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 Rebuild Outlook Express Message Folders
 Restore Outlook Emails, etc

Date of last revision: Feb 23, 2008.

Please do not COPY this note to any public “location”. Just “refer” to it at its home site. That way we won't have issues with out-of-date copies...

The first sections of this web-page refer to the recovery of OE Folders/Messages. The later sections refer to the recover of data in Outlook, especially deleted emails.

Tom Koch has some excellent technical comments on file-corruption in OE. Many other websites have excellent data also, including:
    • http://www.oehelp.com/dbxtract/default.aspx
    • http://www.insideoe.com/
    • http://www.mindspring.com/~oe_oh/
    • http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Bay/6386/IE_ng_notes.htm
    • http://home.comcast.net/~jimpickering/
    • http://www.fjsmjs.com/OE/index.htm

OE "Folders":
If your OE Folders/Messages seem to have suddenly disappeared, and provided the OE files are not destroyed internally, then it's normally quite easy to recover the contents.

In this note, please be alert to the use of the term FOLDER:

   - I'll use the term DIRECTORY when I'm referring to Directories/Folders on the disk,

   - I'll use the term FOLDER when I'm referring to EMAIL "folders" - within OE. In this case, each OE "folder" is actually a simple FILE on disk, inside the OE Directory. It has a file-name closely matching the name that you initially assigned to the OE “folder”, and an extension of .DBX.

   - And then there's a special OE FILE with a NAME of FOLDERS.DBX. (This is really an internal OE “index” which relates the names you assign to all the OE “folders”, and the actual names assigned to each of these “files” on disk).

OE Filenames:
When you create a new email “folder” within OE, then OE performs a few steps:

   1. OE knows that it must create a new disk-file to contain all the emails that you'll place in that new OE-folder.

   2. OE must decide what internal name to assign to that file.

   3. OE will create that file – eventually (as explained below).

   4. OE will add an entry to it's internal “Index”, containing the name that you assigned to the new email folder, and the file-name that OE assigned to the disk-file. (As mentioned above, this index is yet another disk-file, named FOLDERS.DBX).

   - Suppose you decide to split your incoming emails by Year, and that you create a new OE folder named “2003”, under the INBOX folder. OE will then decide that the new disk-file should be named something like “2003.DBX”, and it will create it (eventually!), and will add an entry into FOLDERS.DBX, with something like “INBOX-->2003 resides in disk-file 2003.DBX”.

   - Suppose you later decide to also split your outgoing emails by Year, and that you create a new OE folder named “2003”, under the SENT folder. OE will then initially decide that the new disk-file will be named “2003.DBX”. BUT, that file exists already!!. So, OE will append a incrementing suffix to the name, until it reaches a new name that does not already exist. It will create that disk-file. In this instance, the disk-file would be named “2003 (1).DBX”. And OE will then add an entry into FOLDERS.DBX, with something like “SENT-->2003 resides in disk-file “2003 (1).DBX”.

OE Folder recovery - A Suggested Procedure:
Please read this entire note before starting any recovery. If anything is unclear, then please ask your favourite IT expert for assistance. (If your IT expert has issues, (s)he might contact us...)

   1. Unless you understand what you're doing, and unless you have safe backup, then please don't mess with your OE system – in case the probability of a successful recovery is reduced...

   2. These notes are written with the best of intentions. BUT, No Guarantees; “All bets are off”. Take all relevant precautions when trying to recover lost data.

   3. Locate the directory where all the OE email files are held:
         - Perhaps run OE, and drill down through the menus: Tools, Options, Maintenance, Store-Folder. Or...
         - In W95, it might be C:\Windows\ Application data\ Microsoft\ Outlook Express.
         - In W98, it might be C:\Windows\ Application data\ Identities\ ????\ Microsoft\ Outlook Express.
         - In XP, it's might be something like C:\Documents & Settings\ Administrator\ Local Settings\ Application Data\ Identities\ {????}\ Microsoft\ Outlook Express\ - allowing for user-names, etc.
         - Or, maybe just "search" your hard-disk(s) for directories named "Outlook Express".

   4. In there, you'll see a file named FOLDERS.DBX, and probably many other email (.DBX) files, including INBOX.DBX, etc. Hopefully, you'll recognise the names of the "missing" files, and, hopefully, those files still have "proper" sizes - indicating that the old contents are still intact. Sadly, if the “missing” ones are gone, or are empty......

   5. Copy all the important files (ie, OE “folders”) to some backup directory. (Just-in-case !). You can delete these backups later, when the recovery has ended.

   6. For each "missing" OE folder of emails, repeat the following steps:

         a) Start OE.

         b) In OE, create a new email folder, called, say, XXX. Use some name that's nothing like any name already in use. For now, this action will just create a new entry within the OE file named FOLDERS.DBX.

         c) Still in OE, select some other non-empty "folder", and move just one email from it into XXX. Then move it back to where it came from. This action will create a new OE physical disk-file named XXX.DBX, or, rarely, XXX (1).DBX or XXX (2).DBX, etc (as explained earlier), and this new OE “folder” will appear “empty” in OE.

         d) Close down OE.

         e) In your favourite "file manager" (eg, Windows Explorer), COPY the "Missing" OE file of emails into the OE directory, naming it XXX.DBX, and thereby overwriting the newly-created empty XXX.DBX file.

         f) Restart OE. When you now access the XXX OE folder, all those missing emails should be visible again!!

         g) WOW. Large Coffee.

         h) Still in OE, Move all those emails into their proper OE folder(s), or Rename the XXX folder to something more meaningful, etc... Normal housekeeping.

         i) Close OE.

         j) Repeat the above steps for each of the "missing" OE folders.

   7. Do a general tidy-up. Delete the XXX OE folder, if it's still hanging around, etc. Delete unwanted folders in OE, Compact the remaining ones, etc.

   8. Now that you're "In The Zone" of OE recovery, you should note EVERY OE folder-name, and EVERY .DBX file in the OE directory, and ensure they "match". If there are any un-matched DBX files, then restore them as noted above, or delete them. And remember that OE will sometimes append a (1), (2), etc, to the internal disk filenames (to resolve duplicate naming issues) ... If in doubt about the contents of any strange .DBX file, restore it as noted above, review, and retain or delete...

   9. Delete any unwanted backups, etc.

And, if your experiences don't exactly match the above steps, or if these notes are inadequate, then please contact us. Thank you.

Outlook - Recovery of Deleted Data (especially emails) - Intro:

These notes apply to MS-Outlook – not to MS-Outlook-Express. They've been gleaned from various websites, and experience. If you do not understand any item here, please ask your IT support folks for assistance – do not undertake these procedures unless you understand them fully.

Numerous “professional” tools are available to restore/repair Outlook files. The following procedure does not require any such tool. If you make the suggested backups, then you can try them; if the process fails, you can still revert to the original status, and try the professional approaches!

Normally, when emails are “deleted” in Outlook (or Outlook Express, etc), they're not “really” deleted – they're merely flagged as no longer relevant, and therefore they won't appear on the normal displays. The deleted emails are still held in the Outlook files (files with extensions of .PST and .OST). This flagging of emails (and email “folders”) applies to:
    • Deleting of emails themselves
    • Moving them to the Deleted folder
    • Emptying the Deleted folder
    • Cleanup operations
    • etc.

Deleted emails (and email folders) are really gone only after a “Compact” operation (Tools menu-> file-> data file management -> settings -> Compact now, or if Compact is run automatically). If Compact has been run since the emails/folders were deleted, the following procedures do not apply (You may still be able to recover .PST files, etc, by scanning the disk structures for fragments of these files, but that's an entirely more complex operation). Also, these notes assume that the PST/OST files are not already actually damaged – if they are damaged, you may still review the procedures, and decide if they might apply to your situation; or you might prefer to investigate alternative utilities and procedures that are designed to repair damaged PST/OST files.

The approach here is:
    1. Locate the PST file.
    2. Cause minor damage to it.
    3. Run the standard repair tool on it, which will repair the damage, and un-delete the deleted emails and deleted folders.

This procedure assumes the PST/OST files have not hit any “2GB” limit, and that there's adequate free space available to permit Debug/ScanPST/etc to run. If the 2GB limit applies, then check the Microsoft site for a special utility: PST2GB, but beware that this repair may result in deleted emails, etc.

Outlook Recovery - Location of PST/OST files:
Only some guidelines here; in many cases admin/users can select other locations; users might not have used “Windows” as a root folder, etc...

PST: Personal Folders Files; OST: Offline Folders Files. It seems these files are based on the MSDE database engine; also called SQL Server Express – a free subset of MS-SQL Server.

Just-in-case!: My Computer (or Windows Explorer, etc); Tools; Folder Options; View; select Show hidden files and folders; select Don't hide extensions. In VISTA, the equivalent is under Organize; Folder and Search Options; View tab...

Outlook 2000/2002/2003:
    • W98, no individual user logins: <drive>:\Windows\Application Data\
    • W98, individual user logins: <drive>:\Windows\Profiles\<user name>\Local Settings\Application Data\
    • WinNT: <drive>:\Winnt\Profiles\<user name>\Local Settings\Application Data\
    • W2K/XP: <drive>:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\
    • Vista: <drive>:\Users\username\AppData\ (not allowing for Local and Roaming subfolders).

Outlook 2007:
    • W2K/XP: <drive>:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\.
    • VISTA: <drive>:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\

Outlook Recovery - Prerequisites:

A tool is required to cause the minor damage. “Debug” is available in all DOS and Windows PCs, and can handle small files. If the file is too big for Debug (eg, if you get an “Insufficient Memory” message), then you'll have to use some other tool, such as a suitable “hex editor”. Hundreds of these are available on the 'net – most are free. The following appeared at the front of a google search:
    • http://www.chmaas.handshake.de/delphi/freeware/xvi32/xvi32.htm
    • http://www.hhdsoftware.com/Products/home/hex-editor-free.html
    • http://www.febooti.com/products/filetweak/members/hex-editor/

This site lists over 50 hex-editors!: http://www.freedownloadscenter.com/Search/hex_editor.html

You'll also need a program that's included with Office: Outlook's Inbox Repair Tool; ScanPST.exe. Use the latest version you can locate; eg, if you have Office 2007, and you're un-deleting emails on Outlook-2003, then use ScanPST from Office-2007. ScanPST.exe is designed to repair damage in PST files; if the PST file is not damaged, ScanPST does little; however, if the file is damaged, ScanPST repairs the damage, and un-deletes all deleted emails and folders.

Outlook Recovery - Steps:

    1.  Ensure MS-Outlook is not running!
    2.  Locate the PST file, perhaps as suggested above. Make a backup copy of it – do not call it .BAK, because ScanPST will also default to making a backup with that extension. If problems arise in the following steps, reinstate that backup, and/or restart these steps with a fresh copy of the backup!
    3.  Use Debug (or the Hex-Editor) to create minor damage to the PST file:
             •  Maybe experiment with the following, until ScanPST recognises the damage and activates the full repair process.
             •  Some suggest setting bytes 0x0107-0x0113 to 0x20. (In Debug, this is the Fill command: f 107 113 20)
             •  Others had success by just changing the first byte to a “0x02”, or to an ASCII “2”.
    4.  Run ScanPST.exe, probably located at drive:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MSMAPI\LocaleID folder - where LocaleID is the locale identifier (LCID) for the installation of Microsoft Office. The LCID for English - United States is 1033. [MSMAPI might be just MAPI].
    5.  Type the path\name of the .PST or .OST file to be repaired, or use Browse to locate it.
    6.  Change any other Options, as needed. If you create a LOG file, check it at the end, but delete it when it's no longer needed.
    7.  Click Start.
    8.  When the scanning is completed, and if errors were found, choose the option to start the repair. (If no errors were found, you're working on the wrong file, or you didn't do enough damage!).
    9.  Select the Backup file to be created, as appropriate.
   10.  Click Repair.
   11.  Start Outlook, and access the repaired PST file.
   12.  On the Go menu, click Folder List, and open up the sub-folders (+).
   13.  The Folder List may show “Recovered Personal Folders”, which contain default Outlook folders, and/or a “Lost and Found” folder. The “Recovered” folders are usually empty. The “Lost and Found” folder contains folders and items that ScanPST recovered. If items are still missing, then ScanPST was unable to locate and/or recover them.
   14.  Some users have reported good results from repeating the above steps a few times – additional data may be recovered on subsequent runs!
   15.  You can then manipulate the recovered contents as usual. Or, if much too much data was reinstated, you might wish to retrieve only the relevant emails, etc, and then revert to the original un-repaired PST/OST file.

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