Are you getting warnings from Outlook that your data file is almost full?

BurstingThis blog is prompted by a situation encountered by three of my computer support clients in the last six months. If you use Microsoft Outlook for your email, you may just start getting a warning that your data file is nearly full. Let’s be clear, here. I am talking about the proper Microsoft Outlook program. I am not talking about the email program built into Winows 10. I can not imagine why Microsoft use the same name for completely different products, but that’s not the issue here. Also, this blog post only applies to Outlook as used in Windows (not Macs).

If you do encounter this warning, then the chances are that you have been using Outlook for many years and have carried forward an old format of “pst” file into newer versions of Outlook. The older “ansi” format of file can only hold 2gb of data. The newer “unicode” format can hold 20gb of data – and even more if you make a couple of small changes to the registry.

IMPORTANT
: if you are going to carry out these changes, then please back up your email data first – see the end of this blog post for details.

The way to check whether your pst file is of the older format is as follows in Oulook 2016 (I think 2010 and 2013 are the same):

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Highlight the data file in question (you may have only one)
  • Click on “settings”
  • If the “format” entry just says “Outlook data file” then you have the newer, Unicode, format that can contain 20gb
  • If the “format” entry includes any reference to earlier versions of Office (eg 1997) then your file is subject to the 2gb limit

Outlook logoThere is no way of making the older “ansi format” file bigger and there is no utility provided by Microsoft (or anyone else, as far as I know) that will move your data to a file of the newer format. You could delete redundant items from your “pst” file and this would at least buy you some time before applying a better solution If you do this, you must then “compact” the file so that you actually regain the space created by deleting items. To do this:

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Highlight the data file in question (you may have only one)
  • Click on “settings”
  • Click on “Compact now”

The permanent solution, however, is to create a new file (which will automatically be of the newer, Unicode, format) and move your data to the new file. To do this:

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Click on “Add” and name your new file
  • Copy and paste the emails and folders from the old file to the new

You then need to instruct Outlook as to the folder in the new file that will receive new data (ie the inbox):

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Email” tab
  • If necessary, click on the email account that will be delivering email to the new file
  • Click on “Change Folder” and point Outlook to the Inbox of the new data file

Outlook data file settings

The “settings” window includes the “Compact Now” button. The “Format” info indicates this is a new, Unicode, file.

If you use the Outlook calendar, then this will also probably be a part of your outgrown “pst” file. You could leave it there and have both the old and the new “pst” files open in Outlook. If you choose to do that, then I would definitely recommend deleting all of the email in the old file that you have now copied to the new data file, as life could become confusing if you have multiple copies of your stored email folders and contents. The alternative is to copy the calendar from the old pst file to the new. This is fine unless you have used Outlook’s “categories” to differentiate between calendar items. Copying a calendar to a new pst file will cause these categorie to be lost unless you have re-created the categories in the new pst file.

Please, please make sure you back up your pst file(s) before starting this process. You can find out where your data files are located as follows:

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Click on “File location”

Please note, though, that you can not copy (back up) your data files while Outlook is open. You need to take a note of where the files are located and then close Outlook before attempting to back them up.

I recommend also looking at:

https://www.msoutlook.info/question/115
https://www.msoutlook.info/question/611

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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