How To: Sync Thunderbird with Google Calendar

I never used to have a lot of use for calendars and scheduling software, but I’ve got to say that over the last few years it’s something that I’ve increasingly come to rely on the ensure I’m where I should be, when I should be there. It might have been okay to miss appointments, forget about meet-ups and generally run off my own whims when I was a kid, but in the grown up world if you schedule appointments, meetings, phone calls and the like and then don’t show up, let’s be honest – it makes you look like a douche at best, and if you’re missing professional appointments then you’re going to be having a sit down discussion with your boss sooner rather than later.

Do Your Prep

I’ve used Thunderbird as my email client of choice for a number of years, but back when I worked at General Dynamics they had it set up so you’d use Outlook as your combined email and calendar client, and it worked really well, so I wanted something similar. Thunderbird doesn’t come with calendar functionality built in, you have to add it as a separate add-on called Lightning, but first – if you want to sync your calendar properly (which we’ll get to) then you need to have the a version of Thunderbird which is at at least version 3.1 (3.0 won’t cut it).

On Ubuntu 10.04, the packaged version of Thunderbird in the repositories is only 3.0 so you’ll need to get yourself a package from a PPA (this will sort you out) or just download it from the Thunderbird website here – but be careful to get the language right (EN-US is not for everyone =P).

I wrote a little about installing Thunderbird before, and it contains some useful bits and pieces about installing/upgrading in Linux without losing all your emails, so if you’re using Linux, and you’re not 100% sure of what you’re doing then it could be worth taking a look before you upgrade: How To: Install Thunderbird in Linux

Ride the Lightning

Installing the Lightning add-on to get calendar functionality in Thunderbird is a doddle:

  • Head on over to the Lightning homepage and download a relevant .xpi file,
  • Open up Thunderbird, then click on Tools | Add-ons then click the [Install…] button and point it at your downloaded .xpi,
  • Let it install then restart Thunderbird.

That’s half the battle – you now have working calendar functionality. But I really want this calendar synced to Google Calendar… Well, actually that’s not quite true, I couldn’t care less about Google Calendar – what I want is that the calendar I use in Thunderbird can sync itself to Google Calendar, and this way I can in turn sync my phone to Google Calendar and be able to keep track of my appointments on my PC at home, or on my phone when I’m out and about.

Let’s make it happen…

Sync Me Up

For Thunderbird/Lightning to talk to Google Calendar, you need to install an extra add-on called GDATA Provider. Be careful to install the appropriate version for your operating system of choice.

Once that’s installed, restart Thunderbird, and then create a new calendar by going to File | New | Calendar and choosing On the Network:

Thunderbird New Network Calendar

Once you’ve clicked [Next] button you need to actually go and find out the network location of your Google Calendar. To do this, head to the Google Calendar web page, sign in, then go to Calendar Settings and scroll down a bit until you see the Calendar Address section, like this:

Google Calendar ICAL Address

You need to right-click on the ICAL button and copy the URL of your calendar into the clipboard (or you could always hover the mouse over the ICAL image and write down the URL displayed in the bottom-left corner of your browser, assuming you have the Status Bar visible). Thinking about it, the form of the calendar address is pretty simple, so you could always just copy and paste the line below, and substitute your user name in:

Be careful to leave the %40 in there – it’s just the hash code for the ‘@’ character.

So, you’ve selected the Calendar address as On the Network, now select Google Calendar and paste your ICAL address into Thunderbird’s network location dialogue box:

Google Calendar ICAL Address in Thunderbird

Once you’ve clicked next on the above dialogue, just give the calendar a name, and that’s it – you’re set!

Put a few test entries into the Calendar in Thunderbird and watch them show up on the Google Calendar web interface! Do the reverse! Use your phone’s Google Calendar integration software (comes as a given on Android phones) to do all sorts of scheduley things and never miss an appointment again!

Cheers! =D

6 thoughts on “How To: Sync Thunderbird with Google Calendar”

  1. Thank you. This was exactly what I needed to find to get my Lightning to synch properly with Google Calendar and not give me countless error messages and reminders for past events. Amazing that I didn’t get a single reply to my problem post on Mozilla.org. Thanks to people like you Linux newbies like me continue to build confidence.

    1. Hi Todd,

      Thanks for letting me know how you got on, I’m glad you found the post useful and got everything working properly :)

      Linux is definitely an acquired taste, but once you’ve been around it long enough to know how to fix up the most common classes of problems and everything works smoothly, it can really become a thing of beauty. The trick is to not give up ;)

      Best wishes,
      r3dux

  2. Hi, thanks for this quick tip. I don’t understand why Thunderbird doesnt just put native support for things like Gmail calendar and Exchange server. Putting the missing pieces together used to be cool in 90s and early 00s but now its just plain frustrating.

  3. The post was informative and I tried it. But i do not understand why it is not working with mine. My calender shows and error and it says the calender is momentarily not available. I have installed the GData provider and taken the ICAL link as you have posted.

    Please help…

    1. Hi Nebcin,

      The first thing I would try is to make sure you’ve got the latest version of Thunderbird and the Lightning calendar plugin.

      If you do that, or have done it and it still won’t sync, you might want to try enabling debug mode in the Thunderbird error console to be able to see exactly what’s happening behind the scenes as recommended in Comment 11 here: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi/show_bug.cgi?id=598083

      There also seems to be a fix which involves modifying a file as shown in Comment 9 here: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi/show_bug.cgi?id=604227

      Additionally, there are also some potential solutions involving setting the time zone and making sure all spaces are stripped from the login details here: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/calendar/syncing-my-calendar/tXaMiU_FjT8

      Hopefully one of these will help – other than that I’ve no idea, sorry!

      Cheers,
      r3dux

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