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Friday, September 6, 2013

Migrating Outlook's User Settings
How to move your settings from one computer to another

In a previous article, I wrote about how to migrate Outlook's mail files from Windows XP to Windows 7, and it has been one of the most popular articles I've written based on web traffic.  The most common question that this article spawned was, (something like), "OK, Einstein, I've moved all my files; now how do I go about moving my settings as well?!"

This is a perfectly legitimate question since, if you've had Outlook set up for longer than fifteen minutes, it's a lead-pipe cinch that you've developed a rather complicated set of settings, rules, accounts, and such-like over the years.  And one of the biggest hurdles to migrating your e-mail from one system to another is not so much migrating the e-mail, (that is, your mail files and such), but recreating all the customizations, tweaks, changes, and such that make your installation of Outlook uniquely yours.  Not to mention having to remember all the settings, passwords, security configurations, (etc. . .), for each and every e-mail account that you've associated with Outlook.

This article seeks to address that issue by showing you how to move not only your mail files, but all your customizations, rules, and settings as well.

Unfortunately, this article is Looooong. . . .

It's not that difficult to do, and it really doesn't take as long as you might think from reading this article.  It's just not something that can be told in three or four steps.

Be patient, read through it two or three times, grit your teeth, and push onward!

  • This article assumes that you are using Outlook for local e-mail storage. (i.e. your mail files are stored locally on your system, you connect to your ISP's mail server using POP-SMTP, (or maybe even IMAP, though I have not tried it), and not as part of an Exchange Server system on a domain, etc.  If your mail is stored on an external/corporate mail system this may not work.  You can try it, and if it does work, please let us know!
  • My system is a Windows 7 - 64 bit system; though this should work on the 32 bit version of Windows 7, as well as both 32 and 64 bit versions of Vista.  If anyone tries this on Windows 8 - 32 or 64 bit, please post a comment and let me know if it works there too.
  • I have not tried this migrating between 32 and 64 bit versions of Windows - in either direction.  Because certain important metadata information about your e-mail setup is located in the Registry, and because I do not know if there are any differences between them on 64 or 32 bit systems, Your Mileage will most certainly Vary.
  • My system is a Win-7 / Vista generation system.  Since I do not currently have a working installation of Outlook on anything older than that - like XP - I cannot say if this will work or not.  However, knowing how Microsoft does things, and how their Registry is organized, I wold not be surprised if this works there too.  Again, if you try this on XP, please post and let me know if it works there or not.
    • Also note that the locations of the various mail-files and such are different when migrating from XP to Vista/Win7/Win8.  Pleas see my previous article for information on where the files are located on XP, and how to migrate these files from XP to something later.  You should also be aware that these differences in file locations will, very likely, affect the Registry settings for Outlook too.  Beware.
  • My version of Outlook is the Outlook 2010 version, however this should work on versions from 2007 onward.  It might work with Outlook 2003, and I have not tested it with Outlook 2012, though it would not surprise me if it works there too.
  • My version of Outlook is the 32 bit version of Outlook 2010, since at the time I installed it Microsoft was recommending everyone install the 32 bit version unless you had a very specific need for the 64 bit variety of Outlook.
  • I am also assuming that your mail files are located in the standard locations where Outlook normally installs them.  If you've moved your mail-files around, you'll have to substitute your unique paths and places when I tell you to either copy or paste the various folders.
  • You will be "mucking around" with your Registry, and if you're not careful, you can mangle a system in short-order.  However, most of the things here are relatively benign, and if you follow the steps carefully, you should have no problems.  Of course, Your Mileage May Vary, and if you bork your system. . . .  Well you should have made backups first!

 Here's how to do it.

Setup, prior to migration between the two systems:
  • First things first:  Perform a full system backup, preferably a "bare metal" backup if at all possible, before doing anything else.  These steps are fairly easy and the majority of Windows users should have no problems.  However, good 'ole Mr. Murphy likes nothing better than to catch someone - no matter how experienced - with his pants down.  Mistakes happen, so don't forget the backup!
  • Make sure that the account username is identical on both the original system and the target system.  Likewise, make sure that both of the accounts are elevated to "Administrator" access.  If you want to down-grade the account(s) to "Standard User" access, that can be done once everything is proven and working.
    • You can move between systems where the username is not the same, but you will loose a lot of the metadata and rule relationships simply because the paths to the various files are different.

      In one case, I tried moving from a system where the username was "Jim" to one where the username was "Jim Harris", and because the user path isn't the same, things get interesting.  In my case I ended up having to re-sync a number of my rules because the target folder of the rule changed due to the path change.  Likewise, although all the account information came over, the passwords for the accounts were lost and I needed to re-enter them again.
  • Prepare the target system by installing the same version of Outlook as is on the original system before you migrate.  Microsoft likes to make, (ahem!), "little tweaks here and there" between the differing versions of Outlook.  If you don't believe me, go look at another article I've written on just that very subject.  Verify that Outlook on the target system is fully installed and ready to have e-mail accounts set up.  Don't set the accounts up just yet, just make sure that Outlook is at the point where accounts can be set up.
  • Make sure Outlook is not running on either of the two systems - both source and target..  In fact, while you're doing this, you'll probably want to either unplug the network cable, or turn Wireless networking off, (or both.), on both systems.  The reason for this is that:
    • If the first system downloads e-mails while you're migrating to the second system, your two systems are now "out of sync", and you'll have to repeat much of this to re-sync them.
    • If Outlook is running on either system, you may not be able to copy, or instal, the necessary files and settings.  And even if you do, you can't guarantee that they'll work right.
  • With networking / Wireless turned off on both systems, do what I call a "Frosty Cold Reboot".  That is, do a full shutdown to the power-off state on both systems, count to five slowly, and then restart both systems, making sure that networking is still disabled and Outlook is not running.
Most of the things you'll be doing require full administrative rights on the system.  If the account you're migrating from/to is just a "standard" account, you should, (temporarily), elevate it to an "Administrator" account while the migration is in progress.

Saving your mail-files:

This is where you'll backup all your important e-mail files.
  • Prepare a thumb-drive, (USB stick, flash drive, or whatever you want to call it), that is big enough to hold all your mail-files with about a gig or two left over.
  • Place the thumb-drive in your original system, and create three folders:
    • In the root of the thumb-drive, create a folder called "Outlook"
    • Inside the Outlook folder you just created, create two new folders called "Local" and "Roaming".
  • Make sure that Outlook is not running, (or shut it down if it is), then make the following file copies between your original system and the thumb-drive:
  • Go to the "C:\Users\[your user name]\AppData\Local\Microsoft" folder.
    • If you cannot see the hidden "AppData" folder from within your home directory, you'll have to open the "folder options" dialog and - under "Hidden Files and Folders", select the radio-button next to "Show hidden files, folders, and drives".
    • Likewise - from inside the same dialog - you'll have to un-check "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)"  Windows will complain bitterly about this, but go ahead and do it anyway.  (You may want to go and set these two settings back to the way they were when you're finished migrating.)
  • Within the Microsoft folder, pick up and copy the entire "Outlook" folder to the \Outlook\Local folder on your thumb drive.  Since this contains your mail files, as well as certain special indexing and metadata files, this might take a while.  Note that the Outlook directory on my own system weighs in at just under two gigs.  It's been around a while, but I've also done the periodic garbage collection - throwing out ancient and useless e-mails - as well as compacting folders to keep the amount of cruft and junk to a minimum.
  • Next, go to your "C:\Users\[your user name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft" folder and copy the following folders to the \Outlook\Roaming folder on your thumb-drive:
    • The "Outlook" folder
    • Both the "Proof" and "UProof" folders.
    • Both the "Signatures" and "Stationary" folders.

Saving your e-mail settings:

This is where you backup all the "hidden" settings and passwords from the Registry.
  • First:  Open an elevated (Administrator), command prompt.  This is important since Windows versions starting with Vista onward, "virtualize" important parts of the system.  You need to be working with the real Registry, not some "virtual" copy of it.
    If you've never done this before, here's how:
    • Click on the "Start" button and go to "All Programs" and then "Accessories".
    • Within the "Accessories" section, you'll see a black box icon named "Command Prompt" about three or four icons down from the top.
    • Right Click on the "Command Prompt" icon, and select "Run as Administrator" from the pop-up sub-menu that appears.
    • Click on "Yes" if a UAC prompt asks you for permission.
    • You should now see a "DOS" type command prompt window that has as it's title "Administrator: Command Prompt".  This is very important!  Verify that you have the correct command prompt window open before you proceed!
  • Within the elevated command prompt window, type "regedit".  Once you do this, you'll see the standard Windows Registry Editor window appear.
  • Navigate to the following location within the registry:
    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles.
    (Whew! What a mouthful that was!!)  Let's try that again, easier this time.
    • Software
    • Microsoft
    • Windows NT
    • CurrentVersion
    • Windows Messaging Subsystem
    • Profiles
  • When you expand the "Profiles" key, (by clicking on the small triangle), one of the sub-keys you should see is one named "Outlook".  (On my system, "Outlook" is the only sub-key there.  Your system may have others too.)  This is the Registry key you're interested in, and this is the Registry key where all the magic is located.  In the next few steps, you're going to make a copy of all the data in this key and save it on your thumb-drive so that you can move it to your new system.
  • Click on the "Outlook" sub-key so that it is highlighted, right click on it to expand the pop-up sub-menu, and then select "Export"
  • When you do that, you'll see a dialog box titled "Export Registry File"
    • Select the \Outlook folder on your thumb-drive as the location for the exported file.
    • Give the export file a useful name.  Something like "Outlook Settings Export 06-21-2013.reg" is a good choice.
    • Make sure the "Save as type" is set to "Registration Files (*.reg)" - which is the default setting.
    • Make sure that the "Export range" is set to "Selected branch".
    • Click on "Save", wait a nanosecond or so, and the magic is done!  You now have a perfectly preserved copy of all those mysterious settings in Outlook.

Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger!  Danger!

All of the previous steps assume that you have not opened Outlook since you started this process.  Opening Outlook, (especially if you've received any e-mails between the time you copied the mail-files from ...\AppData\Local and now), will write various changes into many files on the system - especially within the "Outlook" sub-key in the Registry.

This actually surprised me as I had previously "assumed" ( ! ! ! ) that the Registry settings only contained account, setup, password, (and possibly), path information about your e-mail.  When I re-exported my Outlook registry key today, (just to make sure I was using the correct sequence of steps in this article), I tried comparing it to another Outlook registry key export I did a week ago, "just for grins and giggles" - and damn if they weren't different!

Admittedly, the differences were (usually) relatively small in nature with only a few bytes different here and there; but any differences make me nervous.  Especially since I don't know what those "few bytes here and there" might represent.  And, AFAIK, the only differences between then and now is that I have received a fair amount of e-mail since I did the original Registry settings export.

If you have opened Outlook, it is very likely that your mail-files, metadata, and Registry have become unsynchronized.  If you try to restore the files you copied earlier, along with the Registry settings that you've just now exported, the results may be, (ahem!), "interesting".  To avoid this, you'll have to make sure Outlook is not running, then go back to the beginning and start re-copying all the files and settings all over again.  Bummer. . . .

The last step in exporting everything from your "old" version of Outlook is to export all your rules.

I know that I have been screaming up-and-down about not opening Outlook, but this time you gotta do it, since (again, AFAIK), the only way to access these rules is via Outlook itself.

Now hold on!  Before you get all eager and go starting up Outlook, you still have to make sure your e-mail sessions don't get outta whack.  To do that, you need to make sure that Outlook can't get to the Internet, and the best way to do that is to disconnect from any and all network sources; either hard-wired Ethernet, or via WiFi.

Once you're absolutely and totally disconnected from ANY network source whatsoever, you can go ahead, start up Outlook, and export all your finely crafted rules.

Here's how to do it:
  • Start Outlook and go to your usual mail-view page where you read and send e-mails.
  • Once you've gotten your e-mail open, up on the "ribbon" near the right side, is an icon that looks like a folder, labeled "Rules".
  • Click on the little triangle under it to expose the drop-down menu, and select "Manage Rules & Alerts".
  • You should now see the "Rules & Alerts" dialog with the "E-mail Rules" tab selected, showing (the top of) all the rules you've defined.
  • On the top right-hand side, select "Options", it will open another dialog titled "Options", and within the top half of the dialog you'll see two buttons labeled "Export Rules" and "Import Rules".  Obviously, what you want to select is "Export Rules".
  • When you click on the "Export Rules" button, you get the usual Windows "Save" dialog which defaults to the "C:\Users\[your user name]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook" folder.  You don't want to save it there, you want to place it on your thumb-drive with everything else, so go find the thumb-drive on the left hand, ("places"), pane, and select the Outlook folder you created there earlier.
  • Give the exported rule file, (*.rwz), a useful name like "08_20_2013_rules_export.rwz", and save it to the thumb-drive.
  • Click "OK" on each of the dialog boxes to get back to Outlook's e-mail page, and then close Outlook.
At this point, you can do a complete shut-down on your system and remove the thumb-drive.

Now that you have all the data and metadata from the old system saved all snug and warm on your trusty thumb drive, you can set the old system aside, and bring the new system to center-stage.

At this point, you're going to move all of the carefully preserved data from the old Outlook installation into the new Outlook installation; making it, (hopefully!), an exact clone of the original Outlook install.

How to do it:

Setup prior to restoring the Outlook data:
  • First, make sure the new system has no active network connections whatsoever.  Unplug the network cable and/or turn off wireless networking on the new system.  This will prevent Outlook from trying to do things to you behind your back.
  • Make sure that the user on the new machine has the exact same name as the user on the old machine.
  • Launch Outlook, and verify that there are no accounts set up, but that it is ready to create new accounts.  Then close Outlook.

Restore the saved Outlook mail-files and metadata:
  • Attach the thumb-drive (where you saved the data) to the new system, and navigate to the Outlook folder you created earlier.
  • Navigate to the \Outlook\Local folder on the thumb drive, and copy the "Outlook" folder you saved there to the "C:\Users\[your user name]\AppData\Local\Microsoft" folder on the new machine.
    • Windows may complain that there is already a folder with that name, and it may also complain that there are files there with the same names.
    • Allow Windows to "merge" the folders, and if there are any complaints about files being the same name, select the top option - copy the new file and replace the old one with it - since you want to totally erase whatever is there and replace it with what was brought over from the old system.
  • Next, navigate to the \Outlook\Roaming folder on the thumb-drive, and copy everything there into the "C:\Users\[your user name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft" folder on the new system.  This should include:
    • The "Outlook" folder
    • The "Proof" and UProof" folders
    • And the "Signatures" and "Stationary" folders
    • If Windows complains about files or folders being the same, let Windows copy and/or merge as you did before.
  • On the thumb-drive, move up to the "Outlook" folder and find the saved registry file, (it will have an icon that looks like a Rubik's Cube with pieces missing), and double-click it.
    • You will (probably) get a UAC asking you for permission to update the system.  Answer "Yes".
    • You will then see a "Registry Editor" dialog warning you that adding or modifying values in the Registry can do serious damage to your system.  It will also ask you if you trust the source of the file you created just a few minutes ago, (of course you do!), so go ahead and let it install.

Sanity Check:

Before you do anything else, you should stop and make sure that things are going OK so far.  To accomplish this, launch Outlook.  What you should see when Outlook finishes launching itself, is that Outlook on the new machine looks exactly like the way Outlook looked on the old machine.
  • All your mail folders should be there and they should contain exactly what was in them before you began the migration.
  • The e-mail messages that were on the old system should be on the new system.
  • "Unread" messages on the old system should exist, and be "Unread" on the new one.
  • Likewise any garbage that was left in the "Junk" and "Deleted Items" folders on the old system should still be there on the new one.
In other words, what you see now, on the new system, should be exactly the same as what you saw on the old system before you shut Outlook down for the last time.

If they don't - STOP! - go back and verify that you've done things properly.
  • Verify that you copied the folders from the thumb-drive into the correct folders on the new machine.
    • Did you place the "Outlook" folder that was inside the \Outlook\Local\ folder on the thumb-drive inside the ...\AppData\Local\Microsoft\ folder on the new machine?
    • Did you place the five folders that you copied to the \Outlook\Roaming\ folder on the thumb-drive inside the ...\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\ folder on the new machine?
  • Were you able to successfully import the Registry file you saved before?
  • Did you restore your Outlook settings to the exact same username on both systems?
  • Have you tried a system reboot?
It is important that you go back and resolve any issues now, before you continue.

Now that you're golden so far, let's do the last few tweaks to get Outlook running on the new machine.

Restore the saved rule file:
  • With Outlook still running and open to your e-mail, go back to the "Rules" icon on the ribbon.
  • Click on the small triangle under the "Rules" icon and select "Manage Rules & Alerts", "Options", and then "Import Rules".
  • Find the exported rule file, (*.rwz), that you saved in the Outlook folder on your thumb drive, select it and click "Open"
  • If all goes well, nothing will appear to happen when you import the rules file.  Select "OK" on all the dialogs to bring yourself back to Outlook's e-mail page.  You can verify that all is well by re-opening the "Manage Rules & Alerts" dialog to verify that all your rules were successfully imported.

Verify and Test the account settings:
Before you just "let Outlook go", you need to verify that the accounts, passwords, (etc.), are set up correctly.
Likewise, you should make a small settings change that will allow you to go back to your old system if something goes wrong.
  • With Outlook still running, and open to your e-mail, select the "File" tab on the far left side of the ribbon.
  • Within the "File" tab, select "Account Settings".  This brings up a, (in my opinion), totally stupid and useless button that is - in essence - identical to the one you just selected.  Go ahead and select that one too.  (What where they thinking?)
  • You should, (finally!), be at the "Account Settings" dialog.  Verify that each account that existed on your original machine is here on the new one.
    • If you do NOT see all your accounts, STOP!  Close Outlook and repeat the steps for restoring the Outlook registry file.
    • If that does not fix the problem, go to your thumb-drive and open the Registry file with Notepad.  You should see a lot of strange looking stuff that looks something like this:

      Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

      [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles\Outlook]

      [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles\Outlook\05035e0babc255def9547eba6a273a93d]
        (etc. . .)

      and a lot more just like it.  The file should be fairly big, mine is just a tad over 350k in size; but then again I have two different e-mail accounts, and some weird security settings for parts of them too.  Depending on how many e-mail accounts you have, and their settings, your file may be a bit larger, or smaller, than mine.  However it shouldn't be tiny, and it shouldn't be filled with unprintable garbage that looks like cartoon curse-words.
    • If you don't see text like I have shown above, or if it starts with something other than

      [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles]
      [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles\Outlook]

      you should close Outlook, shut down the new machine, go back to the old machine, and re-do the steps for exporting Outlook's Registry profile.
  • Highlight your account, (or each account in turn if you have more than one), and then click on the "Change. . . ." item just above the account list.
  • Look at the first settings page, and verify that it looks like it should.  Then clear the "Test account settings by clicking the 'Next' button" check-box.  (You do this so Outlook doesn't try something stupid when you move from screen to screen.  Ask me how I know.  Go ahead, I dare you!)
  • Click on the "More Settings" button and click on each tab in turn, from "General" to "Advanced", and verify that the information on each tab is correct.
  • Once you get to the "Advanced" tab, look about 2/3 of the way down and select the "Leave Messages on Server" check-box.  This is the important "small settings change" I mentioned before.  By setting this, Outlook won't delete messages from your mail server when it reads them.  This is important because if things don't go right, you can always go back to your old machine and all your messages will be there.  (However, any replies you may have sent while on the new machine, won't be.)
  • Repeat these steps for each additional account you have, verify that all the information is correct, and make sure to select "Leave Messages on Server" for each account in turn.
Now, let's fire that puppy up and see if it really works!

At this point you've checked just about everything that can be checked without "going live" with Outlook.
  • Shut down Outlook.
  • Re-attach the Ethernet cable, or turn Wireless Networking back on, and wait for the connection to happen.
  • Verify a good network connection by launching your web browser and verify that you can go to various web pages.
  • Restart Outlook.
  • When Outlook restarts, (God willin' an' the Creek Don't Rise), you should receive any outstanding e-mails that have been queued on your various mail servers.
    • If you get errors, resolve them the way you normally would, though I'd be really surprised if you get anything significant at this point.  Maybe a rule error or two, but nothing serious.
  • You should go to each of your accounts, in turn, and send a test message back to that account, along with one to every other account you have.
    • You should receive all the test messages from each and every account.
    • If you don't, go visit that account via it's web portal, (if it has one), and use normal troubleshooting techniques to discover what's happening.  In my case, my Yahoo! account periodically goes brain-dead for no apparent reason when I try to download e-mail from it.  No real reason that I can see, it just doesn't like POP mail sometimes.
  • If you can, call a friend or two and ask them to send you a test-e-mail.  Or, be bold and send them a test e-mail asking them to reply!

By now, you should know if your e-mail migration has succeeded or not, and if you've gotten this far, it's a pretty fair bet that you're doing just swimmingly.  Give it a few days, maybe a week or so, and if all goes well you can go back to each account's "Advanced" settings tab and un-check the "Leave Messages on Server" check-box to clear the cruft off of your mail server(s).

Drop me a line and let me know how things went!

Jim (JR)


  1. Would be great if there was a software package that did all this.

    1. Stuart,

      There ARE utilities that do all of this, soup-to-nuts. Some of them even claim to be able to resolve path and username differences too.

      "Da Bitch Part", as they said in Blazing Saddles, is that they are all payware, and they are NOT CHEAP!

      What say ye?

      Jim (JR)

  2. I have outlook setup on a pc that is part of a domain and uses exchange for email. I am trying to set the same account up on a pc that is not joined to the domain and I have been battling multiple login errors. Will this method you described potentially solve some of those issues?

  3. Kirk,

    Thanks for the excellent post!

    This question points up an important assumption I made, but did not document, that the e-mail is stored on the local system and not an Exchange Server within a domain. As a result I have updated the "caveat's" section of the article - right up top!

    Because I am using my copy of Outlook as a generic POP-SMTP mail client - and not part of a corporate/domain mail server - the correct answer to your question is "I honestly don't know".

    The only suggestion I can offer is to go try it - AFTER backing up the affected parts of the Registry! It might, or it might not work. Whatever happens, if you DO give it a try be sure to come back here and post your results. It will be an invaluable addition to this article and useful to others that may come and read it.

    Good Luck and thanks again for an excellent post!

    Jim (JR)

  4. One other thing I just thought of:

    A likely cause of your login errors is that unless the system is EXACTLY IDENTICAL (i.e. a bare metal backup), transferring logins from one system to another won't work. The reason is that if you create a fresh user on the target system, you may not get the same internal user ID on the second system. (Ask me how I found this out. I dare you! Just ask me.)

    Even if you are using the domain/Active Directory to create the user on the new machine, you may be running into issues where the new machine's internal user ID doesn't match either. It is very likely that you'll have to either read up on Exchange Mail, or find someone who is more expert than I am.

    Good luck and let us know what happens!

    Jim (JR)

  5. Thanks Jim.
    Obviously I would love for a personal visit but I dont think you are in the los angeles area.
    I totally understand your concern regarding posting your personal info on a blog and I have set up an email address just for the purpose of you emailing me so we can speak further on this subject.
    Please email me at: mso20132013@gmail.com

    Thank you.


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