Backup/Restore Outlook Express

Before you do anything

After I created this page some other sites have sprung up with great in-depth material, so I recommend you check them out before deciding to use the techniques on this page. I'm leaving my material, even though it could be superseeded, because it might be useful as an alternative approach in some situations.

So first read Top 10 Outlook Express questions of all time by Tom Koch.

If that doesn't help read, Inside Outlook Express is a comprehensive website devoted to Outlook Express make sure you check it out.

And if still no joy, read on.

A home-grown backup/restore technique

Here are some descriptions of a backup/restore techniques for Outlook Express that have worked for me. The descriptions only covers folders, they do not cover address books or any other information that Outlook Express can store.

Before embarking on carrying out these steps consider the disclaimer at the bottom of this page. Also consider that it is possible some of the steps described below may make your Outlook Express installation unreliable.

Locate your store folder

The "Store Folder" is the directory on your computer where Outlook Express keeps all your message folders (each message folder is a .DBX file).

In OE6 it is really easy to find the Store Folder.

Choose Tools -> Options. Select the Maintenance tab and click the "Store Folder" button.

This dialog allows you to see where your folders are currently stored and move your Store Folder to another location - it will move all the dbx files. The width of the dialog is usually too narrow to see the full path, so with your cursor select the text along the full length of the location path. Copy to the clipboard if you like. Click Cancel so you don't move anything.

If you have multiple identities, there will be more than one Store Folder you'll need to find and backup.

Backing up Outlook Express Folders

At the time of writing Outlook Express stores folders in .DBX files.

To backup up these files:

1) Make sure Outlook Express is NOT running.

2) If you are running an older version Outlook Express that doesn't have the Store Folder option then you'll need to locate the Store Folder that contain the .DBX files manually.

On my old installation of Windows NT this directory was located at something like:

C:\WINNT\Profiles\my-user-name\Application Data\
    Identities\{EDBEF.....}\Microsoft\Outlook Express

On Windows 95/98 I think you can find them somewhere under:

C:\Windows\Application Data\...

Note: Remember, there may be multiple such directories if you have multiple identities.

Another way to do this was sent in my Marc Zavadil. [thanks Marc]

How to search your computer for .DBX files

Now In the past I've only backed up one directory. But I had a message from someone using Windows 2000 that recommends backing up all such directories because for him both the Win95 and WinNT directories were present and it was not clear which had the correct data. [thanks Wayne]

The rest of the document will refer to a singular directory, but you should modify the instructions for your needs.

3) Backup the directory - or just the .DBX files you want. A tip would be to just zip the whole directory as your backup. [thanks Sylvia]

Note where you got the files from.

Restoring Outlook Express Folders using Import

With OE6 and XP restoring has become easy. Well it worked for me when I moved my messages to this combination of software....

I haven't tried with a CD. If restoring from CD it would probably be better to copy to the hard disk or LAN directory first then import from there.

Start the Import wizard with File -> Import. Choose Messages. Select "Microsoft Outlook Express 6". Then "Import mail from an OE6 store directory."

Check your messages, and check that they have the attachment you expect.

Restoring Outlook Express Folders when Import doesn't work or is not available

This is an old procedure. It was written for OE5 when I was using NT. The Import wizard at that time seemed buggy to me. Hence the weird process that follows.

Outlook Express seems to keep track of what folders are being used. So you can only restore .DBX file if OE already has one of the same name. Unfortunately I don't know where it keeps track of these folders.

Let's say you are moving your Outlook Express installation from one machine to another. You have backup up all your .DBX files as mentioned in the Backup section above, and you have created a new installation of Outlook Express on the new machine.

1) Identify all the .DBX files (folders) that you are going to restore but which do not exist yet on the new machine. This list of files would only include folders that you have created yourself and would not include folders like inbox, outbox, etc.

2) Start Outlook Express and create a new folder for each one you identified in (1).

3) For each new folder you have created you *must* highlight it - select it with your mouse as if you were going to see what is inside it. We know it is empty, but Outlook Express will not create the .dbx file until you do this. [Thanks to Ethan and "Biggles" separately for their input]

4) Close Outlook Express. Now you will see that your Outlook Express installation will have a .DBX file for every folder you are about to restore.

5) Now restore the .DBX files - that is you replace the empty dbx files created in 2 and 3 with the files from your backup.

6) If you restored from CD it may be that the read attribute on the files has been set. In this case you will need to ensure that the read attribute is cleared for each file you restored (right-click on the file and choose "Properties"). [Contributed by Aaron Kuhn]

7) If all is well, when you open Outlook Express now you will get all your restored messages.

If you receive a message in your message body window "cannot display folder, you may be out of memory or disk space" after restoring, then it is likely you missed step 6. Go back and ensure your DBX files are NOT set to Read-Only.

Ok assuming you got everything back you may want to consider storing your messages in a text version. Have a look at the following page and see what you think.

Exporting messages from Outlook Express


It should be clear to you that what I have described CANNOT and should not be considered a general description that can be relied upon for all circumstances. It worked for me but it may not work for you.

One day Microsoft may change the behaviour of Outlook Express in such a way as to make these set of steps completely unreliable.


It is up to you to determine whether these procedures I've described will work for you. It is fully your responsibility to protect your data - do not blame me or anyone else mentioned on these pages for losing any information.