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Problems with Outlook Express - emails lost dbx corruption

In the light of the enthusiasm shown for my post relating to the OCX control that must not be named (and probably Microsoft's most embarrassing error of recent years) I thought I would write someting about Outlook Express.

Outlook Express is the email client that comes as part of windows. I use it myself, although I have my emails filtered through a spam filter of my own devising written in java. It takes email off a number of servers using POP3 (Post Office Protocol TCP Port 110) and sends it using SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol port 25).

I have recently spent a few hours dealing with the problem that arises when .dbx files get corrupted during compacting.

Outlook Express (OE) stores the emails (and other things) in files with the suffix .dbx. Each folder has its own .dbx file. They are stored in hidden directories. This makes it harder to deal with things when OE goes wrong.

It is very important to back up your stored *.dbx files as otherwise if you have a disk crash/stolen computer/tea poured on computer incident you lose all of your emails.

First find your *.dbx files.
Mine are found in the sub-directory
C:\Documents and Settings\John\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{0B53F3EF-CFCE-40F2-934F-131F23CA22FA}\Microsoft\Outlook Express

This can vary from computer to computer (depending upon settings in the registry), but you will normally find that the last bits are \Microsoft\Outlook Express.

Then you find a load of .dbx files and also a folders.dbx file.

Outlook Express is quite kind. If the folders.dbx file is missing it will build it again from the other folders. Reconstructing an OE database can finish off with deleting that file and allowing OE to rebuild it. It does, however, lose the structure of any subfolders and make all folders part of the local folders structure.

Now and again OE tries to compact folders. This is where my trouble arose. I found that OE had managed to fill the data part of some folders with 0x00 (ie Ascii 0). This is almost certainly a weird and wonderful bug that M$ have not yet found. A 25 Mb *.dbx file full of 0x00 is no use to anyone.

This means that the programs you can get to repair OE files (there are a number) by extracting the emails would not work, because there was no information to be recovered.

Luckily, however, OE when compact stops stores *.bak files in the recycler. It is, therefore, possible to restore those (they are simply copies of the *.dbx files). Then to rename the corrupted *.dbx files (you can tell because they don't appear in the folder list) to something else and then to rename the *.bak files.

This is not something to do if you don't really understand what you are doing and check each step of the way as a number of irrevocable things are done. Hence make a back up before starting and keep careful track of what you do. If you don't understand what I am writing about ask someone who does to recover your emails for you (if they are recoverable). This is not something for novices to try.

Ideally you can go to your most recent backup. However, if you don't know where the files are (see above) you probably haven't backed them up.


PoliticalHackUK said…
The full-on Outlook has problems of its own - chiefly the undocumented 2Gb limit on the mailbox file. You only find out about it when you hit the limit and your mailbox corrupts. This happened to me and it cost me a day's work to reconstruct it (because the MS tools don't do a very good job). The moral of both stories is to make sure you archive stuff regularly. I also use a gmail account for everything, which also retains a backup of emails for me.
Anonymous said…
John, I do not know who you are or anything about you, however, your posting on "lost dbx files" has saved 5 months of email records when my computer crashed during OE compacting operation. I can't thank you enough for your clear and efficient instructions on restoring the files.
Thank you for taking the time to unselfishly help an unknown and unsuspecting OE user. Cheers....
Steve Hardie.
pauli said…
Yes agreed, this also saved me from a huge huge problem. When I looked into the recycle bin, there it was. 2 years of emails recovered!!
John Hemming said…
If you don't know who I am look at wikipedia My page gets vandalised from time to time, but is often almost accurate.
VJ said…
After a crash my e mails were stored in a back up file in folders "Folders.dbx", "Inbox.dbx" etc.
If I go through the import and messages route in OE when I try to import the files I get "no messages can be found in this folder or another application is running that has the required files open".

Any ideas gratefully received.
Em Vi said…
John, thanks for your help. I recovered some dbx files that were there but Outlook didn´t load so I deleted the folder.dbx and just worked. I wanted to say that I think that Outlook Express dbx files suxks and they corrups very frecuently. We are in an era of Gigabytes of information and hundreds of daily mails, and Outlook can´t handle it fine. The 2 Gb limit file is a real problem too. Thanks again John.
Hilary said…
John, I truly cannot thank you enough!! I nearly lost 7 months worth of work; you saved me. Your solution worked like a charm. I searched for an hour for different solutions on the web, and yours was my last ditch effort before throwing in the towel..........I just wish there was a way to have your site come up first when searching for "lost emails, Outlook Express" because I believe you could help a lot of panic-stricken people!!! Thanks, again, and have a wonderful, wonderful day.

Midnight Madre said…
Thanks... these instructions were great!!!
Alex said…
Try-repair dbx files,extract all messages that should be recovered from the dbx repair file,save all extracted messages to the hard drive as message files in the eml format before a repairing Outlook Express,supports files of the .dbx format for Outlook Express versions 5, 5.5 and 6,repair corrupted *.dbx files of Outlook Express greater than 2 GB in size.
Dear John Hemming,
I have missed 4 subfolders from Outlook Express and they are not in .dbx folders. Please, do you think I can get them again? What do I have to do? Could you help me? I have to confess that the Outlook folders were very heavy.
Thank you very much. Regina Rocha from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)My e-mail is:
Anne said…
Dear Mr Hemming, After days and days of searching for an answer, possibly you can help me. Before reformatting my computer I backed up all of my data including Outlook express ver 6's messages according to the instructions on the Microsoft site; followed them to the letter. But when I try to restore them, a message says "No messages can be found in this folder or another application is running that has the required files open". Also in the backup folder that I originally made, there are no dbx files, they are all dlls and exe files. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.
John Hemming said…
If you haven't found any dbx files then you haven't backed them up.

Look in sub folders and more importantly hidden folders.
Alex said…
I heard about not bad application-open dbx file,
tool that allows the user to recover lost messages from corrupted Outlook Express folders,extracts and saves the user's messages from files with the dbx extension that Outlook Express uses to store folders, messages and news on the local disk,can be used to reindex large *.dbx files, which helps Outlook Express to start working normally again.
Anonymous said…
Do you know a very nice application Advanced Outlook Express Repair. It is a powerful tool to recover messages, folders and other objects from corrupt or damaged Microsoft Outlook dbx files.
Alex said…
Similar problems I solve with help next tool-oe mail repair,it has many possibilities,also application is free as how as I know,also it works on any PC with all supported versions of Microsoft Windows and Outlook Express,can find all files with dbx extension automatically, because these files are usually stored in their default location,save messages, that can be retrieved without errors, to any place on your HDD,can easily resolve email corruption issues and restore your mailbox in Outlook Express format,successful repair Outlook Express mailbox and repair Outlook Express mail.
Alexis said…
There is tool which works with e-mails very good and quickly to my mind-open pst files.It has free status as far as I remember.Besides that program can repair and open pst files and pst files open.It helped a lot of my familiars and me too...
Unknown said…
Dear John,
I am in urgent need of help.
For some reason i opened my outlook express this morning and my account had been deleted so i made a new one hoping all the other emails will apper, so far no adresses,emails or folders have appeared. As this is my buissnes email were i get all my clients emails through i need to urgently find out were this account has gone. If you have any suggestions please let me know.
thanks Karyn
John Hemming said…
Karyn - There may be something you can do about this, but you need to go to someone with more experience about computers.
Unknown said…
Everytime the folders are compacted, there is some problem. While I have been able to recover the emails from the recycle bin as you suggested, how do I see them in outlook express? My one year's sent emails have disappeared and I am not sure whether they have been recovered, but how will they show up in OE. Any help will be appreciated. Thanks.
Unknown said…
There are chances of corruption of Outlook Express file (DBX file) because of different reasons like, virus affect, file corruption, sharing file over network etc. due to which you may lose all stored data from it. In such case to repair Outlook Express file you need to use Outlook Express repair software. This software helps to outlook express 6 inbox repair as well as helps to repair Outlook Express 4.0, 5.0, 5.5, 6.0 SP2 and 6.0 SP3 files. You can download its free trial version and try for recovery.
Unknown said…
I would also like to suggest an effective and more advance Recovery for Outlook Express Dbx recovery software. By using this utility, you can repair and recover deleted emails or damaged DBX file without any difficulty.

To know more about software visit here :: Repair DBX File using DBX Repair Tool
Unknown said…
Outlook Recovery Software repairs the corrupt Outlook data file (.pst) and restores PST file items in three different formats like MSG, EML and PST.

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