want 🙂 Voting there.

  19. Hi guys,

    I’m a new user to TB, installed 3.1 at home and at work. Strangely the quick filter bar is present at home, not on my work PC. I tried to look everywhere how to make it appear, found nothing. Any idea ?

  20. The matter of entering filter criteria and then selecting the type of search is incredibly annoying. I don’t want a search underway until I tell it the type of search I need. I enter enter a word and Thunderbird begins to look for it before it knows that I need it by Sender – Recipients – Subject – Body. Once I select the right buttons, it looks for it again! You can solve this by making the Sender, etc. buttons visible to begin with, before the criteria are entered.

  21. alain: try pressing Ctrl+F or click a small magnifier icon in the right top corner…
    jim broyles: i agree completely…would be nice if the options were available before typing any filtering text…on the other hand the filtering is very quick (even in folder with nearly 2000 messages) so it is not the major thing for me…

    …by the way i am very glad for this feature…unlike some people here i usualy need filtering more often than global search as i have all messages sorted in different folders…

  22. Thanks for the tip. It works. Rather stupid problem, but what it shows is that the help facility is not what it should be. Some more efforts on this side to ease the use of the mailer and its tools would be good.

  23. Hi,
    Today I made the “mistake” to upgrade my TB to the last version 3.1. And surprisingly, I had discovered this “improvement”. I use for my every day work one laptop and as a consequence I don’t have to much space to waste on my screen, therefore this new “feature” I consider it as a BUG. Therefore this evening I have downgraded my TB to 3.0(In my opinion the best version so far for laptops!)
    I have liked the previous version with pop-up menu, on the same search box. I don’t think that separating the search function in 2,3 separate tabs reconfigured to perform the same function with different settings could be called optimization(because someone don’t like pop-up menus) except if we believe in Murphy laws ( ~ when improved, things tend to go beyond the point of practical usability ~ )
    This “improvement” is just aligning itself in the queue with the one with icons in message header – who had that great idea should stop drinking 😉 -. Now, with the latest release, we have 2 function duplicated twice, just as improvement 😉
    I always liked TB because of its versatility. You’ve always got one blank software and you were able to customize it with different addons. Unfortunately, starting from this year most of releases from Mozilla had included a lot of addons inside of the “blank” delivery, limiting our configuration’s options 🙁

  24. Feeling so much the same…
    The author of the “unified search” plugin said he intends to write another addon allowing to hide the quick filter bar completely and performing all filtering from the global search box in the button bar. Likely not with a dropdown but with a pop-up like proposed in https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=570815

    I guess some feedbacks on his unified search together with support for his idea for the new addon (see my review of the unified search plugin on the mozilla addon page and his answer) will help him keep going 🙂

    Btw, we plan to buy new laptops for our chair. All the new T-series Thinkpads in 14″ or 15″ now have 1440×900 screens. This is 150px less than the old Thinkpad T60 in 1400×1050.

    I wonder if the mozilla team ever tried Thunderbird on a laptop screen with 900px height. Along with the new “great” buttons in the header and the completely useless tab bar with the quick search bar you might still be able to see 3 or 4 lines of the message body, so I guess we need another new feature to hide the mail body completely! Maybe we could make a new separate toolbar for the gloda below the normal button bar… hmm…

  25. @Fernando

    BCC is a recipient, and as long as you have the recipient option enabled, it will find them.

    If you experience something different, please provide more precise details on how to reproduce the problem.

  26. Why? As one who knows most of the pitfalls, I’m happy to help you with any issues you might be having…

  27. Hi,
    I love the new quick filter, but it there any way to make it search on all folders? (I think that if it doesn’t find anything and you press Enter it will search on all folders, but I want to search (always) on all folders)


  28. The Quick Filter add-on for Thunderbird seems to have vanished from addons.mozilla.org – at least the link in this article doesn’t go to it (anymore?), and a search at addons.mozilla.org yields no success.

  29. Yes, *Mozilla* rocks. But Thunderbird: not anymore. IMO Thunderbird development and management has been very poor for the past recent years. Case in point: the Quick Filter should never have been removed and replaced by Global Search. The Unified Search add-on should not have been made necessary; it should have been implemented into Thunderbird itself.

    The *unforced* decline of Thunderbird is a real tragedy (especially for someone who has followed its development from the very beginning).

  30. I love the Quick Filter, unfortunately it’s been fairly unusable (to me) ever since this new fancy search was introduced, and it’s become even worse with the latest update.

    Why do I use such harsh words? I use a horizontal layout: folders on the left, then list of mails in the current folder, then the current mail. To me this appears to be the most efficient layout for the widescreen laptop I’m using. The Quick Filter bar places itself inside the second column where the current mail folder is displayed. Seems logical.

    In which way was it unusable until recently? The quick filter bar used to consist of a few icons, then some horizontal free space, then the search box. The free space pushed the search box so far to the right that its contents were not visible. I could still click on it and enter search terms, but I couldn’t see what I had typed.

    In which way did it become worse? In the latest update, Thunderbird’s developers in their infinite wisdom (forgive me, but this type of changes I will never understand) decided to label the formerly unadorned icons. This made the width of the quick search bar blow up, which, given the above description, of course meant that I don’t even see the search box displayed anymore. In other words, the quick search has become completely useless to me, unless I change my layout which would mean wasting valuable screen real estate.

  31. I haven’t even seen the Quickfilter Toolbar in a long time, ever since Iago developed the Unified_Search extension, that brings back the simple SearchBox from TB 3.0, but also incorporates the goodness of the Quickfilter Toolbar functionality… and the latest update seems to have fixed the minor quirkiness with the SearchBox not auto-clearing, missing labels for the Search Criteria, and the Search Criteria getting out of sync with the Quickfilter Criteria…


    But be sure to install the latest version (0.6.3) which, if it isn’t available on AMO (above) yet, can be found in Iago’s site here:


  32. Oddly, there is no hot-key combination for Quick Filter, so you have to click the little icon every time you want it to appear or disappear. User-hostile.

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