Saturday, July 2, 2011

How to Synchronize Gmail and Thunderbird Contacts

The following are Thunderbird add-ons which provide bidirectional contact synchronization:
I use the Google Contacts add-on to synchronize contacts on a Gmail account (for example, with the corresponding address book on Thunderbird ( automatically created by Google Contacts and the add-on works well with Thunderbird on Windows and Linux. It is not necessary to add Gmail as an IMAP account on Thunderbird for this contact synchronization system to work.

The gContactSync add-on has a slightly higher rating and a slightly larger number of users, but a lower version number (all are below version 1.0 as of July 2011). I recommend using the Google Contacts add-on to synchronize contacts between Gmail and the corresponding Google address book on Thunderbird.

Configuring the Google Contacts add-on for Thunderbird
  • Click on Thunderbird "Tools" and then "Add-ons" to bring up the add-ons window.
  • In the Google Contacts section of the add-ons window, click on "Options" to expose the Google Contacts configuration dialog box.
  • Under the "General" tab, select "Read-only" and check the remaining boxes under this tab.
  • Click on "Add" to add the desired Google account (for example,
  • The default settings under the "Conversion", "Advanced", and "Experimental" tabs can be left unchanged since we are not going to use the Thunderbird address book editor to edit or create contacts.
How to use Google Contacts

One should only use the Gmail interface to enter new or edit existing contacts, as Gmail has a richer set of contact fields and not all fields are correctly synchronized with the Thunderbird (or other) address book. To preserve compatibility with Outlook, it is best to only use fields which are also used by Outlook (for example, Gmail allows contacts with two mobile phone numbers, both labeled "Mobile" but only one mobile phone field can be synchronized with Outlook's contact database).

Thunderbird will also have other address books, for example "Personal Address Book", "Contacts", "Collected Addresses" (collected automatically by Thunderbird), and "Rutgers LDAP Directory". Except for the LDAP directory, the other address books (if present) may be ignored as they will not be used (they are not synchronized by Google Contacts).

Database field mappings

The fields and field names used by Gmail, Outlook, and Thunderbird contact databases differ. It is for this reason that I recommend only creating or editing contacts in Gmail and then configuring the Google Contacts add-on for Thunderbird to only read contacts from Gmail. The following links provide additional information on exporting and importing contact lists.
Related links
Questions or Comments

Both are welcome.