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Yesterday, the Thunderbird developers announced to implement OpenPGP support in Thunderbird 78, which is planned to be a Summer 2020 release. This means that the support for Thunderbird in Enigmail will be discontinued.

Enigmail is a data encryption and decryption extension for Mozilla Thunderbird and SeaMonkey internet suite that provides OpenPGP public key email encryption and signing.

Patrick Brunschwig, the lead developer of the Enigmail project, says “this is an inevitable step.” The Mozilla developers have been and still are actively working on removing old code from their codebase. This affects not only Thunderbird but also add-ons. “While it was possible for Thunderbird to keep old “legacy” add-ons alive for a certain time, the time has come for Thunderbird to stop supporting them,” Brunschwig added.

Thunderbird is unable to bundle GnuPG software due to incompatible licenses (MPL version 2.0 vs. GPL version 3+). Instead of relying on users to obtain and install external software like GnuPG or GPG4Win, the developers intend to identify and use an alternative, compatible library (Thunderbird 78), and distribute it as part of Thunderbird on all supported platforms.

Will OpenPGP support in Thunderbird 78 mark an end to Enigmail?

Brunschwig, in an email thread, writes that he “will continue to support and maintain Enigmail for Thunderbird 68 until 6 months after Thunderbird 78 will have been released (i.e. a few

months beyond Thunderbird 68 EOL).”  He further mentioned that Enigmail will not run anymore on Thunderbird 72 beta and newer. Thunderbird 78 will no longer support the APIs that Enigmail requires and only allow new “WebExtensions”. WebExtensions have a completely different API than classical add-ons, and a much-reduced set of capabilities to the user interface.

Enigmail will not end; however, it will continue to maintain and support Enigmail for Postbox, which is running on a different release schedule than Thunderbird for the foreseeable future.

“The Thunderbird developers and I have therefore agreed that it’s much better to implement OpenPGP support directly in Thunderbird. The set of functionalities will be different than what Enigmail offers, and at least initially likely be less feature-rich. But in my eyes, this is by far outweighed by the fact that OpenPGP will be part of Thunderbird and no add-on and no third-party tool will be required,” Brunschwig writes.

To process OpenPGP messages, GnuPG stores secret keys, public keys of correspondents, and trusted information for public keys in its own file format. Thunderbird 78 will not reuse the GnuPG file format, but will rather implement its own storage for keys and trust. Users who already own secret keys from their previous use of Enigmail and GnuPG, and who wish to reuse their existing secret keys, will be required to transfer their keys to Thunderbird 78. On systems that have GnuPG installed, the team may offer assisted importing.

Many users are awaiting the summer release next year.

ZDNet writes, “What Mozilla devs will do remains to be seen, and they might end up creating a new OpenPGP library from scratch — which might take up a lot of Mozilla’s resources but will be a win for the open-source community as a whole.”

To know more about this news in detail, read Mozilla Wiki.

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