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Howto Backup Email Messages, Address Books and Dictionaries


There are two main Email programs that most people will be using for Small Firms or Home which are both from Microsoft:

Exchange, Messaging and Outlook 9X

Backing Up: Although they are more powerful programs than Outlook Express the full versions are much easier to back up and restore. I use a laptop and regularly move my email system back and forth. It is easy because there are usually only two files for each user/profile, The Personal Address Book (with a .pab ending) contains theAddresss Book and the Personal Folders (with a .pst ending) contain all the messages compressed into one file - they are usually called mailbox.pab and mailbox.pst. Their home varies between configurations and it is easiest to locate them by Find (on the Start Menu) or Tools -> Find in Windows Explorer. Just look for files named *.pab and *.pst in C:/ and all sub-directories, it only takes a few seconds. Copy them to your CD or backup tape. If you have archived your folders you should also save any other *.pst files (default is archive.pst).

Restoring: This is easy as you just copy over the top of the .pab and .pst files created if you have to reload Outlook or if you have done other damage. You can also Import them using File -> Import and Export -> Files from Other Programs -> Personal Address Book /Personal Folders (.pst) (the same way you get back archived information. The only thing to watch is that the files may have moved to a new home if you reinstall Outlook or create a new Profile.

Outlook Express

Backing up messages: It is not so easy to backup and restore Outlook Express as it has a folder structure for messages and the address book is also less accessible. You need to copy the entire folder structure which usually has a folder called Outlook Express at the top. It again varies in location. I look for it using Find of files ending in .dbx for OE5 (there are even more files in earlier version - look for *.mbx files). Check dates to locate the files in use if you find more than one Outlook Express Folder. It is also possible to change where the Folder is saved to make life easy when you back up - Tools -> Options -> Maintenance Tab where you will find a button marked Store Folder.

Restoring messages: The safest way is to use Import on the File Menu -> Messages -> Outlook Express 5 and click Import mail from an OE 5 store Directory then Browse to the top level directory where you have the back up. You will have a choice of which folders you wish to import - beware of ending up with duplicated messages by renaming or moving folders before you import another with the same name.

Backing Up Address Books (Contacts): The best way is probably to Export you Address Book as a Comma Separated Values (CSV) file (.csv ending). Use File -> Export -> Address Book -> Text File (Comma Separated Values) and then Browse to a suitable location for you backup such as the CD or Tape and give it a name including the date. CSV files can be looked at in Notepad and open as a worksheet in Excel or a Table in Word so you can print them out.

Restoring Address Books You can Import them back into Outlook Express and the import process will ask what to do if you have duplicates. Import by File -> Import -> Other Address Book -> Text File (CSV) -> Browse for File and Finish (accepting defaults for fields and mapping). The CSV file is also a good way to provide addresses to other people by, for example, attaching it to an email - you can even modify entries in Excel and save them back as .csv files. They can copy it to the desktop or a folder and then import it into Outlook Express or Outlook (and many other email programs) .


It is easy to forget that one also needs to Back Up the custom dictionaries associated with ones email and other spell checkers. These are usually *.dic files and can be found using Find *.dic. a way of making sure is to add a garbage string asdfghj or similar and then use Find to search for files containing it. Dictionaries are common to several Microsoft programmes - Word 97, Outlook 9X and Outlook Express 5 use the same spell checking custom dictionary on my system although they work in different ways and make different suggestions.

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Content revised: 26th August, 2015