Finding lost mail in your top level Outlook/Exchange root

Let's say you accidentally drag a message in Outlook from its folder to the top level of your mailbox. You know, that folder that is called "Mailbox - John Doe", which seems to momentarily hang Outlook when you click on it but is really just preparing the "Outlook Today" view.


Where did your message just go? Do you know how to get to it?


We already know that you can't just click on the mailbox folder because it will bring up the "Outlook Today" view, and as far as I can tell, there is no way to turn off the "Outlook Today" view.  (Update: As most of the comments point out, it is easy to turn off the Outlook Today view in Outlook 2003, by opening to the home page tab of the properties page for Outlook Today and unchecking "Show home page by default for this folder." I don't have older versions of outlook sitting around but it might work there too. So you can skip the rest of the post now...)


Has the message been deleted? If you right-click on the mailbox, get its properties and click the 'folder size' button you will notice that the size of the folder without subfolders is greater than zero, and if you accidentally drop another message into the mailbox you will notice the size increases, so you know that the message isn't gone. Phew. Even if you don't think you've ever been as clumsy as me, you should take a look at the folder size. If it isn't zero then you also have some messages up there. If it is zero then you are more coordinated than me, and if you want to follow the rest of this entry you can reproduce the original accident using a copy of a message from your deleted items or junk mail folder.


Those of us with access to a Mac can now jump over to Entourage and see if we can get to the lost message. Unfortunately we don't get to gloat this time as Entourage can't see the message, and it doesn't matter if you set up the account as an IMAP account or as an Exchange account.


How about OWA? You fire it up, and take a peek at the URL used when opening a folder in a new window which looks something like: http://myserver/exchange/gil/Inbox/mycoolfolder/?Cmd=contents. So you try stripping out the /Inbox/mycoolfolder, but that doesn't get return any results. A little more playing and you find it makes no difference if you connect to front end or back end, Premium OWA or Basic OWA.


Don't bother trying an IMAP account in Windows Outlook Express, it doesn't help.


OK, back to Outlook.


If you know anything about the lost message, you can do an advanced find for it, making sure to search from the top folder. This will find the message. (You can also do an advanced find for all messages, but that might take a while and you might have a hard time picking out the lost message from all the results.) In the search results take a look at the 'In Folder' column for the message (if it isn't shown, then you need to right click on the column header, select Field Chooser, and add the column). It will say either 'IPM_SUBTREE' or 'Top of Information Store' depending on which versions of Outlook and Exchange you are running.


Armed with this information we can now create a search that will return only the messages we need. Go to the advanced tab of the search criteria and enter a criteria for 'In Folder' contains IPM_SUBTREE.


Cool, we've found the message, but now how do we keep this search around so that we don't have to jump through these hoops every time this happens? In older versions of Outlook you are stuck saving out the search as file (it will have an .oss extension). That isn't so helpful because files have a way of getting lost and never being around when you need them. To get around this, you can drag the .oss file into Outlook. I used to keep it around in my drafts folder (my misuse of the drafts folder could serve as fodder for a whole new series of posts about the wrong ways to manage notes and how OneNote saved me.


If you are running the latest Outlook/Exchange you can save the search to your Saved Searches, which is very convenient and is yet another good reason to upgrade.


I've always assumed that there is an easier way to find these messages, but I've never found it, and with the addition of saved searches my workaround is good enough for me.


To answer the question that I'm positive is not topmost on anyone's mind: IPM stands for InterPersonal Message.


Random things I should look into some day unless someone kindly answers in a comment: what archive settings does the IPM_SUBTREE location have?

Comments (13)
  1. One way I’ve found, at least, in Outlook 2003, to turn off Outlook Today:

    Right click on the mail box, select properties, home page tab, turn off "Show home page by default for this folder" and click OK.

    To turn it back on:

    Right click on the mail box, select properties, home page tab, click "Restore Defaults" and click OK.

  2. Jon Deeming says:

    Right-click the folder.

    Select the "Home Page" tab.

    Take the check box out of the "Show home page by default for this folder" checkbox.

    Click "OK".

    Et Voila! Access to the root folder.

    Move the messages and when you’re done, go back and re-enable the home page.

    (I’ve confirmed this in OL2K3, and I’m pretty sure it was the same all the way back through previous versions.)

  3. Kevin Jump says:

    Admittedly i am using outlook 2003 here, but I thought you could just right click the mailbox folder in the folder tree, select properties.

    then on the homepage tab uncheck Show Home Page by default for this folder, then you get a standard mail folder view, and you can see any items that are in the root of your mailbox.

    it’s still quite early in the day so forgive me if I’ve missed the point.

  4. If you do the search and find your message, do a right-click on it and select "Move to Folder"

    and you will be able to move it out from the toplevel folder to any other folder you want.

    (It works in Outlook2003, it might work in other versions also.)



  5. Robert says:

    What about :

    In Outlook , right click on the root folder

    goto the "Home Page" tab

    untick the "Show Home Page my Default Option"

    click ok

    select the folder

    Ta Da

  6. Adam says:

    Granted it’s only any good if you’re on a PC but Lookout beats plain Outlook search hands down every time.

    you can get it from

  7. Tim says:

    Can’t you just go into the properties for the Outlook Today Folder, select the Home Page tab, and turn off Show Homepage? Maybe I’m missing something, but I just tried that, and messages dragged into that folder become visible. Move them out, and turn it back on.

  8. Mike Dimmick says:

    Or, you could right-click ‘Mailbox – John Doe’, go to Properties, Home Page tab, and uncheck ‘Show home page by default for this folder’ and click OK.

    Works for me in Outlook 2003 with an Exchange 2003 mailbox.

  9. In Outlook 2003, you can go to the home page tab of the properties page for Outlook Today. Then simply uncheck "Show home page by default for this folder".


  10. gilg says:

    Thanks to all the folks that pointed out how to turn off the today page in 2003. I didn’t know that.

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