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Microsoft Outlook .PST file FAQs

Troubleshoot Outlook .PST file issues -- from importing and exporting data to .PST file repair and recovery -- with this collection of Outlook .PST FAQs.

Microsoft Outlook .PST files, also known as personal folder files or personal stores, hold all data located in...

Outlook when Exchange Server isn't being accessed. Primarily used for local email data storage, Outlook .PST files can pose compliance and email archiving issues for Exchange organizations. This collection of expert answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) provides troubleshooting tips for common Outlook .PST file problems, from importing and exporting data to file repair and recovery. You'll also discover tools that support Boolean searches and .PST file encryption best practices.

PST file error: 'The operation failed. An object could not be found'

I use Microsoft Outlook 2002 and share the Contacts folder as a .PST file between my PC and another PC running Outlook 2000 through the export/import command. Suddenly, Outlook 2002 does not want to export the Contacts folder anymore. It responds with the error message: "The operation failed. An object could not be found." Any idea what could have caused this and what to do?

This problem sounds similar to one experienced by some Outlook 2000 users, in which Outlook can no longer "find" the .PST file. Try the resolution described in Microsoft Knowledge Base article 292022, "Error Message: Object not found when you remove .PST." Make certain to back up all data and registry keys first.

If that does not work, try uninstalling and reinstalling Microsoft Outlook (just in case the problem is with the application itself rather than with your specific profile).

Recover email from a .PST file in a specific date range

I'm using Microsoft Outlook 2003. I have a 1.5 GB .PST file. I only want to recover email from a specific date range. Can I do this? If so, how?

  1. Using Outlook 2003, select File -> Import and Export.
  2. Choose the option to Export to a File.
  3. Click "Next" and then select "Personal Folder File" (PST).
  4. Pick the particular mailbox folder from which you want to export your data and then click the Filter button.
  5. In the filter options, go to the Advanced tab and click the Fields button.
  6. Select "Frequently Used Filters" and then click "Sent."
  7. Specify the date range for the Outlook email messages that you want to recover.

Is it possible to create .PST files in Outlook Web Access?

I'm in a company whose head office is in another country. I have an ID on Outlook Web Access (OWA) that is around 80 MB and almost full. The system administrator emailed me that I should make a personal .PST file. I don't know how to do this in OWA. Can you help me?

More on Outlook .PSTs

  • Still perplexed about .PSTs? Ask an Outlook .PST question in our IT forum.
  • Check out our reference center on Microsoft Outlook .PSTs for more tips and tutorials.
  • Get expert advice on a common Outlook error: "The operation failed. An object could not be found."

Unfortunately, Outlook Web Access does not support the use of .PST files. To archive messages into a .PST, you would need to connect to the Exchange server through Microsoft Outlook.

Perhaps the system administrator can hook you up with a virtual private network (VPN) or Remote Desktop connection through or from which you can launch Outlook? Of course, you could always try to slip the administrator a bit extra of his local currency and ask him to raise your quota, but don't tell him that you read it here.

Member Feedback:

I would like to point out the fact that the quota message is a system generated message, not an actual email from a "system administrator," and the recommendation to store excess mail in a .PST file is a non-configurable message generated by the Exchange server. Obviously this creates confusion.
—Lynn L.

This is a perfect RPC over HTTP scenario and sound justification for upgrading to Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003 and Outlook 2003. Using RPC over HTTP, Outlook 2003 clients have access to their local .PST files.

Here are some good resources on deploying RPC over HTTP:

—Tim S.

There is a third-party product called PSTWay for OWA that allows users to access .PST files through Outlook Web Access. If you have this product, do you still need Microsoft Outlook access in order to create a .PST file… or can this be done in OWA?
—Bryon B.

PSTWay for OWA only allows you to bind to existing .PSTs. It does not create them for you. Therefore, you will need Microsoft Outlook for that.
—Brad Dinerman, Client Administration expert

How to save all users' mailboxes as Outlook .PST files

My company has Windows 2003 Small Business Server with Exchange and 10 users. I want to take all users' mailboxes as .PST files from the server. Is this possible?

The simplest way to perform this operation is using the ExMerge utility.

  1. Place the ExMerge utility in the \Program Files\Exchsrvr\bin and execute to perform an ad-hoc export.
  2. Select Extract or Import (two-step procedure).
  3. On the next dialog, select Step 1.
  4. On the next screen, supply the name of your Exchange server.
  5. To make additional selection restrictions, you can click Options (for example, if you only wanted messages from a specific time period).
  6. On the next dialog, select the Exchange database from which you want to export data.
  7. Next, choose the mailboxes you wish to export data from.
  8. Select the Language and pick the destination folder you wish to export to.
  9. Make sure you have sufficient disk space.
  10. Save these settings in the next dialog, so that you can run the program later in batch mode. The export process will begin.

When finished, you will have exported all of the mailbox data into .PST files. You can automate the process by running ExMerge in batch mode. Review the ExMerge documentation for more information.

Migrating .PST files to new Exchange 2003 mail stores

I have a client who is keeping their .PST files on a centralized shared server. They are not currently using a mail store on their Exchange 5.5 server. The email comes in, and once opened, it is redirected to a centralized shared .PST server. Once I set up the Exchange 2003 server, what is the best way to migrate the existing .PST files to the new Exchange 2003 mail stores?

After I migrate the .PST files to the new Exchange 2003 mail stores, I also want to create two or three Exchange storage groups for management reasons. Can you recommend some tools, besides ExMerge?

Sounds like an interesting challenge. Here's what I would do:

  1. I'd configure the Exchange 2003 mail stores up front using Exchange System Manager (ESM is the native administration tool that ships with Exchange 2003). I'd create three storage groups, each with one store (as an example) for users with last names ending in A-K, L-S, T-Z or something along those lines.
  2. Then, you'll need to create mailboxes on the Exchange 2003 stores for each of the users. Use a consistent naming mechanism for alias, display name, etc.
  3. I'd then manually have a look at all the .PSTs in the central location to see if I can figure out who is using what. Assuming you can associate each .PST with a particular mailbox, I'd then go through manually renaming each .PST to whatever alias you are planning to use with your Exchange 2003 server. To do this you'll need to work during off-hours so that no Microsoft Outlook clients are connected to the .PSTs. You may want to declare a maintenance window and tell everyone email will be unavailable, and then disconnect the network cable from the server during this exercise. Then rename the .PSTs to something like .PST or similar (e.g., senguptad.pst). This should align directly with the exact alias names you have used for mailbox creation, in Step 2. Keep in mind that once these are renamed, Outlook clients won't be able to 'find' the .PSTs again since they have been renamed.
  4. Next you'll want to use ExMerge to import all the .PSTs into your target Exchange 2003 stores. If you have used consistent naming for the .PSTs and mailbox aliases you'll be able to easily associate them with the appropriate mailboxes. This should work smoothly, and you should end up with all your .PST data in each mailbox, as expected.
  5. Once that's done, you'll need to have each end user mailbox re-configured to point to the mailbox on the Exchange 2003 server. You could achieve this through sending out instructions prior to the migration so that your users know how to make the change themselves (ask them to print out the instructions as they'll be unable to access email to read them after the 'migration') or through visiting each desktop.
  6. Finally, you'll want to make sure you back up everything.

Obviously you should test this in a lab first.

You asked about other tools outside of ExMerge that you can use for this sort of thing. There are two that I'm aware of, Quest Recovery Manager for Exchange (disclaimer: I work for Quest) and Kroll Ontrack PowerControls.

Microsoft Outlook .PST file encryption best practices

What is the best encryption method for an Outlook .PST file? Which algorithm is used for the best encryption?

The Microsoft article How to create a new personal folders (.PST) file in Outlook 2002 discusses the various ways to create a .PST, and the encryption choices available to you.

It states: "Click Best Encryption, and then set a password for your personal folders (.PST) file if security is of utmost concern."

That doesn't address the primary issue with passwords on .PSTs, any search on Google will yield a number of software firms selling .PST password cracking utilities. So, no matter the selection of available encryption -- the data itself is available even if the .PST is password protected.

Particularly sensitive data should be stored in other mechanisms, like an Exchange database -- where you should be guaranteed physical security based on the facilities around the data center security where your Exchange server resides.

Tools that support Boolean searches of Outlook .PSTs

I'm looking for a relatively inexpensive tool that supports full Boolean searches of .PST files and/or the Microsoft Exchange Server information store. I only need to search one Exchange mailbox at a time. Ideally, the tool would allow me to define a date range, some parameters like "to" and "from," and then a complex sequence of parameters with Boolean operators, such as "(a OR b) AND (c OR d OR e)." Does such a tool exist?

That's a really good question. Not all of the following tools support the complex queries you're looking for, but I'll lay them out for you regardless. Here are your options:

  1. Native ExMerge is no longer supported in Exchange Server 2007, but it gives you the ability to search mailboxes for parameters including to/from and message keywords or attachment filenames. There are limitations around search complexity and there is no search in attachments or in public folders. It does allow exporting to .PST files or production mailboxes.
  2. Exchange 2007 Export-Mailbox cmdlet supports a search within Exchange 2007 mailboxes, and includes searches within attachments (assuming that the correct iFilters are installed). The limitations include lack of public folder support and there is, currently, no export to .PST files.
  3. Third-party tools such as Kroll OnTrack PowerControls or Quest Recovery Manager for Exchange (disclaimer: I work for Quest) support searches within Exchange databases (e.g., .EDB files, including public folders) and .PST files. You can also export to .PST files or production mailboxes.

Disabling the use of .PST files in Outlook 2003

We use Exchange Server 2003 and Outlook 2003. Is there a way to prevent users from using personal folders with Outlook 2003?

Sue Mosher, Microsoft Outlook MVP, provides a registry key that you can use to disable the use of .PST files. Create or modify the following DWORD registry value:


Set the value to 1 to disable .PST files, or 0 (default) to enable them.

Note that .PST files that are already in a user's email profile will still be able to function. Therefore, you should manually remove all .PST files from the profile prior to setting this value. This also includes disabling the auto-archiving feature, which takes advantage of .PST files.

Read Sue's article "Dealing with .PST files."

How can I hide users' Outlook .PST files?

I want to disable the Add/Remove options for data files in Outlook. There is also an Open Folder button that allows you to open the folder where the .PST is stored.

All of the users' .PST files are in one location for some reason. I don't want users to know this. If we can totally hide the data files and data management, that would be ideal.

I was able to hide data management from the file menu by specifying the Control ID 31025 in the group policy, but data management is still accessible by using the button provided in the folder list view.

If you hide the shared folder with $, users won't be able to see and access the files.

Can I read a .PST file in Outlook Web Access?

I installed Outlook Web Access (OWA). My manager wants to read his .PST files when he travels using OWA. Is this possible?

You cannot read a .PST file with OWA, but if you use Microsoft Outlook and you have access to the file you should be able to open it and read it.

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