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Making Microsoft® Outlook email/contacts/calendar backups

Application Microsoft® Outlook® Version 1.00
Author OfficeHelp
Tested on versions: 2000 (9.0) - should work on Outlook 97 and from versions

Find Outlook data files on your hard drive and make safety copies. Restore them if catastrophe arises (or you just deleted the wrong messages)!

Microsoft Outlook is one of the world's most used software's, having become the "the facto" standard in sophisticated email clients. It is particularly popular in the corporate world, but has a huge domestic and small companies user base also.

The reason is that, while originally distributed only with the Microsoft Office package, Outlook is nowadays bundled with most OEM (PC manufacturers pre-installed) Windows XP. In another words, it comes preinstalled with the PC.

Personal Folder - Outlook Archive Folder
PIC. 1 - Personal Folder - Outlook Archive Folder

Corporate users usually use it to read the corporate email system, which processes both internal and internet emails. Home and small company users usually use it for internet mail only, as they do not have internal email systems. Corporate emails usually store emails on the server until the user decides to copy it to local archive files. Home and small company users usually download their email from the server directly to their local harddisk storage.

In either case, as soon as the messages are stored locally, it is your responsibility to backup them. Nobody will do it for you. And if they become corrupted or your haddisk is damaged you'll loose all your:

  • Email messages (received and sent)

  • Contacts

  • Calendar meetings

There are several possible reasons for email storage files to become corrupted:

  • Email overload (they do have a maximum size and you will NOT be warned before they overflow)

  • Virus

  • Hardware failure

  • Spyware

  • Your kid experimenting

Making backups of your email files is more trouble than it should, as Outlook hides its storage files from its users. But if you know where to find them, it is easier than you believed.

Corporate Email

Corporate mailboxes are usually server based. You can recognize them by their name:  Outlook Today - [Mailbox YOUR CORPORATE MAIL NAME]

Corporate Mailbox
PIC. 2 - Corporate Mailbox

Server based mailbox backup is in the IT Department domain. Leave it for them. It should be done professionally and, if you're based in the USA, it's even regulated by law (email messages have to be kept as potential proof for a legally mandatory period).

However, corporate mailboxes also have, usually, a size limit. Otherwise, the server would grow forever and would become unmanageable. To reduce the occupied size you can always move messages (either by copying or moving) to a personal archive. In some corporations, this is even advocated by the IT department email rules.

Once copied to a local archive, emails will be stored on a local hardrive file, where they can be archived and backup'ed by you.

Personal Archive - How and where to find local (harddisk) Outlook data files

Non-corporate versions of Outlook will use a local storage and corporate user can also have them as alternatives to the server mailbox. Outlook default email for them is Personal Folders, but they can be renamed. PIC 3 shows an example.

Personal Folders
PIC. 3 - Personal Folders on Outlook's Folder List

If you can't see the Folder List on Outlook, do this:

1) Select Folder List on the View menu

Options tab on the Tools menu

Personal Folder files are like harddrives in a file: they can have folders, sub-folders, messages, contacts, tasks and even files. They have a file extension of .PST. But Outlook doesn't show the file location, only it's contents. To find where the file is stored, do this:

1) Place the mouse over the Personal Folder heading on the Folder List. Use the right mouse button to get the context menu. Select Properties.

Tools menu
PIC. 5 - Options on the Tools menu

2) On the Properties dialog, press the Advanced button:

Personal Folders Properties Dialog
PIC. 6 - Personal Folders Properties Dialog

3) The name and location of the Outlook Archive file can be found on the Path field:

Outlook Archive Filename and Location
PIC. 7 - Outlook Archive Filename and Location

4) The archive file will be be found on the indicated location:

Archive File on the HardDrive
PIC. 8 - Archive File on the HardDrive

Note that the file appear on Windows as NOT being related to any application (no application Icon) and you can't open it by double clicking with the mouse.

Renaming the Archive: you can rename the archive name on the Outlook Folder List tree (PIC. 3) by changing the name field just above the Path, on the Advanced Properties dialog (the top field showing Personal Folders in PIC. 7).

Personal Archive - Dealing with File Sizes

Outlook archive files have a maximum size of 2GB. If you go past the limit, your email file will become damaged and you will not be able to use it without repair. You should check its size regularly because Outlook won't warn you when it's reaching the limit.

Archive sizes can check  using two different methods:

1) From outside Outlook: Checking the archive file size in windows, once you know its name and location

Size on Disk
PIC. 9 - Options on the Tools menu

2) From inside Outlook: Use the Size button on the Properties Dialog

Personal Folders Properties Dialog
Size Dialog
PIC. 10 - Personal Folders Properties Dialog

Option 2 is best because it will tell you how large is each sub-folder, allowing you to better manage your allocated space. Note that archive files always grow in size. Deleting emails won't automatically shrink them. You have to do it manually using the Compact Now button on the Advanced Properties dialog (PIC. 7).

If your archive is approaching the 2 GB limit, you should stop using it and start a new archive. Even if you're far away, files this large are difficult to copy and maintain and will take time to search. It's best to split your archive into smaller files. You may split your files by any criteria, like:

  • One file per main topic (project, organization, department, ...);

  • One file per year;

  • One per main sender;

Be careful: even split, each file may surpass the 2GB limit if enough time is given. To create a new archive file, do this:

1) Select New on the File menu. Use the Personal Folders File (*.pst) option

Creating a New Archive File

2) Choose the disk location and filename

Selecting a location and Filename

Once created, the new archive will remain on the Outlook Folder List until it is manually closed or if Outlook can't find it later (if it is removed or it's path or filename on disk is changed).

Using multiple archives - Opening multiple Personal Folders

Outlook will enable you to open any number of archive files. Once opened, it will remain on the Outlook Folder List until it is closed by you or the file disappears from it's opening location (Outlook will memorize it, even between sessions). This makes it easy to work with multiple archive folders, as you don't need to constantly open/close them. Just open them once and use them every day, copying messages as usual between Outlook folders. To add (open) an archive folder to the Outlook Folder List, do the following:

1) Select Open on the File menu. Use the Personal Folders File (*.pst) option

Open Archive Folder on the  File Menu

2) Choose the archive file form its disk location

Select Arcive File from Disk

How to backup them - Copy your data  files to storage media;

Now that you know how to find your archive files, you can copy them into a safe backup media. The best backup strategy will depend on how big is your archive file:

  • Up to 650MB: You can use CDs to save your backup files, they will fit. You can, of course, also use any larger media;

  • From 650MB to 2GB: Use DVDs or External hard-disks (there are very good USB external drives nowadays, small and with large capacities.). Using another PC hard-disk is an option (like using your Desktop to store your laptop email backups);

  • Don't use memory sticks and USB Drives for long-term backups. They are good for regular backups and to transfer files between machines, but not for long-term storage (and it doesn't make economic sense - they're expensive).

You also have to differentiate between write once and re-writable media:

  • Write only disks can only be saved once and are preferable for long-term backups. Save the file and store them in a safe place:

    • Examples are CD-R, DVD-R and DVD+R disks;

  • Re-writable disks can be written/deleted/rewritten and are preferable for regular backups (daily, weekly, monthly). Just overwrite last backup when doing an update:

    • Examples are CD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD+RW;

  • External hard-drives are always rewritable;

It is good backup practice to have regular backups into rewritable media and long-term backups in write-once media. Regular backups are used for restoration (if you have archive corruption or just deleted the wrong message, just recover it from the latest backup). You just delete the last one when you do a new one. But you should have long-term backups now and them - at least annually - to permanent media. Label it correctly and, in case you need it, you will be able to recover your files as they where on some precise time in the past.

To backup your files, follow these steps:

  1. Connect / Insert the backup media (CD/DVD/External Drive);
  2. Find the location of your archive files on disk (see how above);
  3. Close Outlook now and while performing  the backup;
  4. For each archive file:
    1. Open the containing folder in Windows;
    2. Copy it to the backup media as usual in Windows (normally, drag-and-drop, but it will depend on which media you selected and which software you use to record them);
    3. If you have more than one archive with the same filename, create separated folders for each one on the backup media;
  5. Close the CD/DVD when finished;
  6. Store the backup on a safe place (not the same place where the PC is, or you risk losing both in an accident!!!);

What about Compression? 

You may compress archive files to make them smaller using any file compression utility like WinZip or even Windows XP own compressed folders. But you cannot directly to recover messages from the compressed file. It is good for storage purposes only, it will have to be uncompressed for opening and message recover.

Restoring Backup Files

Restoring your backups can have two completely different meanings:

1) Full Restore

Dumping the old archive file by replacing it with the backup archive file. It will be useful if the main archive is corrupted or the damage is to large for local recovery. And it is the easiest to implement, all steps have already been explained in this tutorial:

  1. Locate the (corrupted or damaged) archive file to be replaced on your hard-disk, as explained above in this document as "Personal Archive - How and where to find local (harddisk) Outlook data files";
  2. Make the backup copy available (insert the CD/DVD or wherever the file is to be read);
  3. Close Outlook while performing  the recovery;
  4. Delete the (corrupted or damaged) archive file to be replaced on your hard-disk;
  5. Copy the backup file to the hard-disk location the (corrupted or damaged) archive file was;
  6. Don't forget that they have to be in the same place and have the same filename;
  7. Open Outlook. The backup archive will open in place of the (corrupted or damaged) archive file as they are in the same place and have the same filename, "fooling" Outlook into thinking it's exactly the same one; Browse it for the content you're looking for.

2) Localized Restore: 

Instead of recovering the whole backup file, you may only want to recover a message or other small detail from an old backup. Maybe you're not using it anymore and it's not even in your active Outlook Folder List, like 1998 email backup. All you want is to recover or search for a detailed peace of information: email, contact or calendar. Your best option is to make it available for search and copy, adding it to the Outlook Folder List, for the stick time it's needed. Then store them again. Follow these steps:

  1. Make the backup copy available (insert the CD/DVD or wherever the file is to be read);
  2. If it's stored on CD/DVD, you have to copy it to an hard-drive to be able to open it (see next chapter on CD/DVD limitations). Any location will do as long as it is on a regular hard-drive. Remember to check for available space before copying the file;
  3. Open Outlook;
  4. Add the backup archive file to the Outlook Folder List using the opening Personal Folders procedure exposed above in this document as "Using multiple archives - Opening multiple Personal Folders";
  5. Browse/search on it using the regular tools Outlook provides to manipulate folders. Once found, copy the contents you were looking for to your regular Outlook folders;
  6. Remove the archive from the Outlook Folders List. Place the mouse over the archive file to be removed and click the mouse right button. Select the Close "Personal Folders" option of the context menu, as in PIC. 15. Don't let the Folder List  to become too cluttered, or you will have an hard time finding things again in the future;
  7. Delete the archive copy from your hard-drive. It's taking space (a lot, probably) and you have the main backup file on CD/DVD;

Remove archives from the Outlook Folder List
PIC. 15 - Remove archives from the Outlook Folder List

It is possible to list the Receipt status on the Inbox message list by following these steps:

Warning about CD/DVD and compressed Backups. 

Outlook enables you to directly open any and multiple email archives, as already explained in this tutorial. But there are restrictions. You can only open uncompressed (not Zipped) files from a hard-drive. Trying to open an archive directly from CDs, DVDs or a zipped file won't work. 

If you have your backup on one of this media / formats, you can only restore them by copying the backup files to an hard-drive. You can open them by:

  • Copying them over the existing (corrupted) archive file already on your hard-drive (you have to close Outlook for this). Open Outlook after the copy is over and it will open the restored file instead of the existing one;
  • Copy it to a new hard-drive location and open it as a separated archive file - then extract the messages or contents you're interested on;
  • If the file is zipped, unzip it before utilization. Check if you have enough hard-disk space for this before you perform this step;



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