Thunderbird is an excellent email client, especially on the Linux platform. It’s open source, fast, supports many types of email accounts, and is very customizable. However, for as great as a mail program that it is, it doesn’t have a quick and easy way to send PGP-encrypted email messages. That’s where Enigmail comes in. It’s a fancy, easy to use add-on that, once installed can quickly enable PGP encryption in Thunderbird.

In this guide, we’ll go over how to set up the Enigmail encryption extension in Thunderbird, how to generate a new key, and more!

Install Thunderbird

The Thunderbird mail client remains one of the most popular email clients in the Linux community. Despite this, there are a lot of distributions that choose not to distribute it. As a result, you must install the program on your Linux OS before continuing with the tutorial.

To install Thunderbird launch a terminal window and follow the installation instructions that correspond with the distribution you use.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu Linux has a relatively new version of Thunderbird in their software sources. Users can install it with the Apt package manager.

sudo apt install thunderbird

Debian

Debian Linux’s packages are usually pretty out of date. Despite this, it manages to have a recent version of Thunderbird available in its software sources. To install it, run the following Apt-get command.

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Note: want a newer version of Thunderbird? Follow our guide on getting newer versions of Debian software!

sudo apt-get install thunderbird

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is a bleeding-edge Linux distribution. It regularly delivers the latest packages, so, it’s no surprise that version 60.3.1 of Thunderbird is readily available for installation.

If you’re on Arch Linux, get Thunderbird with the Pacman command below.

sudo pacman -S thunderbird

Fedora

Fedora Linux has a recent version of Thunderbird in its software sources. To install it, open up a terminal window and execute the following DNF command.

sudo dnf install thunderbird

OpenSUSE

OpenSUSE, like many distributions, has a reasonably recent version of the Thunderbird Email client available for installation. To install it, open up a terminal window and run the following Zypper command.

sudo zypper install thunderbird

Generic Linux

Using a lesser known Linux distribution and can’t find Thunderbird in the officially supported software sources? You’ll need to download the app from the website and install it manually.

Note: as of writing this, version 60.3.1 is the latest stable version of Thunderbird. If you’re reading this and a later version is out, head over to the release page and grab the version you need.

cd ~/Downloads
wget https://download-installer.cdn.mozilla.net/pub/thunderbird/releases/60.3.1/linux-x86_64/en-US/thunderbird-60.3.1.tar.bz2

tar xvjf thunderbird-60.3.1.tar.bz2

cd thunderbird

Start the app with:

./thunderbird

Get Enigmail for Thunderbird

Thunderbird cannot do encryption on its own, so it relies on third-party add-ons like Enigmail. Unfortunately, the developers haven’t chosen to ship Enigmail out of the box, so if you want PGP encryption for Thunderbird, you need to install the feature yourself.

To install the Enigmail extension, open up Thunderbird. Once the app is open, click the menu button to the right of the search box.

In the menu, find the “Add-ons” option and click on it to reveal a sub-menu.

Inside the “Add-ons” sub-menu, you’ll see another option that says “Add-ons.” Click it to launch the Thunderbird mail Add-on manager.

Look through the Add-ons manager page for the search box that says “Search on addons.thunderbird.net” and click on it. Then, write “Enigmail” in the search area, and press Enter on your keyboard to start searching.

In the search results, Enigmail should be at the top. Click the “Add to Thunderbird” option and install the Add-on.

Clicking the “Add to Thunderbird” option will not instantly install Enigmail due to security features. Instead, you must click the “Allow” button when the  “Thunderbird prevented this site from asking you to install software on your computer” message appears.

After clicking “Allow,” Enigmail will install itself into Thunderbird.

When the installation is complete, close the Thunderbird Add-on tab.

Set up Enigmail

Now that the Enigmail Add-on is set up in Thunderbird, you must set it up. Click the menu button, then select “Enigmail” followed by “Setup Wizard.”

Go through the Setup Wizard and follow the on-screen prompts to set up Enigmail in Thunderbird. Be sure to follow all of the advice it gives you!

When the setup process is complete, go back to the Enigmail menu and select “Key Management to view your newly generated key.

Use Enigmail

There’s no need to configure Enigmail before sending an email as installing the Add-on takes care of that for you.

To send an encrypted message, click on “write,” fill out an email (like you normally would) and click the “send” button to send out the secure email.