Transferring your Outlook mail from one PC to another might seem simple, but there's a few tricks to ensuring you transfer all the information you actually want. Make sure you're covered when you switch PCs (or when you need to make a comprehensive Outlook backup) with our guide. In this guide, we're talking about Outlook for a single user: in a business environment where Outlook is connected to an Exchange server, the approach is rather different. The steps here are based on Outlook 2007 and Vista, but are broadly the same with earlier releases.
If at all possible, get Outlook up and running on your new machine before blasting it off the old one — that way, you can double-check relevant settings or make fresh copies of obscure system settings files.
Several of these steps require you to find files in fairly obscure locations. Vista's built-in search function often skips system files; for a super-speedy WAY to find any file, we highly recommended the free and hugely useful Everything.
Outlook file storage basics
Outlook stores the vast majority of its data — including emails, contacts, tasks and calendar data — in a file called
outlook.pst. While this often leads to complaints from heavy Outlook users (huge PST files can slow performance and have a habit of corrupting themselves), it has one big theoretical advantage in backup terms: you've only got a single file to deal with when it comes to making copies or shifting machines.
Microsoft's own oft-repeated advice if you want to back up your Outlook information is to use the File —> Import and Export —> Export to a file approach and make your own PST copy. If you've got a large email file, however, this can be a slow process. It's quicker to exit Outlook (which ensures the file doesn't change), find the folder where the file is stored and copy it directly from there. In Vista, this is generally
C:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook (replace Username with whatever your actual Windows user name is).
In the same folder, you'll also generally find other PST files, typically with names like
archive.pst. This is where Outlook stores older information via its AutoArchive process which is switched on by default. If you're making a backup or moving files, you'll want to get copies of these as well. (In practice, you can set up your favourite backup tool to automatically back up the entire directory.)
Assuming you're moving from one PC to another, this is the basic process you'll want to follow:
- Make copies of the relevant .pst files onto a USB stick or external drive.
- Install Outlook on your new machine and run it. (You'll need to re-enter your email login details — unfortunately Outlook doesn't offer an easy way of exporting these from one machine to another.)
- Select File —> Import and Export.
- Choose the Import from another program or file option and click Next.
- Choose Personal Folder File (.pst) as the type, and then browse to the main Outlook.pst file. (You normally don't want to import the archive files; you're just keeping them for backup purposes.)
- In most cases, you can choose the default 'Replace duplicates with items imported' option and fire away.
Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't store absolutely all of Outlook's settings and information in PST files, so if you're shifting from one PC to another, there's also a bunch of other information you'll probably want to move, depending on how heavily you use Outlook and which features you utilise. (For instance, if you don't use rules or the toolbar, you can just ignore those files.)
In each case, the basic approach is the same: copy the relevant file from the old machine, and paste it into the same directory on the new one (replacing the existing one if necessary, and substituting your own user name for Username in our examples).
- AutoComplete entries Outlook's ability to guess which name you want is handy — but if you don't copy it from machine to machine, it'll have to start again from scratch, so it's worth copying over. Typically called:Outlook.NK2 Typically found at: C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook (Original post)
- Signatures These are stored in a Signatures folder, which will contain a bunch of sub-directories and files with the information Typically called: Signatures (folder) Typically found at: C:\users\Username\appdata (Original post)
- Toolbar and menu settings Worth copying if you've made changes Typically called:Outcmd.dat Typically found at: C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook
Once you've got Outlook set up on your new machine, become a power user by checking out our top 10 Outlook boosters.
Got your own favourite tactic (or tool) for moving Outlook files around? Tell us about it in the comments. Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?