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Setting age and size limits on users' Deleted Items folders

Learn how to set the age and size limit on users' Deleted Items folders in Exchange Server 2003.

We have Exchange 2003 Service Pack 1 on Windows 2003. (It is fully patched but we have not installed Windows 2003 Service Pack 1 due to testing.)

In Exchange System Manager, I've set the global limits to keep deleted items for seven days and run the cleanup manager every day at 2 a.m. -- it is not working.

I tried setting up a recipient policy for mailbox management with the same parameters. I run this every Sunday morning at 2 a.m. It returns to me that x number of messages have been deleted and freed up y amount of space.

I go to users' deleted items folders and see items dating back to late 2003. I thought that maybe the recipient policy applies only from the date I created it. I checked a few users Deleted Items folders, and there are items there from three days to 300 days. Apparently, it is not working.

I don't know where Exchange is picking it up but I am at a complete loss.


Great question! I'll start my response by explaining what happens to a message when it's deleted. First off, a user decides to click "delete" within Outlook, and the message is moved to the "Deleted Items" folder within the user's mailbox.

As you've found out, messages can sit in there for any length of time, until the user empties the Deleted Items folder or until the messages are individually deleted from there.

Once messages are deleted from the Deleted Items folder, they are moved into a hidden part of the Exchange database (really just in the mailbox but not viewable by the end user) called the "dumpster." The dumpster is configured through something called a "deleted item retention" interval. (There is also a "deleted mailbox retention" period that is not related to our current question.).

So the way I understand your question, you're trying to force user mailboxes' Deleted Items folders to be automatically purged on a regular basis, presumably in response to either a storage management or compliance related business need.

When you mentioned that you set the global limits to keep Deleted Items for seven days, you're really just configuring how long messages stay in the dumpster once they have been purged from the Deleted Items folder in a mailbox. This won't in any way affect messages that are currently sitting in people's Deleted Items folders.

You're on the right track using Mailbox Manager, which will do what you're trying to achieve. Since you're getting a success report back on your daily cleanup, here are two things to check.

  1. Use the "Find Now" button on the recipient policy to confirm that your LDAP query is actually returning mailboxes. I've seen cases where an incorrectly configured LDAP query does not find any mailboxes to apply the retention settings to.

  2. Make sure that the intersection of age limit and size limit that you have specified are in fact correct. For example, if you're setting an age limit of seven days and a size limit of 2 MB, you'll definitely end up with lots of old messages sitting around in users' Deleted Items folders, since most messages are (hopefully!) less than 2 MB in size.

If those ideas still don't help, I'd recommend having a good read through Microsoft Knowledge Base article 319188: How to use recipient policies to control mailboxes in Exchange 2000 and Exchange 2003 in order to ensure you haven't missed a step in your configuration. Hope that helps!


We had exactly the same issue here. The recipient policy was set to empty the Deleted Items folder every 14 days, and a back-end mailbox system policy was also set to keep deleted items for 14 days.

The Mailbox Management Process only seemed to process a handful of mailboxes each time it ran. We tried extending the custom schedule period and checked the recipient policy to ensure that all users were included. Eventually we selected "Apply this policy now" and that's when it started processing all mailboxes.
—Derrick L.

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