Outlook's AutoArchive

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If and how to use Outlook’s AutoArchive feature – by Kara Monroe.


by Kara Monroe

Chances are if you’ve used Microsoft Outlook for any period of time, you’ve been prompted to AutoArchive your old items.

AutoArchive is a tool that backs up older email to your hard drive, freeing up space on your server mailbox.

AutoArchive uses predefined rules (read that as defined by Microsoft – thankfully those can be changed) to determine what messages should be sent to a folder on your hard drive and removed from your inbox or other email folders.


Microsoft’s tutorial on AutoArchiving draws an important distinction that I think is also worth noting here. AutoArchive is NOT the same as exporting.

When you export your messages you create a copy of them.

When you AutoArchive a message or group of messages you are moving them to a separate archive folder outside of your Mailbox folder, but still accessible from inside Outlook.


If you don’t mind Outlook’s rules controlling what is AutoArchived then yes. Let’s review those rules first. Items are AutoArchived after they reach a certain age.

Standard ages, according to Microsoft’s Help File are:

  • Inbox, Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Journal, Drafts: 6 months
  • Sent Items, Deleted Items: 2 months
  • Outbox: 3 months

The aging period also applies to any sub-folders you create underneath each of the main folders. Microsoft determines the age of an event differently for each type of item. For most items, it is the later of the completion/occurrence date or the date of the last modification. So for instance, if you have a meeting on April 4, 2006 it should be archived from your calendar no less than 6 months from April 4, 2006. However, if you edit notes from that meeting on April 10 it will be AutoArchived no less than 6 months from April 10. For email messages, any action such as forwarding, replying, or moving to a different folder are all modifications which will affect the date of archive.

The Contacts folder is never archived.

If this schedule works for you and you want to use AutoArchive then you can simply click yes on the AutoArchive box when you’re prompted.


Once you archive a message it no longer sits in your main Outlook storage. If you consistently refer to old messages from a web based email account you will not be able to do so once those messages are archived. However, you can easily read archived messages from within Outlook. To read a message you have archived from within Outlook, scroll through your list of folders and find the item named Archive Folders. Click the plus sign to expand that list. This will display the list of archived folders. You can now read this just as you would normally read email.

You can also move items that have been archived back to their original folders – a process called restoring.

If you are only moving one or two items, you can go directly to the Archive folder in outlook, find the item you want to move, click and hold on it and drag it back to where you want in your Mailbox folder.

You’ll need the location where Outlook stores your Archive Folders. The easiest way to get this is to follow these steps:

  1. Click Tools.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Click the Other tab.
  4. Click AutoArchive…
  5. Move old items to: section in the middle of the box. Copy the path that is listed in the box.
  6. Click OK twice to return to Outlook.

Now that you have the file name in the clipboard, you need to follow these steps to restore:

  1. Click File
  2. Click Import and Export
  3. Click Import from another program or file and click Next.
  4. Select Personal Folder File (.pst) and click Next.
  5. Paste the file path in the File to Import Box and click Next.
  6. Click the folder to import from and select the include subfolders option if desired.
  7. Determine duplicate items handling on this screen and then click Next.
  8. Click Import items into the same folder in and then click sets of folders with matching names.
  9. Click Finish

This process will import ALL AutoArchived items back to their original locations.


You can control the AutoArchive options so that aging rules meet your needs rather than Microsoft’s pre-sent rules. Keep in mind that when setting these rules, it is important to consult your own organization or institution’s policies or procedures for retention of data (including length of time and format). Ensure that your archiving, deleting, and other mail management processes are well in line with these policies. We’ll begin by looking at global archive settings and then looking at the options you can apply to individual folders.

To open the AutoArchive options box:

  1. Click Tools.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Click the Other tab.
  4. Click AutoArchive…

You can change any of the options that you like on this screen. Note that you can chose to turn off showing the archive folder in your folder list. You may do this if you do not wish to see it in your folder list. Remember you can always come back to this screen if you want to see it in the folder list at a later date.

Once you have all of the options set as needed, click OK twice to exit the dialog boxes.

Now that you have general AutoArchive options set, you can set options for individual folders as needed. For example, I have my global AutoArchive settings set to archive everything every four months. However, I have a folder for a major three year project that I don’t want to Archive. So, I can set options just for that folder. To do so, in your folder list, right click the folder and select properties. If you don’t see your folder list, click the Go menu and click Folder List (you’ll click Go > Mail to turn it back off when you’re done).

  1. On the folder properties dialog box, click the AutoArchive tab.
  2. Set the options you want for the archive of this folder and then click OK.

You can have different options for as many folders as you like.

AutoArchive is just one of the many ways you can use to manage the size of your inbox. The ease of use makes AutoArchive a popular and relatively simple method for moving older Outlook items out of your mailbox on a regular basis.

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