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Don’t lose your email! Here’s how to export and import your Outlook inbox

For a lot of professionals, Microsoft Outlook is the center of their workflow. That being the case, it’s important to make sure that the application’s files — your emails records, contacts, and calendars — are periodically backed up to a safe location. Likewise, if you’re moving to a new PC, it’s a lot easier to re-load a single file than to go through the tedious process of setting up your email accounts again.
Luckily, Outlook makes it simple to manually back up your account and settings, and also to re-import them for easy setup. The guide below applies to Office 2010, Office 2013, and Office 2016.

Backing up your Outlook files

To start backing up your files in Outlook 2013 and Outlook 2016, click the “File” menu, then “Open & Export.” Click on “Import/Export” to open the Import and Export Wizard, which will also kick you out of the touch-friendly menu system — it’s best to have a conventional keyboard and mouse/touchpad for the following steps. In Outlook 2010, click “File,” then “Options,” then “Advanced.” Click “Export” to open the wizard. The following steps are identical for all three versions of Outlook.
Next, select “Export to a file” from the action list, then click “Next.” There are two options here — select “Outlook Data File (.pst),” then click “Next” again. In this screen you can select which files you want to back up. Most of the time you’ll want to do a complete backup of the files for one account. To do this, simply click the email address of that account (the first item in the list), then click “Next.” Skip the next section if you’re ready to continue.
outlook select folder
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If you want more fine-grain control of what’s backed up, click an individual mail folder, the Contacts or Calendars section, or any of the other options in the list. By default, all of the folders within a selected folder will be backed up as well; to disable this behavior, un-check the box marked “include subfolders.” To remove specific email messages from the backup (say, mail sent to or from your personal address), click “filters.” On this screen you can create a search by word, subject or body field, to or from address, or time. More advanced filters, like size, flags, and importance ratings, are available on the “More Choices” and “Advanced” tabs in this menu. When you’ve finished setting up your filters, click “OK” to return to the export menu.
The next screen allows you to select the location and name of your backup file. For this example we’ll put it on the Windows desktop, but you can place the file in any local folder. Click “Browse,” then navigate to the folder you want, name the file, then click “OK.” The browser window will close.
outlook desktop
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Click “Finish.” You can add a password to this file for extra security or leave both fields blank if you don’t want an assigned password. Click “OK” to create the backup file. It may take a few seconds if you have a lot of emails stored in Outlook.

Managing backups

The PST file you just created can be moved and copied just like any other file. This makes it easy to keep it safe — throw it on a USB drive, an external hard drive, or even cloud storage to keep a record of your emails physically separated from your computer. Be aware that the file is quite large (about 100MB for my 1,000-email test account), so you may not be able to send it through some Internet tools.
Remember, this is not a live file: it will not record or backup any emails that you receive or send after you create it. For a more up-to-date file, Outlook automatically stores your emails and other settings in a PST file in the Documents>Outlook Files folder under your username. This file is always up to date, but since it’s stored locally it’s vulnerable to failure. You can mitigate the risk of losing recent emails, calendar items, and contacts by setting a backup or cloud storage program to monitor the Outlook Files folder.

Importing backups

The process for importing PST backup files is similar to creating them. In Outlook 2013 and 2016, from the main Outlook window, click “File,” then “Open & Export,” then “Import/Export” to open the Import and Export Wizard again. In Outlook 2010, click “File,” then “Open,” then “Import.” The rest of the steps below apply to all three versions of Outlook.
outlook import
Michael Crider/Digital Trends
Click “Import from another program or file,” then click “Next.” Select “Outlook Data File,” then click “Next” again. Click “Browse,” then navigate to the file you want to import, either on the local machine, external storage, or somewhere on a connected network. In the Options area of this screen, you can choose to replace duplicate emails and contacts with imported items, allow duplicates to be created, or simply not import duplicates.
outlook import options
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If the backup you’re importing from is newer than the emails you currently have in Outlook, select “Replace duplicates.” If the backup is older than the current emails in Outlook, select “Do not import duplicates.” There’s generally no need to select “Allow duplicates to be created” unless you know you need specific information from both the old and new files. Click “Next” when you’re ready.
outlook import folders
Michael Crider/Digital Trends
In this screen you can select which folders to import and to where you want to import them. If you’re importing all the information from an account, just click “Outlook Data File.” You can also select individual folders or filter the file, just like in the Backing up your Outlook files section above.
Click “Finish” when you’re ready. If you set a password on the file you’ll have to enter it here. That’s it! Your emails and other settings will appear in Outlook once the import process is finished.

outlook export to a file
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