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

February 16, 2007

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…


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.