Outlook and the Documents folder redirection problem

Are you using Outlook and is your Documents folder redirected to a network share like a file server or a NAS-system or to Cloud Storage like OneDrive or Dropbox?

This is a must read then…

PST Network Location buttonWhile I’ve warned before about not to save pst-files to a network share or Cloud Storage, this issue requires some additional care and attention when using Outlook.

You might be doing this unnoticed or (as a network administrator) might deploy Outlook with its default storage location pointing to a Network Share on a file server or NAS-system, or a Cloud Storage location such as OneDrive.

Note: Depending on your version of Windows, the folder is either called “My Documents” or “Documents”. For clarity, I will only refer to the folder in question as “Documents”.

Change of defaults

Outlook Files buttonOutlook 2010 is the first version of Outlook where the default location for pst-files is set to the user’s “Documents” folder (in a sub folder called “Outlook Files”). Previously, pst-files were stored in a folder which is actually intended for local settings and caching only.

As the pst-file is considered being data which people like to keep, placing it in the Documents folder makes more sense so that it cannot be overlooked and is automatically backed up when the entire Documents folder is backed up or moved over to a new computer.

Corporate network shares, Windows Home Server and NAS-systems

While the above is a good change for most (home users), it’s not so good for people who have their Documents folder redirected to a network share. This is often the case in (larger) corporate networks where the users get a mapped network share (Home Directory or Home Drive) where the Documents folder is redirected to. The same is true for people who have a Windows Home Server or a NAS-system in their network.

Because of this (automatic) redirection and because of the changed defaults since Outlook 2010, your pst-files will also be created by default on a network share and will directly place you in an unsupported configuration before you even got started!

As Outlook 2010 and later also queries the pst-file much more than previous versions of Outlook (with features like Indexed Search, Conversation View and the People Pane), you’ll also be affected by this much more than when you had the pst-file located on a network share with previous versions of Outlook.

Do not connect to pst-files stored on a network drive
STOP!!! A network share is not where you want to connect to with Outlook.

Cloud based locations like OneDrive and Dropbox

OneDrive buttonAside from the Documents folder containing your pst-file being redirected to a network location, it could also be redirected to a location that syncs with cloud storage like OneDrive or Dropbox.

Having your pst-file in such a location isn’t recommended either as it could lead to high network traffic usage, endless synchronization, data corruption or even complete loss of the pst-file.

For more details on this see Synching pst-files via OneDrive or Dropbox.

Move the pst-file back locally and backup to a network share

PST Local Disk Location buttonThe solution to this issue is easy; move your pst-file back to your local hard drive. You can use any location which is convenient to you. Create for instance a folder called C:\Your name\Outlook or, if you have a separate partition or hard drive in your computer, you could create it on that drive instead (external drives are not recommended).

Once you’ve your pst-file to your local hard drive, create a (daily) local backup job on your computer which includes the folder containing your pst-files and set it to backup to a network location.

Step-by-step instructions to just backup your pst-files to a network location can be found in the guide Script to schedule your pst-file back-up.

You can also use a free Outlook Backup Add-in to handle backups of your pst-file. Amongst others, this add-in allows you to get automatic reminders to make a backup when you close Outlook (as often as once a day) and initiate a backup for all your pst-files to a network share with a single click.

Of course, creating backups manually is an option too.

Note: Do not try to “outsmart” the system by marking your Home Directory to be made available off-line. While this might work in theory, in reality you could be confronted with very long logon and logoff times which could result in a total loss of the pst-file when interrupted.

Change the default

Regedit buttonTo make sure that Outlook doesn’t create any new pst-file files in the redirected Documents folder, you can add a registry key with a new default location. The key involved and how it works is explained here; Change default location for pst and ost files

If you are a network administrator, you can force a new location by using Setting Outlook Group Policies or even disable the usage of pst-files in the network completely. Another option would be to make a settings change when preparing your deployment with the Office Customization Tool (OCT).

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