This page is for defining and aggregating search improvement efforts into a common vision, promoting and combining the collective efforts.



Improve the search interface, make search a useful and integral part of Thunderbird for finding mail, contacts, attachments, and events.

Improving search is going to have a transition period requiring a lot of improvements in a number of different areas; from the search entry to browsing, the results view, and even processing / organizing of mail.


  • Work through improvements to the existing search and quick search
  • Develop platform that enables future search improvements
  • Work on design and development of extensions that move towards a new search paradigm

Improvements to Current Search

Current search is very broken. We have 2 separate interfaces for searching and viewing results; the quick search and the full search. The separation of search and search result interfaces is confusing, useless, and needs to be fixed.

Quick Search only searches the messages seen in the current message list view. It has a lack of prominence which often confuses people who cannot find all their messages because an old search is remaining. The quick search uses a strict type searching (from or subject, to, message) which needs to be changed (via the drop down) in order to search other types. However the quick search is fast and uses the normal mail UI for the results view which helps people to step through the returned results.

Full Search uses the message protocol to perform a search over all messages in the account, even messages that Thunderbird hasn't seen yet. This provides a slower yet possibly more comprehensive search.

Existing Issues

bug 372068 
Improvements to the Thunderbird quicksearch toolbar
bug 259914 
quicksearch toolbar no longer displays "recipient" when focused on "Sent"
bug 379806 
threaded/grouped-by-sort views unavailable in saved searches across multiple folders
bug 258371 
Advanced "Search Messages" results should have a message preview pane

Develop Platform

Development of the platform requires looking at how we store and retrieve mail from a better search perspective. Understanding what we want in our search experience for Thunderbird users will layout the foundations for our new platform.

Better Indexing

Specifically for message bodies we need to make sure we have a clear understanding of what we're indexing in order to provide the best search results. See the following mockups.

With the first message we likely want to index all the text the author has provided, other than possibly the signature block (this may be handled separately).

In the second message you can see that all the reply information has been shaded and we don't want to index that data against this email since the author only wrote the last sentence; the one piece we do want to index.

Finally the third message shows multiple depths of replies in the message, yet we still are only interested in creating an index of the senders original text while avoiding indexing the replies against this message. Also the signature block can again be avoided and handled better in another way like an annotation.

Design and Development of New Search

We've learned a lot of mistakes from the current search and it's behavior, beyond new features the new search system should understand those mistakes and correct for them.

Make Search Entry More Prominent

Currently the search interface is small and aligned off to the right. We need to start trying ways to bring it out more.

  • Some Possible Ideas
    • Larger Entry Interface
    • Centered Search Entry
    • Bring the Search Entry into the Mail View

Search Multiple Sources

With better search indexing we can begin to try searching multiple items from the same search interface with results appearing in the same results view.

  • Possible Search Sources
    • mail
      • subject
      • text
    • attachments
      • file
      • type
    • tags
    • contacts
      • names
      • emails
      • phone numbers
    • (calendar) events
  • Possible Ideas
    • additional meta search language
      • from:person
      • in:folder
      • tag:important

Auto-Complete Search Results

Think "Awesomebar" for Thunderbird. We can help people search their mail with a fast and slick layout for finding the correct message.

possibly related bug 423365

 | google                                                                   [x] |
 [r] _Google_ Contacts API                               [t] news _google_  [*]
     _Google_ released a new contacts API...                          1 day ago 
 [u] _Google_ Summer of Code Ideas                        [t] soc _google_  [*]
     ... Send me your _Google_ Soc ideas when...                    3 weeks ago
 [r] _Google_ Calendar Integration                        [t] soc _google_  [*]
     ... Thunderbird integrated with _Google_ Calendar...           1 month ago
 [a] GMail Screenshot.png                    [t] screenshot gmail _google_  [*]
     ... attached screenshot of _google_'s gmail ...               2 months ago
 [n] _Google_ Summer of Code Mailing List                  [t] soc _google_ [*]                    22 Unread Messages 
 [c] Sergey Brin                                               [t] _google_ [*]                                       1 Unread Message

 [r] == read message icon
 [u] == unread message icon
 [n] == news group
 [c] == contact / person
 [a] == attachment
 [t] == tag icon
 [*] == (un)starred icon

Faceted Browsing

The SEEK project is a Thunderbird extension that offers a fast method of searching through filtering. See their project page for installation, instructions, and code.

  • Possible Ideas
    • Include a faceted browsing interface with the search bar
    • Use a faceted browsing interface to filter the results view