Move Your Outlook PST to Safety

By Jason Dunn on Monday, March 27, 2006

If you're using a Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone, odds are very good that you're using some version of Outlook. The data file for Outlook is a format called PST, which is a surprisingly reliable and robust file. Outlook isn't the most stable program in the world, and I'm always amazed at how many times Outlook can crash and the PST file keep on ticking. If you spend a great deal of your time in Outlook, you'll want to protect that PST file from data loss. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't make this easy for you - most of us, if we're running data backup software of some kind, will be backing up our My Documents folder, and not much else.

So guess where your PST file is located by default? Not in the My Documents folder! It's located in C:\Documents and Settings\user\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. Oh, and that folder and all it's contents are hidden by default, so the average user can never even find their Outlook PST file. I have no idea what sort of twisted logic the Outlook developers used when thinking that was the best place to store this file, but here are the steps for Windows XP to move it into your My Documents folder where you can easily back it up along with all your data (and you are backing up your data, right?).
1. Make sure Outlook isn't running. Click START, then SEARCH.

2. On the left hand column click "All Files and Folders".

3. In the first blank box for "All or part of the file name" type in *.pst.

4. The "Look In" drop-down box should be set to local drives. This is fine, but you can change it to C: if you wish to make the process got a little faster.

5. Click "More Advanced Options" and check off the box for "Search Hidden Files and Folders".

6. Click Search, then wait.

7. After a few seconds (or minutes if your PC is slow) you'll see a list of all the PST files on your computer. The one you'll want is under C:\Documents and Settings\user\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook where user is your profile name in Windows XP. The file you're looking for will be named outlook.pst by default. You don't want to grab the wrong PST file if there are multiple user profiles on that computer!

8. Once you've located the right PST file, right-click on it and select CUT.

9. Open up your My Documents folder, right-click somewhere inside the folder (but not on a file) and select PASTE. If you're a Type A person like me, you may want to create a new folder named "Outlook Data Files" first, then PASTE the PST file into that folder. This can be handy if you also want to put your archive.pst file into this folder, or any other PST files you create (I have a few).

10. Once the file has moved over (it may take several minutes depending on the size), start up Outlook normally.

11. Outlook will complain about not being able to find the PST file. It may give you the option of creating a new one or browsing to the find the old one. You want to browse into your My Documents folder, and double-click on the PST file that you just moved. Outlook may pop up an error again and shut down, but when you re-start it again, it will link to the proper PST file and that's it, you're done!

You can repeat the steps above for any other PST file you may have on your system - most people will have an archive.pst as well, and it can be copied and pasted into the My Documents folder just as easily. What you'll have to do, however, is go into the autoarchive settings inside Outlook (File > Archive) and tell it the new location of your archive.pst file. If you don't, it will archive your data to the old location, not the new one.

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