Dmitry Leskov

Putting The “Received” Column In Thunderbird To Work

According to Internet standards, each email message should have a Date: header bearing the date and time when the message has been sent. In real life, that header may contain an incorrect timestamp for a variety of reasons, from system clock malfunction or incorrect timezone setting on the originating system to deliberate forging by spammers. Therefore Outlook and Web-based email clients sort messages by the time they were received at their final destination, extracted from the first Received: header.

In Thunderbird, however, the default folder view includes the Date column. The Received column, if enabled, displays the same timestamps, effectively rendering itself useless. I had this issue in Thunderbird 3, but, to my surprise, it has not been fixed as of version 6.0.2, and for some reason the fix is difficult to find on the Net, so I decided to write this post.

The problem stems from the fact that Thunderbird downloads message headers selectively when you choose to leave messages on the IMAP server, and skips the Received headers by default. Fortunately, there is a preference that tells it which additional headers to download. It is normally used by extension developers, but you may set it manually as follows:

  1. Select Tools/Options from the main menu.
  2. Click Config Editor.
  3. If a warning displays, click “I’ll be careful, I promise!”.
  4. Locate the mailnews.customDBHeaders preference, e.g. by typing “dbh” in the Filter field. Double click it, or select and press Enter.
  5. If the preference was not set previously, type “Received” and click OK. If some extension has already populated the preference, add “ Received” to the end of the list of headers, separating it with space.
  6. Close the Config Editor and restart Thunderbird.

From now on, the newly received messages should have a proper value in the Received column. If you want that for the old messages too, you need to tell Thunderbird to re-download the headers and rebuild the index for each IMAP folder. To do that, right-click the folder you want to refresh, select Properties from the pop-up menu, and click the Repair Folder button.

Let me know in the comments if this post was helpful.


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  1. Donald
    12:08 am

    Thank you! I have been trying to figure out this problem for several years, and I believe that this is the solution. I’ll be testing it starting now. I am not a computer expert but have asked several, all of whom have been stymied.

    Thanks again!


  2. Dmitry Leskov
    12:07 pm

    Thanks for letting me know it helped you, Donald.

  3. orlando
    3:57 am

    Your tip still helping people!

    Thunderbird 17.05 still presenting the same behaviour, the Received field isn’t downloaded by default and when you import a IMAP folder all mail is presented with the same date.

    Your post solved it in an instant!



  4. Jon
    10:13 pm

    Genius! Thank you.

  5. John Kruiniger
    6:12 am

    Fantastic! I had been looking for years and this worked perfectly first time, many thanks. JK

  6. Ken
    9:46 pm

    Thank you, I have been living with this for years and your post finally fixed it for me!

  7. Kenny
    9:14 pm

    The issue is still not fixed in Thunderbird 24.2.0, and your fix is still working.
    Thanks a lot from DK

  8. Serghei
    5:34 pm

    Works fine on Thunderbird 17.0 (ORACLE Solaris 11.1).

    Find another bug: if adding more consecutive custom headers: X-Envelope-To, Received, the last added header doesn’t work (: symbol is missed),
    and so you can edit manually mailnews.CustomHeaders like that:
    mailnews.CustomHeaders X-Envelope-To: Received
    mailnews.CustomHeaders X-Envelope-To: Received:
    With both mailnews.CustomDBHeaders and mailnews.CustomHeaders present filter rules begin to work.

  9. VanguardLH
    9:19 am

    Not sure what Serghei is talking about. The value for mailnews.customDBheaders is a space-delimited list header NAMES. Names do not include the colon (“:”) which in a syntax detail for a header line in a message. In the header section of an e-mail:


    The colon is a separator or delineator and NOT part of the header’s name. There is a “Received:” header line but the header’s name is just “Received”. So the string of header names in this Tbird setting looks like:

    hdrname1 hdrname2 hdrname3 hdrname4

    No commas, no colons, just spaces between header names. Adding the Received header name would look like:

    hdrname1 hdrname2 hdrname3 hdrname4 received


    received hdrname1 hdrname2 hdrname3 hdrname4

    The header name is the string in the header line BEFORE the first colon character immediately juxtapositioned after the header name. If Serghei is adding colons into the value of this setting then he is adding an illegal character. A colon is not part of a header name but just the delimiter in a header line.

  10. Owen
    9:25 pm


    I added Envelope-to to mailnews.customDBHeaders, and could then regex filter the ‘real’ recipient using FiltaQuilla, a little attended AddOn that still works with my up-to-date Thunderbird (currently version 31.0).

    Thanks for the tip.

  11. Bernd
    2:03 am

    Thanks a lot.
    Have searched for hours to fix this issue.
    Your tipp was brilliant.

  12. Alberto
    10:32 pm

    Thank you.
    This is still being useful.

  13. Coccobill
    12:48 am

    For most users the difference between Date and Received columns would not be noticeable. I’ve been using Thunderbird at home for years relying on Date column without noticing anything wrong. Only when I installed Thunderbird at work where I get emails from cron jobs that run for hours, I noticed that jobs that run from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. send emails with timestamps from 3 a.m. even though they were sent at 7 a.m.. Still not fixed in 45.3.0 and your fix still works. Thanks!

  14. Andreas Toth
    12:50 pm

    I just installed Thunderbird 45.8.0 the other day after finally giving up on Outlook as an IMAP client, especially since it won’t integrate with Google for contacts and not doesn’t seem to support starring (although I didn’t investigate this). Using Thunderbird, however, my Inbox displayed 136 e-mails that forced themselves to the top of the list because their Date field contains no year. Interestingly, I found that other e-mail clients displayed a year for these e-mails. Then, today, I discovered the Received column but found, as his article states, it is useless out-of-the-box. Following the instructions outlined herein, but instead of Repair Folder, I deleted my account and started over to force a complete refresh. Yet, even though I had first restarted Thunderbird before recreating my account, the Received column kept on showing the same date as the Date column. What am I possibly doing wrong???

  15. Andreas Toth
    1:00 pm

    My apologies! I just realised that this has fixed my issue! It just wasn’t obvious since I didn’t realise that Thunderbird seems to display recent e-mails with no year. However, if I sort them by Date, then the original issue becomes apparent and that the fix has worked. Thank you very much! :D

  16. Andreas Toth
    12:41 pm

    UPDATE: Enabling message threads breaks the sort order and using Group By prevents new messages from being displayed. I’m getting really sick of this. I thought I had found the perfect e-mail client for my needs. In fact, I was so happy in the beginning, I even donated to Thunderbird.

  17. Andreas Toth
    12:43 pm

    A better solution would be to force Received into Date in the first place.

  18. Ted
    3:04 am

    You mentioned in this 2011 post that this issue is still not fixed as of TB 6.0.2, and here I am writing this June 2017, and it is still not fixed as of TB 52.2.0!!

    Luckily, sfhowes posted a link to this page on May 4, 2017 (over at this thread: ).

    I’m trying to follow your instructions on my TB (TB 52.2.0, Mac OS 10.9.5), but don’t see the Tools/Options > Config Editor you mention. Okay, now I see after searching online for Config Editor, it’s in the Preferences > Advanced > General area (as described at
    Alright – it worked! I also did the Repair Folder function, and now my emails show the right dates in the “Received” column (but not in the Date column).


    Thanks so much, Dmitry!

  19. Ted
    3:07 am

    By the way, for anyone trying to figure out this bug (wrong Date, but accurate Received date/time value in Header)……

    a) This issue only happened to me with emails from only ONE email address, and only when they sent out an AutoResponses. So, for whatever that’s worth (I’m not a tecchie, so I dunno!))

    b) every time, regardless of the actual accurate Received value (date/time) in header, the Date column shows “12/31/69, 4:00pm”

    So, for whatever that is all worth (I’m no techhie) ………

  20. wayne hermit
    1:38 am

    after all this time to fix “received” mail by date the issue isn’t corrected?? If has been would tend to think there would be a link to correct the date issue?? it’s not a live or die item more a steel sliver in your finger — annoying

  21. David Eaton
    10:56 pm

    Recently started using Thunderbird, 52 and now 60. I had deliberately chosen to show the Received column rather than Date and sort on it, but have been noticing that some delayed emails were showing the time from Date in the Received column, not the actual Received time for IMAP accounts. How crazy that, in 2018, I should still have to search for a solution. And how great that thsi blog post is still here to be found and the solution still works! Thanks.

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