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Backing up your Outlook PST File

Jul 10, 2012

Many of us depend on Microsoft Outlook for e-mail, appointments, and contact information, but there’s a potential problem: All of this information is usually stored in a single file, which could become corrupted or even erased.

Backing up is important, but the process is less user-friendly than it could be, and backups are by default stored in the same folder as the original file.  If that folder or the drive on which it is stored suffers damage, you would lose both the original and the backup.  But even if you do back up, you may not do so often enough to prevent a fiasco.  Here we’ll show you how to back up your Outlook information.


Outlook information is stored in a data file called a personal folder file with a .pst extension.  On installation, Outlook establishes a file named Outlook.pst.  In Outlook 97, this file is located right in the Windows folder, but in Outlook 2000, it’s deep inside WindowsLocal Settings.

Local Settings is a hidden folder, so seeing it in Windows Explorer or My Computer requires entering the Folder Options dialog available by selecting View | Folder Options in any folder window.  Click on the View tab and then on the Show All Files radio button beneath the Hidden Files option.  You’ll find Outlook.pst inside the WindowsLocal SettingsApplication DataMicrosoftOutlook directory.  (Note that in Windows NT you’ll need to look in the user-specific folders).

The fastest and easiest way to back up your Outlook data is to copy this file to a different folder, preferably on a different hard disk (which means it will be available even if there’s a full disk crash).You can load this saved file into Outlook through the FileOpen Special FolderPersonal Folder command, and you can import the saved data into your current Outlook.pst file through the FileImport and Export command.

Outlook provides two other ways to back up your data: Export (FileImport and Export) and Archive (FileArchive).  Archiving moves your oldest Outlook data into a different PST file (called Archive.pst by default), and removes that data from Outlook.pst.  If AutoArchive is enabled, you can set archive options for each folder to indicate whether Outlook should move items of a certain age to the archive or simply delete them.  This is the only automatic backup facility Outlook offers, and while it’s useful for organization, it’s too complex for quick, easy backups.

Export is even more complex. The difference between Export and Archive is that Export copies the data to the specified file but leaves the data intact within Outlook.pst itself. For this reason, it’s often the better of the two backup methods.

To back up using Export,

  1. Select FileImport and Export.
  2. Choose Export to a personal folder file (.pst) from the Import and Export wizard.  (In Outlook 2000, choose Export to a file.)
  3. Click Next.  4. Select which folder you want to back up; to back up the whole thing, select Personal Folders at the top of the dialog and make sure the check box labeled Include sub folders is checked (Figure 1).  In Outlook 2000, choose Personal Folder File from the Export to a File dialog.
  4. Click Next again.
  5. Here Outlook 2000’s Export Personal Folders dialog lets you choose which Outlook folders you want to back up.
  6. Click Next and allow the default replacement option (you can change this in subsequent backups if you wish).  Office 97 users may need to install the Converters for Outlook, which is available at http://www.howto-outlook.com/howto/backupandrestore.htm for this step to work.
  7. From here, specify precisely where you want the data to be stored; saving your data to a folder different from the one containing your original PST file is better than leaving the data in the same folder, and storing it on a separate drive is best.
  8. Click Finish and Outlook will perform the export operation.

If you use Outlook’s calendar or task feature to remind you to perform this backup every few days or so, you’ll be fairly safe.


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