October 29, 2008

Recover Windows Mail
from a Backup Copy

Last week I had to reinstall Windows Vista Home Premium on my father's computer. I then installed Vista Service Pack 1 and reinstalled various applications. I had an up-to-date backup copy of my father's user folder, but I did not know how to get the old emails and contacts into the newly-installed copy of Windows Mail.

The Problem

How do you make a reinstallation of Windows Mail include old emails and old contacts?


Way back in the days of DOS and Windows 3.1 it was relatively easy to move programs and data around on your hard drive. Sometimes a text initialization file with a file name extension of "ini" had to be edited to reflect new file paths, but such changes were relatively straightforward. Now most Windows programs use an installation process that populates the Windows Registry with information regarding the program and its data, which prevents you from relocating program and data files on your hard drive without also editing the Registry. I did not know how Windows Mail uses the Registry. Are there registry entries for email folders and subfolders? Are their indexes to emails and/or attachments? How would I merge old inbox emails with new inbox emails? There had been an old email account that was no longer active, but from which many mails had been sent. Does that old account need to be defined to preserve the old mail? I didn't know the answers to any of those questions. I just knew I wanted the recovery to be clean, simple, and complete. (grin)

When the computer was new over a year ago I imported all the old Outlook Express mail into Windows Mail. I remembered the process seemed buggy then and I didn't like the way the imported folders were indented within an imported folder. Windows Mail offers export and import, but I was reluctant to experiment with importing Windows Mail into Windows Mail.

Vista Service Pack 1 is a big update. If part of the update includes changing the formats of emails or of the contacts file, I would be in trouble. I viewed both Contacts files in Explorer. The columns shown in the detailed view were different between the old and new files, but I hoped it was due to a viewing-layout change rather than an underlying file-format change.

The Solution

What I did was very simple and it seems to have worked perfectly. I haven't noticed any negative consequences.

First, I copied the old email folders into the new location. When you perform a custom reinstallation of Vista Home Premium, old data is copied into a folder named "Windows.old". That's where I copied the old email folders from, although I also had an external backup I could have used. Here is the location where I found the old email folders:

C:\Windows.old\Users\<user>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Mail\Local Folders

I copied the folders from that location into this location:

C:\Users\<user>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Mail\Local Folders

Note: I changed my father's user name to "<user>" in the path names above. You would have to replace "<user>" with your own user name.

When there was already a folder of the same name in the new location, if the new folder contained emails, I did not replace it with the old folder. That situation occurred with the Inbox. I copied the individual files from the old Inbox folder to the new Inbox folder. I noticed a file that appeared to be a contents or index file in both folders, but I ignored it hoping Windows Mail would update it later automatically to reflect the folder's contents.

Then I replaced the new Contacts file with the old Contacts file. The old Contacts file was here:


I copied it to here:


I looked at a detailed view of the copied Contacts file in Explorer. The data appeared to be correct and in the proper fields.

I did not copy any account data. I had used a wizard to configure the newly-installed Windows Mail.

Warning: The steps in this post relate what I did. This process seems to have worked for me. Following the same steps might not work for you. Follow this procedure at your own risk. Make a backup of files and folders you will be changing beforehand, so if the process doesn't work you will be able to recover.


  1. At work with mails I recommend to use this tool-recover outlook express email,it helped me not once and has free status as is known,utiltiy is reliable and it is easy in use in my opinion,program compatible with all currently supported versions of Outlook Express and Microsoft Windows,keeps your mailbox in many files of dbx format, but, it does not split messages from attached documents,can work with very large files of dbx format and process them in a batch mode,will see the list of files, that are a part of your mailbox,process of email recovery in Outlook Express represents the recovery of corresponding files with dbx extension.

  2. Thanks, worked great for me, surprisingly simple, for Microsoft :-)

  3. Great! I'm glad my post helped at least one person, Harvester. Thanks for posting.