Bi-directional Sync between Thunderbird/Lightning and Google Calendar — Now with free tips a tricks :-)

September 26, 2008 at 12:04 29 comments

The end resultWho hasn’t been looking for a long time for a rock solid calendaring system, accessible both at home, work and when traveling ?

When Google Calendar appeared, it looked very promising… with tools like GooSync, you could sync your Google Calendar with your mobile phone/PDA, but not yet to your desktop client (Thunderbird/Lightning) to do your email / organisation…

Queue Lightning, the calendaring extension for Thunderbird which brings the desktop email application one1 step closer to becoming a viable alternative to Microsoft Outlook.


  1. Download the latest version of the Lightning calendaring add-on from and save it to your desktop.
  2. Open Thunderbird, and go to Tools > Add-Ons
  3. Drag-and-drop the .xpi file you just downloaded onto the new Add-On window to install the plugin.
  4. Once you have installed the Lightning Extension, Thunderbird will ask you to restart. Do So (!). Upon restarting you will be greeted with a new Sidebar:
    Thunderbird with the Lightning Extension installed.

This is all well and good and provides us with an easy to use local calendar, but that’s not much use if you wanted to update it at work, or on the road from a mobile device. This is where the Google Calendar Provider Add-on comes in to play.

The Google Calendar Provider allows bidirectional syncing between the Lightning Calendaring Extension in Thunderbird and Google’s GCal Service ! This is possible because Google, being the lovely chaps that they are, decided to opt for the iCalendar standard in GCal.

Installation of the GCal Provider add-on is similar to that of Lightning. Again, go to the Add-ons Window and Install the XPI available for download from the Google Calendar Provider page. Once installed, don’t forget to restart Thunderbird.

The last step is to tie our Google Calendar into our Lightning.

First of all, you will need to log into your Google Calendar account. Once you are at the main page, click on “Settings” from the Top Right Menu:

Google Calendar - Settings

Once on the settings page, you need to drill down into the “Calendars Settings” screen and then click on your Calendar from the list (I only had a single calendar.)

Google Calendar - Select your Calendar

Finally, need copy the URL of your Private Address ICAL Feed into the clipboard.

When you hover over the ICAL button, you will see the URL. It looks somethings like this:<your email>/private-<key>/basic.ics

You’re done in Google Calendar for now and we can head back to Thunderbird to finally wrap this tutorial up ;). Once you are back in Thunderbird, you need to create a new calendar in Lightning.

  1. Click on the Calendar Tab at the bottom-left corner of your screen to switch to the Lightning Calendar view and choose menu File > New > Calendar.
  2. Another window will appear. The first option is the location of your Calendar – select “On the Network” and click Next.
  3. Select the “Google Calendar” as the format
    (if you don’t have a Google Calendar radio button, make sure your GCal Provider is installed).
  4. In the location input box, paste in your Google Calendar Private Address ICAL url you copied, and click Next.
    Specify your Calendar Location
  5. The next window asks you to give your new Calendar a Name and a Colour, I will leave these entirely up to you 😉
  6. After a confirmation message, you can finally hit the Finish button, causing a “Google Calendar Login” window to pop-up, asking for your Google Account login. It will have automagically extracted your username from the XML feed you just specified, so just key in your password.

Well done, you can now enjoy the many benefits of being able to view and update your Google Calendar directly from Thunderbird – nice work 😉

The end result

Tips & Tricks

  • Follow the identical same steps for other calendars in your Google Calendar; not only additional agenda’s you created in your own Google profile, but also e.g. you’re wife’s calendar or public Holiday calendars…
    (e.g. Belgium Holidays: )
  • If you add other agenda’s which are “for info only”, make sure to tick the “read-only” flag in the settings, it speeds up the sync dramatically.
  • I like keeping the colours of my Google Calendar agenda the same as the one in Lightning. (Less confusing :o) )
  • Do check out the Lightning preferences from Tools > Options > Lightning ! There are many interesting settings to change:
    • start of the weekday (why oh why does it default to Sunday ???)
    • start time of the day (I’ve set it to 11:30 :o) )
    • Select wether or not to show weekend days
    • number of “hours at a time” to show: this is an interesting one. If you have a smaller screen, it actually helps you getting more info on the screen if you increase the default value of 12, the “boxes” representing hours will shrink a bit…
    • Try to Print the calendar :o)

Further Reading

Original source: Stay in Sync with GCal and Thunderbird from the nice people at

Entry filed under: Firefox & Thunderbird, Google, Technology. Tags: , , , , , .

So, have you downloaded Google Chrome yet ? Why is Steve Jobs so stubborn ?

29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Frederick  |  September 26, 2008 at 02:48

    So I got the bi directional google calendar set up with Lightning. But it seems to only sync from google to lightning, but not from lightning to google.
    How do I do it?

  • 2. Stef Andries :: RemoveStringFromobject  |  September 26, 2008 at 13:25

    @ Frederick:

    You need to make sure that
    1) the calendar you added to Lightning is not set to read-only
    2) you copied the correct Google Calendar ics link, on which you have the permissions.


  • 3. Eric  |  October 4, 2008 at 18:32

    I have set this all up and it “works” in that I can see all my calendars from google calendar in Thunderbird lighting, but I want to also see my gcal in Thunderbird when I am off-line. Is this possible?

  • 4. mt  |  November 2, 2008 at 03:34

    Works for me.

    I also use the Zindus addon to sync the Thunderbird addressbook with Google –

  • 5. Nemelis  |  March 4, 2009 at 00:43

    Is there a possibility to sync from my Lighting Home calendar to my google calendar?

    Currently I have 2 calendars in Lighing: Home and Google. And to be sure that a new task / appointment is added to google I need to select the Google calendar, else it wil not be synced.
    But I don’t want to check first which calendarI have selected.

    (The Home calendaris not read only, neither is the google agenda).

    • 6. Peter Hoeg  |  April 26, 2009 at 07:15

      No, the ‘Home’ calendar is a local calendar. But you can set it to read-only or change the color to bright red which will make it obvious if an event is created in the wrong calendar. Then export the Home calendar, delete it and import the exported data into the Google calendar to get all old entries.

  • 7. Roger B  |  March 4, 2009 at 04:41

    Hi, the background header graphic — didn’t notice it at first since i was scrolling down to the content/instructions — seems inappropriate. A lady taking off or lowering her panties?!

    I’m glad I have adblock. Not that I won’t enjoy the gift of sex with my wife — it’s just out of place on a public forum like this.
    Anyway, it’s your site but please change the header otherwise it will affect my choice of whether to visit the site again.

    The image not too graphic. It is a beautiful picture of a beautiful lady suggesting that she’s taking off her string. There’s no nudity, and the picture is not different from the hundreds of publicity images you see daily… The picture refers to the name of my blog (which is not “public” btw 🙂 ), being “removeStringFromObject”, a fictitious (java) command to remove a string from an object…

    Oh, I’m not going to remove the image, and applaud the use of AdBlock. Have fun. With or without a string

    Other than that, thank you very much for this tip — I was actually searching Google for how to make Lightning be the first thing you see when you open Thunderbird, but I needed to know how to sync too — was searching for that yesterday.

    So thanks, that’s awesome to know that there’s a Google cal address input box! 🙂

    Roger B.

  • 8. Dave  |  March 24, 2009 at 21:13

    As with Eric, I did all this hoping that my calendar would be available to me off line. It is not. Unless I misunderstand something, this is not “syncing” anything, it is letting you use the lightning GUI to edit your google calendar instead of the Google GUI.

    In both cases you have to be online or nothing works. I was hoping I could use Lightning/Google like Outlook/Exchange. 😦

  • 9. mike  |  July 22, 2009 at 02:16

    thanks for a very useful walkthrough 🙂

    as for the default week start day being sunday, it’s probably because here in the US, sunday is considered the starting day for the week. hence the weekend days saturday and sunday form the weekends in the sense of bookends, i.e. on either side.

    i’m originally from Europe (as, i’m guessing, you are) where normal people consider monday to be the first day of the week, and the weekend comes at the end of the week 😉

  • 10. Rob Dunbar  |  August 29, 2009 at 20:46

    For those who say their Sunbird/Lightning calendar doesn’t sync after all, try clicking the Reload button on the toolbar for Sunbird/Lightning (it’s to the left of the Publish button; if it isn’t there, then Customize the Calendar Toolbar and drag the Reload icon onto the toolbar). When you’ve done this, your GoogleCalendar changes will show on your S/L cal. Click Publish to sync the other way(S/L edits to Google Cal). And, yes, either way you do have to be online.

  • 11. GooglesIronman  |  September 20, 2009 at 12:18

    One of the best walkthroughs I’ve seen in a long long time… the instructions are crystal clear and all the links work.

    Congratulations on an excellent job.

  • 12. David  |  September 23, 2009 at 16:56

    I just made the switch to Ubuntu and am working to get up to speed. I have Thunderbird installed and have transferred my setting from Vista. Lightning is installed and running fine. I have tried adding the provider Add-On but when Thunderbird restarts, the new google calendar pane is not present as per this guide. In other words, after step 4, the new sidebar does not show up. Obviously, I can’t proceed. Any suggestions?

  • 13. Colin  |  October 8, 2009 at 09:05

    Hey! Great instructions.

    Followed it word-for-word and it worked first time.


  • 14. Anderqual  |  November 1, 2009 at 15:27

    Thanks for the clean instructions, I have it working perfectly (First Time I might add). Now I just have to figure a way so that my wife and I can have a joint calendar on separate computers so we know who is doing what when lol!

  • 15. Jez Hammer  |  January 6, 2010 at 07:18

    Sync’s perfectly from gcal to Thunderbird. But not in the reverse direction. ie appointments that I book in Thunderbird do not show in gcal. What is the problem ?

  • 16. Dennis  |  March 12, 2010 at 05:09

    Thank you!!!!!

  • 17. Anna  |  July 23, 2010 at 06:28

    If you double click the “home” calendar on Thunderbird and then uncheck ‘Switch this calendar on,’ you won’t have to designate events as being for the home or Google calendar, and then all will sync seamlessly. Otherwise be sure to select Google as the calendar type each time you create a new event so that it also shows on your Google calendar.

  • […] The best tutorial out there for this setup! […]

  • 19. Gourav  |  May 4, 2011 at 08:37

    Thanks for the info, I was trying to set up the sync but couldn’t figure out myself

  • 20. Al  |  May 29, 2011 at 02:37

    I’ve installed TB with GCal Provider and Lighting add-ons and noticed that when i add an event from my mobile phone (iPhone) it shows up in TB, but not the other way around (when I add an event in Lightning. Is it bi-directional?

  • 22. Balt  |  June 8, 2011 at 22:30

    The best solution I’ve seen. Applied it and so happy to see my calendar is syncing again. I did some random tests and everything is syncing. Thank you so much.

    Thunderbird 3.1.10

  • 23. Alessandro  |  June 16, 2011 at 13:25

    great solution! thank you very much for your help!

  • 24. muttleydog  |  June 21, 2011 at 14:15

    I have been using Lightning for some time and have created THREE different calendars – Reminders, Trips + Family each with its own colour. I set up a new Reminders calendar using your instructions, linked it to Google, and copied the appointments from the old Reminders to the new Reminders. It syncs with Google fine.

    However, when I tried to create a new Trips calendar it will not link to google because it says that there is already a linked calendar. Will I have to combine my three calendars within Lightning (and thereby sacrifice my different colours) if I’m to use google as a backup or is there a way around this please?

  • 25.  |  August 9, 2011 at 19:01

    The problem is this is NOT A SYNC. It’s just editing google calendar directly through thunderbird. A Sync involves copying entries between a source and destination such that they’re consistent. I WANT a sync, i.e. a LOCAL calendar copy that is made consistent with that on google. It’s what I get on outlook easily, yet thunderbird doesn’t support this.

  • 26. Scott Kundla  |  November 23, 2011 at 02:19

    Bravo, grazie!

  • 27. Garret Wilson  |  December 8, 2011 at 16:37

    So… all my calendar entries are in the Pacific time zone. I put them in Google Calendar, then from Brazil I sync up to them in Lightning. They all show Pacific time zone, even though my Lightning configuration is set to “São Paulo”—but the alarms go off for Brazil time. That is, if I have an 11:00am appointment in California, it goes off at 11:00am in Brazil. Any idea how I fix this?

    • 28. Garret Wilson  |  December 8, 2011 at 16:42

      Never mind—it seems to show in Pacific time, but the edit box shows Brazil time, and shows up on Google calendar in whatever time zone is listed. I need to experiment more with this.

  • 29. Imre Schreuder  |  March 17, 2012 at 22:20

    THANK YOU SO MUCH, works perfect.
    i did this to get my lightning calendars into my android phone (samsung galaxy s2), im using the “business calendar” from the android market, others wont get the “subcalenders” in. so now when i make something in one of my calendars it goes to google, which goes to my phone, great 😀

    i exported all my calenders from lightning into google calendar, then made new calendars in lightning as you described to get them back. Then i only had to remove the “old” calendars, since everything was double now.
    now i realise i could have probably just adjusted the settings in my calendars in lightning, with adding the network location. anyway, i got there in the end.


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