America Online Personal Filing Cabinet (PFC) Files
and How to Convert Them For Free
As many AOL users do, I finally got tired of having all my AOL email trapped in the Personal Filing Cabinet, with no obvious, easy way for me to export all of it into a different format.
So, after some searching, I found a free, libre, open source way to export stuff from PFC files to other formats - a wonderful little Java program called PFC Viewer, by Ernie Yu.
The "pfcview.jar" download isn't available from Archive.org, but, I still have a copy of it, and PFC Viewer is under the MIT license, so I'm allowed to make it available here:
Also, I found the source code of PFC Viewer is available on GitHub:
The source code of PFC Viewer used to be available on the FAQ page of the official PFC Viewer site, but, as of 9/30/2014, that page is missing, though it's still readable in Archive.org. You used to be able to click the link that says "pfcview-0.4-src.jar" to download the source code.
According to Using JAR Files: The Basics, JAR files are packaged with the ZIP file format. So, if you're curious about the contents of a .jar file, all you have to do is add ".zip" to the end of the .jar file's name, then unzip it with whatever program you use to unzip files.
Since PFC Viewer is written in Java, it should be useable on multiple platforms, rather than being limited to Windows only, or Macs only, or Linux only. It mostly worked for me on Windows XP way back in 2010, and someone said in a comment on someone's blog that it worked for them on a Mac.
PFC Viewer worked great for exporting the text (or HTML) of my emails.
But, I don't think it can export file attachments, since I think the Personal Filing Cabinet probably doesn't store file attachments to begin with, judging by the fact that, even with the AOL software itself (AOL 9.0), I can't save file attachments unless I'm logged into AOL, and file attachments of very old messages are totally unavailable even if I'm logged in.
(I never used the "Save on AOL" feature for saving my mail permanently on AOL servers. If I had, perhaps my attachments would have remained available forever, judging by this AOL help page).
I also found that using PFC Viewer to export "favorites" (web bookmarks) to an HTML file only partly worked - everything except the URLs got exported. But, perhaps that feature might somehow work better for other people.
How I Used PFC Viewer to Export My Mail
PFC Viewer is a pretty intuitive, uncluttered, easy to use program. But, nonetheless - here's a walkthrough of the steps I took (as a Windows XP/AOL 9.0 user) to export my mail.
There are at least a couple inobvious things this walkthrough points out, like the folder path where AOL (or at least, AOL 9.0 on Windows XP) stores PFC files, and how to identify which files in that folder are PFC files.
Of course, if you have a computer system which is very different fom mine, some of the steps will be different from the steps I took.
Here are more details on the computer I'm using as of this writing, Dec. 28, 2010:
- I'm using AOL 9.0 and Windows XP (Service Pack 2).
- My computer is an Acer with an AMD Athlon(tm) 64 Processor 3500+, 2.21 GHz, with 960 MB of RAM.
- I'm using Java Version 6, Update 20.
Here's what I did to export my mail from my AOL Personal Filing Cabinet into files of .mbox format - the email export format provided by PFC Viewer, a format which, happily, can be read even in a plain text editor.
(Again, though, it's worth pointing out that I don't think PFC Viewer can export file attachments - because, as I explained above, I doubt the Personal Filing Cabinet even stores file attachments at all. But maybe I'm wrong.)
First, in Windows, before even opening PFC Viewer, I went to this folder path: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\AOL\C_America Online 9.0\organize
That link isn't meant to be clicked on, by the way. It will most likely do nothing if you click on it. I just made that into a link so you could more easily copy and paste it, by right-clicking on it and selecting "Copy Link Location" (in Firefox), or "Copy Link Address" (in Opera), or "Copy Shortcut" (in Internet Explorer 6).
You can quickly go to that folder just by copying and pasting that path into the address bar of Internet Explorer, or the address bar of a Windows folder.
To enable the address bar in Windows folders, open a Windows folder, go to the View menu, highlight Toolbars, and select Address Bar from the submenu.
(Side note for the curious: there are security reasons why web browsers don't permit links on the web which lead to local file paths or folder paths to work. The above local link should only work if you are reading a saved copy of this web page on your computer, rather than reading this on the web.)
At the aforementioned C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\AOL\C_America Online 9.0\organize folder, I looked for files named after the AOL screen name whose mail I wanted to export. There were six such files. The PFC file was the one which had a much larger file size than the others of that screen name, had no filename extension, and had the file type "File" (which you can see by looking at the files using the "Details" folder view).
Just to be cautious, I made a duplicate of the PFC file for PFC Viewer to open instead of my original copy, so I wouldn't have to worry about any kind of weird glitch somehow messing up my original PFC. Then, I put the duplicate on my desktop to make it easy to get to.
(PFC Viewer can also open PFCs that you created by using the AOL software to save a single mail folder, or favorites folder).
Then, I double-clicked on the file pfcview.jar to start the PFC Viewer program. It opened quickly, in about 5 seconds.
In PFC Viewer, I went to the File menu and selected Open, and opened the duplicate of my Personal Filing Cabinet I had placed on my desktop. My Personal Filing Cabinet was about 216 MB, so, it took about 3 or 4 minutes to load into PFC Viewer.
All my mail folders were revealed by double-clicking the Mail folder in the left sidebar. (The "newmail" folder seemingly had only dates, authors, and titles, but not actual messages).
The program didn't let me highlight more than one of my mail folders at a time, so, I highlighted my mail folders one by one, and exported each one by going to the Tools menu, highlighting Export Mail, and selecting To Mbox... from the submenu.
That all mostly went smoothly - except when, for two folders full of messages, it said that 0 messages had been exported. However, when I looked at the files that were exported from those folders, they actually had plenty of messages in them - hopefully all the messages in those folders. (But I'm not sure, since there were far too many for me to try to count.)
After exporting all my folders to .mbx format, I closed PFC Viewer, and deleted my duplicate copy of my PFC I had on my desktop.
Then, I opened AOL 9.0, opened my Personal Filing Cabinet, created a new folder titled "Exported", and moved all of my exported folders into it, just so I could keep them tidily separate from any new, not-yet-exported folders I might create in the future.
Then, to make sure I wouldn't be able to easily accidentally drop things into the "Exported" folder, I created a folder titled "safe", which I put the "Exported" folder in. I then double-clicked on the "safe" folder to close it and keep the "Exported" folder safely hidden.
I'm not sure what I'll do with my exported .mbx files yet, aside from just copying them onto assorted backup disks. I don't really have much of importance in them, and I had already put pretty much all of my most important mail into an Astroblahhh Desktop idea database by hand months ago.
But perhaps someday I'll write something to import .mbx files automatically into an Astroblahhh Desktop idea database.
Explanation of the PFC File Format
PFC-Details.zip contains a small text file of around 8 KB named PFC-Details.txt.
The page where I found PFC-Details.zip was the Documentation page of Export PFC, also preserved by Archive.org.
By the way, I haven't figured out if it's possible to download Export PFC anywhere. I found its download page in Archive.org - http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://members.aol.com/fvongordon/pfc/download.htm - but wasn't able to find the program itself in Archive.org.
Other Software For Dealing With PFCs
I'm actually so satisfied with PFC Viewer I don't really feel inspired to deeply investigate other software for dealing with PFCs.
However, if you're looking for some leads - there was an old web page (dated August 8, 2003) I ran across - E-Mail Message Extraction and Archival - which has short but informative remarks, expired links to pages about the aforementioned PFC Viewer and Export PFC programs, and still-functional links to pages (in German) about two other programs, namely, AOL Dump and Goodbye A*L.
The only one of those four programs I've used is PFC Viewer, since I couldn't find Export PFC, don't know German, and PFC Viewer worked nicely for me, except for not being able to export favorites. (Fortunately, I didn't need any AOL favorites exported, since I never used AOL's favorites feature.)
But, if I did need some favorites exported from AOL 9.0 or later, I might try Goodbye A*L, since the E-Mail Message Extraction and Archival page says that someone on the internet said that "some of the other programs had problems with AOL 9.0" and Goodbye A*L "apparently worked just fine on AOL 9.0". Also, there's an English version of Goodbye A*L.