Many people use Microsoft Outlook to download mail from their POP3 or IMAP server. While some may only link their Outlook to one particular email, many today have multiple email accounts all pouring into the same data file. Backing up Microsoft Outlook consists essentially of backing up two different components; the pst file that stores messages (or in the case of IMAP a cached version of the server) together with the registry entry that stores all the different email accounts that are being processed by Outlook.
Backing up the data file
The folk who decided on the default location of the Outlook data file chose a location that is difficult to figure out. Also when installing Outlook (or when running it for the first time) there is no way to specify a different folder.
Changing the default location
The first thing I am going to demonstrate in this tutorial is how to move your existing Outlook files to a more humane location under the Windows 7 Documents (or Windows XP My Documents) folders.
Open Outlook which I am assuming you are already running.
- Right click on the Personal Folders entry (1) and choose the option Properties for ‘Personal Folders’ from the short cut menu that comes up. If your folder has a different name, Personal Folders will be called differently.
- A dialog box titled Outlook Today – (Personal Folders) Properties comes up. Click on the Advanced… button (2).
- This brings up yet another dialog box titled Personal Folders. The Filename: entry (3) depicts the location of where your Outlook data file currently resides.
- Copy the directory location from the Filename: entry and paste it into a Windows Explorer window.
- Click OK on all the dialog boxes you have just opened and shut down Outlook.
- Move the folder that contains the Outlook files to a more appropriate location. I would suggest under %USERPROFILE%\Documents if you’re using Windows 7 and %USERPROFILE%\My Documents if you’re still happily using Windows XP.
Click on the Microsoft Outlook 2007 icon to run the program. Since you have moved the original location of the data file, you will get a message box telling you that Outlook can no longer find the pst file in its original location (1).
Clicking OK on the dialog box brings up a file selection screen that allows you to specify the new location where you had shifted your Outlook data files. Move to the new location, click on the pst file and hit the Open Button (2).
Another message box comes up to tell you that Outlook must be restarted. OK that.
The second time onwards Microsoft Outlook 2007 will automatically find your files no questions asked. And the directory where all your important emails reside is now in an easy to find location in your Documents folder together with all your other important stuff.
Backing up the registry
Microsoft Outlook retains your email account settings within the registry. This means that when the time comes to reinstall your computer, unless you have saved your registry Outlook settings you will have to re-enter all the email accounts you process using Outlook 2007. If you happen to have a single Gmail account this might not be that much of a problem (provided you still remember how to do it) but if, like me, you have almost a dozen email accounts flowing into your Outlook remembering each mailbox’s parameters can be time consuming.
A word of warning about handling the registry: unlike many programs, the registry program does not have an undo or an undelete option and changes go into effect immediately. If you delete a file by mistake you can pull it out of limbo by visiting the Recycle Bin. If you screw up a document, pressing undo will take you back one action at a time until you reach the stage before the oops or, if necessary, you can abandon all changes done during that session simply by not saving the updated document. None of this exists in the registry so be cautious.
In Windows 7, type regedit in the Search Programs and Files to run the registry program. With Windows XP, type the same command in the Run… box. Both options can be accessed from the Start Menu. Windows 7 will bring up a dialog box asking you to confirm your action. You should say yes in order to run the program.
Navigate to the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles (1). Each profile you have defined will appear under this key. In my case there is one profile called Outlook.
Right click on Outlook and choose the option Export from the menu that comes up. I suggest that you place the registry snippet you are saving in the same location as the Outlook data files. This ensures that all your Microsoft Outlook related data is in one easy-to-backup folder.
End of part 1 – Conclusion
By backing up the folder to an online backup service you can rest assured that whenever something happens to your computer all your emails and the mailbox settings can be retrieved with ease. If you add a new email account or remove one you no longer use, you should export the registry settings again.
When backing up your Outlook data files, Outlook should be shut down.
Although I have not mentioned Windows Vista, the procedure for Windows 7 is almost identical to that of Windows Vista.
Next time I will describe how to use the information you have saved to restore your Microsoft Outlook 2007 in case of corruption. I’ll also throw in how you can use this backed up data when upgrading your computer from Windows XP to Windows 7.
We all appreciate how important emails are to us. Back them up regularly.