How to back up Outlook email and contacts

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Microsoft Outlook is one of the most popular email programs in use today. I ‘ve been using it for years and I like it. Yes, it’s a little quirky at times but overall it’s pretty reliable and has a lot of great features. However, one of the things not included in Outlook is an easy backup process. Other programs have that built in so you can just click File – Backup and send all your data to a separate drive, but not Outlook. No problem though – I know how to do it and today I’ll show you how.

Microsoft Outlook

 

The fundamental thing you need to know about Outlook is that it stores ALL of your Outlook data in one single file, called a PST file. So that one file includes:

  • Emails
  • Email folders
  • Email attachments
  • Contacts/Address book
  • Calendar
  • Tasks
  • Whatever other Outlook features you use

It’s kind of convenient to have everything in that one file, so all you have to back up is that file. But it’s also a little dangerous, since if you lose that single file, you’ve lost everything. That’s why backing up your Outlook PST file is so important.

The actual backup process is not really difficult. It can be summarized like this:

How to backup Outlook:

  1. Find the Outlook PST file
  2. Copy and paste it to your external drive

Sounds easy, right? The trick is finding the PST file in the first place. The location of that PST file depends on what version of Outlook you are using. (Please note – the file locations listed below are the default settings. It’s possible to move the PST file to another location.)

In Outlook 2003, the PST file is found at this path (but if you’re still using Outlook 2003 you really need to upgrade to a newer version):

C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook

In Outlook 2007, the PST file is found at this path:

C:\Users\username\App Data\Local\Microsoft\Outlook

In Outlook 2010 and 2013, Microsoft finally woke up and decided to put the PST file in an easier location, the Documents folder:

C:\Users\username\Documents\Outlook files

The change they made in the more recent versions of Outlook was smart. Not just because the Outlook PST file is now easier to find, but because people that back up their data almost always include the Documents folder as part of the backup. And since “Outlook files” is a folder inside Documents, the email gets backed up automatically as part of that process.

Once you’ve actually located your PST file, just do a right-click on it and choose “Copy”. Then plug in your external drive and open it. Create a folder called “Outlook backup” (you could also include today’s date in the file name). Then just right-click and choose Paste to copy the PST file to that folder. Last step – disconnect the external drive. Not so difficult, right?

A few things to be aware of:

1. If your PST file is not where it “should” be (the default locations listed above), you can just do a search for it by searching for: *.pst¬†(that’s an asterisk followed by a period followed by “pst”).

2.¬†Having your PST file backed up to an external drive is definitely better than no backup at all. However, it would not be good to have this as your ONLY backup, if your email, contact list, etc. is critical to save. The external drive could fail, just like your computer’s hard drive can fail. And, if you have to remember to do it, it most likely won’t get done every day. An automated online backup process would be a good way to make sure it gets done every single day, without your having to even think about it.

3. A PST file can be large. If you have years of emails (some with large attachments), a big contact list, etc. the PST file might be quite large. I’ve seen some go over 1 gb in size. I just checked mine and it’s about 2.3 gb.

So now that you know how to back up your Outlook, go do it while you’re thinking about it!

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Jim the Candian
October 27th, 2014

This is excellent information. However, please also include the fact that other Outlook data is also stored (quick fill data, etc.) in other locations!

For Office 2003 with Windows 7, this additional information is stored at:

C:\Users\”username”\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook

Without these other files backed up, you will lose a lot of additional information.

Again, thanks for the excellent information all of the time!

Scott Johnson
October 27th, 2014

Thanks Jim. More fundamentally, I would recommend anyone using Office 2003 to upgrade to a more current version of Office anyway.