How to set up an out-of-office auto-reply

I’m sure lots of people who are used to using Outlook & Exchange are looking for this one. Unfortunately, Thunderbird doesn’t have this capability built in and I couldn’t find an extension that offers this function either. However, there is a way to rig a simple out of office reply:

BEFORE DOING THIS, PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR IT DEPARTMENT AND MAKE SURE YOU DON’T ALREADY HAVE A WAY TO DO VACATION MESSAGES!  This should be a measure of last resort because you don’t have another option.

  1. Open ThunderbirdTemplate Save
  2. Click on the write button. This should bring up a new email message
  3. Make the subject something like “Out of Office” or “On Vacation” and type something appropriate about how you’ll be gone in the message body. Don’t address it to anyone.
  4. Go to File > Save As > Template. This sets up the template that will be mailed to people who email you while you’re on vacation.
  5. Save the template as “Out of Office” or something else suitable
  6. Close the Out of Office template
  7. Now go to Tools >Message Filters
  8. Click the New button
  9. Change the name of the new filter to Out of Office Reply (or whatever you want to call it)
  10. Select “Match all of the following”
  11. Under the “For Apply Filter When” section, change the “Subject” drop menu to “To” and put your email address in the blank at the end of that line.
  12. Click the Plus button at the end of the “To” line, which adds another criteria.  Change the “To” drop down to “Status”, leave the middle drop menu at “is”, then select “New” in the last drop menu.
  13. Click the Plus button again and change “To” to Status, change the middle one to “isn’t”, and change the last one to “Replied”.
  14. Click the Plus button one more time, change “To” to Status, change the middle one to “isn’t”, and change the last one to “Forwarded”.  (Thanks Richard!)
  15. Under the “Perform These Actions” section, change the “Move Message To” drop menu to “Reply With Template”.
    Filter Setup
  16. Change the next drop menu to your Out of Office template.
  17. Click Ok to close the filter.

Operating Instructions:

Don’t send yourself a test email from this account! This will start an email loop and will fill up your Inbox and your Sent Mail. Not pretty…

Second:

Filter List

  • To turn the filter on – check the Enabled column for that filter’s line on your Message Filters list
  • To turn the filter off (once you’ve returned from vacation) – uncheck the enabled column on that filter’s line in the Message Filters list.

Third, you will need to leave your computer on and Thunderbird open the entire time you are gone for this to work (this process works differently on Outlook).

Fourth, don’t be annoying and leave the filter on for forever after you’ve gotten back from vacation. Be courteous and uncheck that filter when you get back, so people can email you without getting the auto-reply. I’ll post some more about different things you can do with these filters, managing templates, etc.

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96 Responses to How to set up an out-of-office auto-reply

  1. confused and frustrated says:

    My office has decided that we’re not allowed to use Outlook but we have to use Thunderbird instead. Anyway, I have to set up an auto-reply because of the massive amounts of international emails I get. The problem is the international people I work with don’t realize (and I don’t understand how they can forget) that I am most likely asleep when they email me during “normal” hours. Most of my emails come to me at 1, 2, or 3 a.m. Since I don’t answer those emails right away, my clients email me two and three extra times thinking that I am just ignoring them. I need to set up an auto-reply that reminds them that my office is closed but I’ll answer their email as soon as I return.

    My problem is that my Thunderbird isn’t the same as yours. Maybe I have an older version or something? I can do all of the processes you list up until step number 11. I don’t have a “Move Message To” drop menu so I can’t change it to “Reply with Template”.

    I am absolutely desperate to get auto-reply. I am desperate enough to break the rules and start using Outlook. Can you help me? I only have version version 1.0.2. I’ll ask our IT guys to give me the newer version to see if that helps, but I don’t know if it’s likely that I can get it.

    • Susan S says:

      When you get to the part about creating the filter you will see LOCAL FOLDERS in the window.
      You need to use that drop down box and change it to the email address that you want to apply the rule to.
      That should then allow you to pick from the templates in the drop down box. Hope that helps.
      All best
      Susan S

    • frustratated says:

      This is the most arduous way to hit Out of Office reply. Gotta remember to take an extra hour before I leave to get this set up…

  2. woman says:

    hie! this was really helpful. thanks a bunch!

  3. Will to try anything says:

    I followed your instructions to create the filter which worked great. When I went to delete the filter, the version of Thunderbird my company is running did not have the filter on/ Fileter off. I was able to create or delete.

    I deleted the filter but it continues to run, sending out the “Out of Office” message. When I return to the filter list, it does not exist anymore either.

    How do I stop the reply?

  4. Slushman says:

    Hey Will,

    I’m really not certain. Are you running the latest version of Thunderbird? If you delete the filter, but it’s still running, then it sounds like there’s a bug in the program and you’d need to report it to the programmers.

    You can find them at mozilla.org.

  5. António Ruivo says:

    Hy! Thanks for the help. Anyhow I can not take the risk of Will to try anything, After check out the filter box and delete it how come the Out of Office reply still show up ?
    I have the latest version of Thunderbird.
    Thanks!

  6. Slushman says:

    Hey Antonio. If you’ve deleted the filter, it shouldn’t keep sending an out of office reply. I would try closing Thunderbird and reopening it. If that doesn’t work, I’m afraid I don’t know what to tell you.

    Thanks for reading,
    Chris

  7. ^Blakeyed says:

    I have followed these instructions, but when auto-sending that email always fails, it seems is a SMTP problem. But when sending messages manually, always works. :S:S

  8. Slushman says:

    That sounds like Thunderbird is having issues connecting to your email server, but is otherwise working correctly.

  9. Leonel Gan says:

    A very useful article!

  10. Peter Hill says:

    It seems to work with the major exception of my ISP refusing to relay these auto replies…

  11. Joe says:

    Hi and Thanks! I seems to work just fine. I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I have done this before on other accounts and it has worked – very useful. I am trying to set it up again and this time once I get to choosing a template in the drop down menu (#12.), the menu bar gets really narrow and there are no options to choose from. I followed all the steps up until then the same as always. Any ideas what I can do?

  13. Marius_Romania says:

    yes it works ..verry good, but after I send an message to me I receives 20 mails with that auto reply , why ???

  14. Slushman says:

    Good question Marius! Basically, you’ve just setup a loop.

    If you turn on the auto-reply filter, then send a message to yourself, Thunderbird sees in the incoming message and sends an auto-reply, which then comes in as another new message, which gets an auto-reply, and so on.

    I would recommend not emailing yourself while having the auto-reply turned on. :)

  15. JW says:

    I have just followed your great instructions above and then got to the bit that says I have to leave my computer on for this to work. I can’t do that as I need to take it with me and it will be turned off. Is there a way around it?
    Thanks
    JW

  16. Slushman says:

    @ JW: Not by using Thunderbird, no. The filters only work when Thunderbird is running. If you want to intercept mail before it gets to Thunderbird (like without having Thunderbird open), you’d have to setup a vacation auto-responder on the mail server.

  17. luckchai says:

    for the one who said can’t select the template. the drop down is very narrow. If you still have the problem.

    What you have to do is go to the Templates folder and click on the your template. Somehow, this makes Thunderbird recognizes the template. Then go back to create the filter. There, you should be able to see it from the drop down.

  18. [...] no in-built way to do it. Here’s a workaround, explained in more detail here, but it’s not pretty, and it depends on your computer remaining on [...]

  19. Elmer says:

    Hi,

    Nice work on the article. I came across your webpage as I was looking for a way to set up a filter so that e-mails with more than, say, 20 addresses in the To: field would be sent to my, say, Junk folder (I’m a big fan of privacy and discretion). At the same time the sender would receive an auto-reply with a message such as ‘As your message contains more than 20 recipients placed in the To: field, it was not delivered. If you want your message to be delivered to this e-mail address in the future, either place your recipients in the Bcc: field or use less than 20 addresses in the To: field.’

    Any idea? ;-)

    Elmer

  20. michael says:

    Hi,

    what a helpfull article, many thanks. Still, befor I start working on my thunderbird, there is a question similar to that from Elmer: The old problem with auto-reply is that it also replys to junk-mail which makes them going on, because they have the confirmation that my e-mail-adress exists. My thunderbird has a junk-folder and is very good now to sort out most of the junk-mails. Is there a way to set the filter on something like “only reply to inbox” or “never reply to junk”?

    Thanks, Michael

  21. Louise says:

    Hi,

    I am just about to go on maternity leave and as i will be off for such a long time my computer can’t be left on. I was wondering if anyone knew an alternative way of doing this without your computer being left on?

    Any ideas?

    Louise

  22. Pedro Ferrer says:

    thank you very much for that how-to guide. It was very helpful for me.

  23. Ron says:

    Hello, I have recently learned about Thunderbird. I was shown a video tutorial about how to get it set up and I know the basics but I am having trouble with the SMTP from my e-mail provider. I am in a business that sells domains and web hosting and I am looking to set up an auto-response for my prospects. I pretty much no how to filter it so it will only send the autoresponse out to the e-mails that I get that says “name is a prospect” but I can figure out how to set the SMTP. Our emails end in .ws and I would really appreciate your help?

  24. Ron says:

    Just so I clarify my question from my previous post what I am looking to do is learn where to find the SMTP protocol for my e-mail provider. The e-mails come from email.ws … At least this is where we log in

  25. Jessica says:

    At first, I had the same problem with the narrow box and not being able to select my template. If you first make sure the template is open and then select the message filters from that tool bar, the template should appear as an option in the drop down box. Don’t forget to check the enable box on the next page!

  26. Ralph Weaver says:

    Another helpful item is the “Date is after” “Date is before” field under date. Change the filter to Match All conditions, put date after your last day of work, put date before the first day back.

    You should turn it off when you get a chance, but at least if you forget you won’t continually spam people.

  27. Ralph Weaver says:

    Also wise to put a “from isn’t” your email address.

  28. Bori Mazzag says:

    Thank you for this post – it was very helpful! I was also having trouble at first with being able to select the appropriate template, then I followed your response to Elizabeth and got over this hurdle too. Thanks again!

  29. Dante Battocchi says:

    I can not name the template, any suggestion?
    Thanks

    • Denis says:

      I had the same problem. The template is automatically saved to your templates folder, open the folder and click on your file and it will be visable when you go into Message Filters as in step 7 of the instructions.

  30. thanks for an interesting post, I really liked how simple it was to read.

  31. Michal says:

    Hi,
    Good tutorial. When it hits a match, I receive the error: “Sending of message failed. Please verify that your Mail & Newsgroups account settings are correct and try again.”

    I turned on logging and am getting success logs of type “Applied filter “Out of Office” to message from [User]”

    I also turned off automatically signing emails with Enigmail.

    Any thoughts?

  32. SShown says:

    Awesome! Thanks so much-you’ve solved a great issue for me.

  33. pudince says:

    well, there is something wrong.
    I am on a windows, and when i go to “Save > as template” Nothing happens, no further dialogs?

  34. Ben says:

    Great post. I do have one question. For some reason, my reply subject added (was: “subject”). I have no idea why this is happening. Has anyone encounter this problem or anyone able to remedy it?

    Many thanks.

  35. Angelos says:

    Very nice!
    Thanks for this very informative article…

  36. Richard says:

    Thanks. However: Auto-reply has a *very* dangerous side-effect. In typical office where you get post from mailing list, your auto-reply is sent to the list. Someone on the list is on vacation using carelessly configured auto-reply which arrives to your mailbox and your thunderbird replies etc. etc. This escalates to such flaming rate that the mail servers will overload and someone very angry from IT department will come to smack your PC down.

    In the point 10. of the list you should set active “Match all of the following” and put more guards like:
    “Status””is””new”;
    “Status””isn’t””Replied”;
    “Status””isn’t””Forwarded”;
    These conditions will reduce the likelihood of flooding.
    Unfortunately Thunderbird cannot be configured to remember to whom it has already sent auto-reply and to not resend to those addresses.

    Those of you who have Enigmail-plugin installed (GPG encryption integration for Thunderbird) be warned that there is probably no way you can get the auto-reply to work without uninstalling the plugin.

  37. Holly Pitters says:

    I can do everything you suggest except that when I click to save my auto reply as a template a pop up window (where I assume I should be able to assign a name to the template) just flashes on the screen and disappears. If I carry on and try to use the filter – I have no templates to choose from – so it doesn’t seem to be saving the template at all – or if it is – I don’t know what the name is or where it is!

    Thanks for any help!

  38. Jason says:

    I’d like to second Richard’s reply. I’m a mail admin who has had dozens of people create very embarrassing mail loops using instructions like the ones on this page. None of my users are very happy when they end up sending 10000 emails with minutes and have 50 people yelling at them.

    Another brilliant one I’ve seen people do is accidentally clicking ‘run on’ and running it against your inbox. Then you’ve emailed the last 10000 or so people you’ve got an email from, in many cases depending on how much email you keep and how many from each person several hundred times.

    I really think you should plaster some big warnings on this to check with your IT department first if you are in a big company. – In my case we have a 100% safe and proper vacation system our users can use but people trying to find their own solutions see guides like this and get themselves in big trouble and embarrassment. (which could have been avoided if they checked with IT first and got the safe instructions for our company).

    • Slushman says:

      Hey Jason,
      Thanks for the reply and you’re totally right! I’ve altered the article to only filter “New” messages and I’ve also added a warning at the top to check with your IT department before doing this. I must have missed Richard’s comment from before or I would have changed the article sooner. Thanks for the help.
      But I’m No Expert

  39. Perhaps I have skipped a step, but I can’t seem to find it.

    I have done the template mail …
    Done the filter … [and ensured that it is enabled]

    But nothing seems to be going out …

    I suspect it is because the “to” filed is blank in my template mail …
    But if I add a name there then the template will only work for that one address?

    How do I get the reply mail to automatically address itself to the recipient that the message is trying to auto reply to?

  40. Ale says:

    Thank you very much for such a useful post!

  41. marie4oso says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been going into my CPanel and have to create a new auto response every Tuesday when I don’t work. At least this way it just means I leave my computer on for the day with TB open. I have now followed all the tips on Status etc and go in each Monday afternoon and change the Date Is to the relevant date. I’m glad you added the bit about changing the Local Folders on the first dialogue box as I couldn’t find my templates either until I changed to my correct email account.

    This is one less problem in the short term. When CPanel lets me just turn an autoresponder on and off life will be so much better!

  42. Ikenna says:

    Great Article

  43. Brenda says:

    Cannot select my template in the ‘perform these actions’ sections, no drop down available. Tried the strategies of the previous posts but still nothing. Any ideas?

  44. Declan McManus says:

    This is an absolutely awful and inelegant solution. It’s quite unbelievable that something that was so easy on Outlook ten years ago is now so difficult and (leave the PC on with Thunderbird running!!!) just plain silly.
    Why did I ever change?
    Declan

  45. Slushman says:

    I agree Declan, but the difference is Outlook has Exchange server working with it to provide the out-of-office function – it’s not something that Outlook alone can do. Otherwise, you’d have to leave Outlook open all the time also. If there were a Thunderbird server, it would probably be able to do the out-of-office function.

  46. mekala says:

    Ha! You probably should mention that the computer needs to stay on at the START of this post. I cant leave my computer on for 5 weeks while I’m gone and would’ve figured out a different solution if I’d seen that first.

  47. ggriffis says:

    I followed the directions but the template message does not get sent when I email this account.

  48. TimC says:

    Thanks for these steps.
    Couldn’t you get prevent the possibility of starting an email loop when sending an email to yourself by adding the filter:
    “From” “isn’t” “”

  49. TimC says:

    Sorry, looks like my brackets were escaped, the filter should be:
    “From” “isn’t” “[your email address]”

  50. Absolutely useful. Thanks for the tip!

  51. yahman! says:

    Very nice solution! But how do we make sure that the ‘out of office’ reply will not be sent to any incoming messages that were flagged as spam? If any messages are identified as spam, they will automatically be dumped into the Junk box. Can the reply be excluded for those messages or is it inevitable that these unsolicited messages will be replied as well? Of course I prefer not to automatically send out my personal details to spamming companies… thank you.

  52. Jon Daley says:

    yahman! you are correct – vacation auto-responders no longer work, since spammers use other people’s email addresses, and so those people don’t want to get your email, and will report you as spam, and then your ISP will get blacklisted.

    The problem compounds with mailing lists, and other bulk senders or auto-repliers that don’t properly set (or also if you don’t check) for the bulk precedence, etc.

    Spamcop explains it simply: http://www.spamcop.net/fom-serve/cache/329.html#responder

    If you are really that important that you need to have your e-mail responded to, a co-worker should read your email for you.

    I came across this article because I was wondering if anyone had solved the problem of how to have a safe auto-responder, but it looks like there isn’t.

    I am wondering about generating a fake 500 SMTP response that still accepts the mail, but replies to the *actual* sender (rather than the from address), but I’m not sure if I can configure my mailserver (postfix) to do that. Maybe the solution is to forward the email to an address that returns a 500 and also forwards to a different mailbox (maybe using the + add-on). I’ll have to test what an internal forward does – I think it might lose track of the original sender.

  53. Ken Schumack says:

    Assuming your template has the subject “Out of Office” it would be a good idea to add a rule to your filter with:
    “Subject” “doesn’t contain” “Out of Office”

  54. Monk SMith says:

    Well the whole point of an out of office reply is, well its axatcly that, out of office, so if you have to leave the computer on and leave Mozilla running, then it defies the point of the out of office reply.

    Mekala totally agree with you, that fact that the computer needds to be on should be written in bold in capital letter and at the beginning of the article. It would have saved me a lot of time.

  55. Olivier de Guardia says:

    Thanks for your help

  56. Jennifer says:

    This was easy to understand and easy to follow! Thank you! Now I’m going to have a Thanksgiving with less stress. :)

  57. Aleksandar says:

    Hi,
    I read some of these posts but I didn’t find anything about the following. I made folders and for every of them I have message filters so when I recive mails from some persons they are in folderes of persons name.
    So I’m wondering what is happening if I make Out of Office filter that runs on Inbox folder. Does thaat mean that all folders in Inbox folder will have same filter?
    I took test with my coworker but nothing happened. 2 tests actually one with “run message filters on Inbox”, and one “run message filters on his folder”. Both tests haven’t sent my coworker my automatic message.
    What could be wrong and how should I manage this.

    Thank you for your quick answer

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  61. Joanne says:

    That was great and very easy to understand. Thank you!

  62. kevmalone says:

    Very clear, very useful. Thanks

  63. Lori says:

    Hi,
    I am trying to use this to autorespond to customers a confirmation email after a sale is made, but the auto-reply doesn’t always send, and when it does it appends the old email title to the new title, and adds a bunch of encoding stuff at the bottom. Do you know how to stop that? Any info is greatly appreciated.

    Lori.

  64. meryl says:

    thank you. this is very useful. i tried some other process but ended up replying to all messages in my inbox. lol. thanks again.

  65. RodBoyes says:

    Clever stuff, but this should be at the top!: “you will need to leave your computer on and Thunderbird open the entire time you are gone for this to work (this process works differently on Outlook).”

  66. Brysten says:

    I am using the auto responder for business purposes to quickly respond to customers requesting information on products. I’ve set up heavy filters to block any spammers or looping situations. However, I system adds the line “(was: PREVIOUS SUBJECT)” to the end of the subject line I wrote and it’s very unprofessional looking. Is there anything I can do to take care of this?

  67. Rob says:

    Great post, this is also useful for a “change of address” message telling humans to use your new email, where spammers probably won’t be able to make the switch.

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  74. Lene says:

    I have this email, but have two accounts set up under it. a personal and business… i have made an auto reply message and want it to only sent to those who are writing to the business email.. but it does for both email address. I dont have a way of making the address’ seperate – they are on the same link (if that makes any sense)
    can ya help me out? it would be greatly appreciated

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  84. Sean O Conaire says:

    Carefully, using this I emailed everyone that ever emailed me (including the CEO) numerous times.

  85. Karen says:

    My thunderbird does not seem to have the “Reply With Template” option. Any clue why it’s not there?

    • kevmalone says:

      I use this so rarely that I find I forget how to do this, and this bit always drives me nuts. Anyway:
      (Using version 24.1.1). In the “Filter Rules” dialog, “Perform these actions” portlet, the dropdown list should show available options, “Reply with Template” is the 4th option on the list. iirc you need to set up a a template first.
      HTH

  86. cars says:

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  87. Ash says:

    I set this filter up, but it sent out emails to everyone with my automated reply. It also sent it to every single email I have ever sent, spamming everyone… Now I am hideously embarrassed.

  88. Suyog says:

    Wowwww….’
    Helpful……………………………..☺☺☺’

  89. Need some help =/
    Set up filter as you described and works fine except auto response email shows full header and some html code. How can I stop this?

    Template says:
    I am currently out of my office. Urgent questions can be sent to…

    Email says:
    This is a multi-part message in MIME format. ————–050803070206010203080608 Content-Type: text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1 Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit I am currently out of my office.Urgent questions can be sent to…

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