What do Thunderbird extension developers need?

One of the goals for Thunderbird 3 is to be a much better platform for which to develop add-ons.

We’re planning and doing some in-product and in-codebase work to that end, including documenting APIs (shocking, I know), bundling STEEL, which should make it easy to do 80% of what add-on authors want to do without resorting to XPCOM voodoo, and in general refactoring to make more capabilities pluggable.

But I’d like to find out what else we can do. Are there enough ways for add-on developers to get help? Do you know where to ask for various kinds of questions? Add a comment if you have ideas, please.

I’ve been emailing with David Boswell and Eric Jung from mozdev, trying to figure out if there’s something the two organizations can do together, as we have some natural overlap in this area.

Ideas welcome!


  1. When starting work on my listarchive extension, I didn’t find the basic “Building an extension for Thunderbird” page on MDC, only the Firefox one; I think that one easy thing to do is to publicize said page a bit more prominently.

    I also have some opinions on making stuff easier in creating new account types; in the present state, a pure JS account type seems to be impossible, although kill-RDF will fix the current problems I am having.


  2. A short tutorial on how to use the Venkman debugger. Maybe even a short video. Would cover: install, configure, set a break point, run, inspect a variable.


  3. I agree with Joshua. Now it’s easy for me to find what I want, but I was nearly discouraged at the start by the lack of a clear source of documentation.


  4. Here is a part of an email I recieved from a Zindus user.

    > Can you offer a link to documentation regarding the development
    > and, more importantly, debugging of thunderbird add-ons?
    > I’m having a recurring problem in Lightning and I’d like to contribute
    > by trying to narrow down the cause (and ideally provide a fix).

    My response summarized the setup of a dev environment with links to the mailing lists.

    Wanting to debug something you are using is a natural entry point for new developers. Easing this transition might encourage more people to move a step along the path from “user” to tester/developer.

    Search “debug Thunderbird extension” to get a sense of the content currently available. The good news: plenty of room for improvement!


  5. Have no idea was my comment lost or something but as a extension developer I want to have access to plain message text not in the MIME form but before it got htmlized by Thunderbird. Actually, having ability to convert to/from MIME and htmlize strings in Thunderbird style would be awesome. And ability to run background threads too, but that’s probably not going to happen soon.


  6. One problem is that extension development documentation is focused on Firefox, not on cross-application-development. XUL is the same with every application, Mozilla Documentation should reflect that.

    The biggest problem is the need to restart the application to load changes, there’s no on-the-fly-development possible. I know that enabling this would be dangerous, because it could break the application, but if there were a development kit that did enable that, in a sandbox, with the developers knowing that complex extensions could be causing the application to crash, that would rock.

    Another problem is the lack of documentation for the basic functionality of Thunderbird, and how my extension can become part of that.
    I’m sure everything’s there somewhere, but it’s not always easy to find that stuff.


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