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Troubleshoot Outlook connectivity with these quick tips

When Outlook won't connect to the Exchange server, follow these steps before calling IT for help.

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Microsoft Outlook is often rendered useless because it cannot connect to its Exchange server. Sometimes troubleshooting the issue is as simple as closing Outlook and restarting. In other instances, troubleshooting is much more challenging... or so it seems.

The following troubleshooting tips make solving that connectivity loss a snap. These instructions don't require a computer science degree to understand them, so just about anyone should be able to get Outlook re-connected to their Exchange server. We'll start with the simplest tip and increase the difficulty as we go along.

Uncheck offline mode

Oftentimes when a client calls and says, "My email won't work!" I find that Outlook was somehow set to offline mode. If you're using Outlook 2007 or earlier, click the File menu. If there is a check mark next to Work Offline, uncheck it, and you should be good to go.

If you're using Outlook 2010 or higher, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Send/Receive tab.
  2. Locate the Work Offline button.
  3. Click the Offline button.

At the bottom of your Outlook window, you should see Trying To Connect.... If it connects, your problem is resolved; if not, move on to the next solution.

Restart

You should restart Outlook and, if that fails, restart your computer. I cannot tell you how many times I've seen Outlook connectivity issues resolve with a simple restart. The issue could be caused by the computer having connectivity issues. If you open your web browser and cannot reach a website or internal resources, that's most likely the problem. 

If Outlook still cannot connect and you cannot reach any websites or internal resources, contact your IT department because you have a networking issue. Once that is solved, Outlook will be fine.

Rebuild

Outlook can use two types of data files (.pst and .ost), and both are susceptible to errors that can cause connectivity problems. Here's how I handle this:

  1. Close Outlook.
  2. Open the Control Panel.
  3. Locate the Mail icon (depending on how Windows Explorer is set up, you might have to click the Users section to find the Mail icon).
  4. In the resulting window, click Data Files.
  5. Select your data file from the list and click Open File Location (Figure A).
  6. Locate the data file in question (it will probably have the same name as your email address).
  7. If the file has the extension .ost, rename the extension to .OLD. If the file has the extension .pst, do nothing at this time.
  8. Close these windows and open Outlook.

Figure A

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This window will list all data files in use with Outlook.

Note: You need to be able to see file extensions in order to know if your data file is a .pst or .ost. This is handled through Windows Explorer settings.

If your data file is a .pst, follow these steps to run Scanpst on the file:

  1. Search for scanpst.exe through Windows Explorer.
  2. After you locate the file (e.g., a location could be C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14\), double click to run the application.
  3. From the resulting window, click Browse (Figure B).
  4. Locate your .pst file.
  5. Click Start.

Figure B

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If you've run Scanpst on your data file before, the location will already be in the field.

Scanpst will run eight passes over the data file; depending on the size of your data file, this can take quite awhile. If Scanpst finds errors in the data file, it will prompt you to click the Repair button. You should also check the box for Make Backup Of Scanned File Before Repairing in case something goes awry.

After the repair is complete, close Scanpst and re-open Outlook. If Outlook still cannot connect, move on to the next tip.

Repair install

You can run a repair installation of Microsoft Office; this will solve problems that standard fixes cannot repair. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Click Programs and Features.
  3. Locate the entry for your Microsoft Office installation and select it.
  4. Click Change.
  5. Select Repair from the resulting window.
  6. Click Continue.
  7. Allow the repair to complete.
  8. Reboot your computer.

After your computer has rebooted, start Outlook and hope for the best.

Recreate your profile

When all else fails, you can recreate your Outlook profile. I prefer to create a new profile (without deleting the old one) -- just in case. In order to recreate your profile, you need to know your account setting, so you should have that information before you begin. Here's how to create a new profile:

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Open Mail.
  3. Click Show Profiles.
  4. Click Add (Figure C).
  5. Give the profile a name.
  6. Walk through the Outlook account setup wizard.
  7. Once the profile is known to work, you'll either want to set that profile up as the default or delete the old profile.

Figure C

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The Outlook profile manager.

If after all of these steps Outlook is still unable to connect, it's time to call the IT department. It could be a DNS issue, an Exchange issue, or a number of other possibilities that are outside the scope of this article.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

6 comments
athineos59
athineos59

Isn't "Rebuild" and "Recreate your profile" essentially the same, for exchange users anyway?

davekingsb
davekingsb

And, in some cases ...  you have to open control panel, add/remove programs,   click uninstall/repair Microsoft office,  and uninstall   just   Outlook.  Then, click uninstall/repair Outlook and re-install  just Outlook.   The newer versions of  Outlook 2010 and 2013  goes "haywire" quite often.

THazlett
THazlett

And don't forget if you hold down the Ctrl key and then right-click the Outlook icon in the systray the context menu you get will have an extra option - 'Connection Status...'. From here you can investigate connectivity with your Exchange and Domain Controller servers.

john.anderson
john.anderson

I have found that you sometimes need to run Scanpst several times over to remove all traces of problems. Each time it may find further problems to repair until eventually you get to the point where it doesn't find anything further needing to be repaired.

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

Note on disabling Cached Mode:
Disabling Cached mode is supported by Microsoft, but it is considered a "Legacy" method of connecting, so as long as there you don't fall under the criteria listed for "When to Use Online Mode",  disabling Cached Mode should really only be used for testing/troubleshooting, as it is quite beneficial to have enabled for your Exchange environment. 

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj683103.aspx

jlwallen
jlwallen

@AstroCreep I agree with you. Problem is, end users (at least the many I have encountered -- especially when using older versions of Outlook), tend to "accidentally" click File > Work Offline and then have no idea why Outlook won't connect.

Even the best laid plans can be foiled by end users. ;-)

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