IT - Mozilla Ate My Mail!

Guide to dealing with issues of missing email profiles and account with
Netscape 4 or Mozilla of the same generation.

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Date: 7th, September, 2003


BonDevZone: Mozilla Ate My Mail. Run for your lives!  It's a Hollywood movie - Bloody big nasty monster just ate Postman Pat!!

Read This if - "Mozilla Just Ate Your Mail!!"

If you've ever been confronted with the request to create a new account as if you have just installed Netscape/Mozilla for the first time, and you know you already had it working safely, then you've got a real problem. This article will help you understand what happened, to avoid the problem in the future and, if you're fortunate not to have experienced it so far, then protect yourself today!!

Mozilla Ate My Mail

The Problem
- Your Profile & The "prefs.js" File

First let's look at the way Netscape/Mozilla stores your profile. The profile is all the customization, etc., you have made to create and manage your use of the system, your various mailboxes, folders, your e-mail address, connection details, passwords, etc. All of this information is stored in a number of files in the mail folder. The path to that folder would be something like this (look through your system for the exact path) c:\Netscape\Mozilla\profiles\default\3mc90kk9.slt. It is the "...slt" folder which contains your profile and the most important file therein is: "prefs.js".

Netscape Specific?

My advice is based on experience and refers specifically to Netscape. However, I am assuming that as it shares common core features with Mozilla the same problem may occur in and is therefore applicable to the latter. I will for now refer only to Netscape below.

The prefs.js File

The prefs.js file is the key source of information used by Netscape to refer to all the other files and data in your profile. It holds the paths to your address books and lots of other useful data. It is automatically written each time you make a change to your system and each time Netscape closes down, and that's where the problem lies. Whenever Netscape has a crash during use it will write a false, even a blank, prefs.js file. It's at this point that you have just lost your profile - all the key information about your profile was stored in prefs.js and it just got wiped.

Backup, and Other Files

The simple solution is obvious - make frequent, regular backups of your prefs.js file, store each backup in separate sequential folders and have it ready to restore to your profile folder when you suffer a disaster.

You will also find it useful to store a number of other files depending on how frequently your make changes to your profile, adding passwords, bookmarks, etc. The easiest way to identify, select and save these files is to sort the files in the folder in date order and save the most recent files. I usually save the last month's worth of files - anything with a date in the last thirty days ought to be sufficient.

Close Netscape First

Another point about backing up your files is to close Netscape first. This is because your prefs.js file may be locked by the system while it's in use, which will deny you from copying and saving it. So, make sure your application is closed while making your backup.

Restoration 1. - Prefs.bak

You may notice that there is also a "prefs.bak" file in your folder. If you're lucky and you haven't yet followed Netscape's advice to create a new profile then you may be able to restore your profile by copying and renaming this as "prefs.js". However, if you have already followed the advice then you may have lost both files. This is because whenever Netscape creates a new profile it will create all the appropriate files, including a new, blank, prefs.js and a new prefs.bak.

Restoration 2 - Key Backup Files Only

Obviously the ideal solution is to have and to restore a copy of your profile. You do not need to restore all the files because this error only wipes the profile settings not the rest of the profile. This means that your mail is safe as long as you don't accidentally wipe over it.

The easiest way to conduct a safe restoration is to gradually restore your key files one at a time, beginning with "prefs.js".

If you can see that the file you are restoring is older than the one already in place then leave it and test to see if your initial restoration is working.

REMEMBER: you ought to only need to restore "prefs.js" - the other files are just a precaution in case of other disasters. Once you have replaced the damaged "prefs.js" file then you just reopen Netscape and you should see that your files, folders and mail are back in place.


Multiple Profiles

If you have several profiles in your system then you will need to follow my advice for each in turn. However, as this kind of Netscape crash usually only effects the profile that you are using at the time then you will only need to restore your backups for that profile. Check the others before restoring to ensure that they are working correctly.

BonDevZone: Mozilla Ate My Mail. Run for your lives!  It's a Hollywood movie - Bloody big nasty monster just ate Postman Pat!!

Always save your most recent files on a regular basis.



Keys: loss of email account or profile with Netscape/Mozilla 4 and similar vintage email systems.  Corruption of prefs.js file that causes email profile to be lost by Netscape or Mozilla.  My Mozilla/netscape email account has disappeared.  How do I recover my Netscape or Mozilla email account if it's lost?

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Acknowledgments: Vulcan photography in Woodford section, courtesy of Tim Bell