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The Outlook Master Category List is a way to tag messages, contacts, appointments and more. Copying it to another machine requires a little trickery.

How can I move my Outlook Master Category List to another machine?

Outlook categories are a fairly powerful way to categorize and organize email, appointments, tasks ... just about any object that Outlook is capable of tracking. Categories are arbitrary text, but you can create a "Master List" of categories to choose from to ensure consistency and avoid a bit of possibly error prone typing.

Unfortunately, while you can edit your master category list to your heart's content, Outlook doesn't yet provide a way to export or import one. It's also not obvious where the list is kept.

It's probably not surprising that the list is kept in the registry. It's stored as a REG_BINARY entry as a Unicode string.

It's a slightly different location for each version of Outlook.

The best way to manage your master category list in that case is to:

  • Create the master category list you want in Outlook.
  • Use the registry editor to save the category list registry entry to disk as a .reg file.
  • "Execute" that .reg file to install that master category list on other computers running outlook that should have the same list. Note that on these computers any prior master category list will be replaced with this new one.

It's really not too bad. Here are the Microsoft Support articles that describe the process for each version of Outlook:

Why is there no user interface? My guess is that it comes down to the old feature versus schedule tradeoff. The demand for a user interface for this didn't warrant the additional time and expense to design, develop, and test it. But that's just speculation on my part.

Article C1835 - August 25, 2003 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

January 20, 2004 3:14 PM

I want to set permission in Outlook to avoid users to to add, delete or reset Master Category List.

Is it possible.

January 20, 2004 3:37 PM

Not that I'm aware of directly. You could go into the registry editor, I suppose, and set security on that specific key to disallow writing, but exactly how outlook would react to this is anyone's guess.


Orin Fink
February 8, 2004 6:01 PM

If it is a registry key then perhaps utilizing Active Directory Group Policies would be a great way to enforce a consistent list across your office.

I havn't tried this yet but I plan to test very soon.

March 6, 2004 10:34 PM

How can I import my address book from msn to netzero?

March 7, 2004 10:08 AM

I took a look at Netzero, and unfortunately I don't see a way to import an external address book. As a subscriber, perhaps their customer support can answer this question for you.


May 26, 2005 5:09 AM

Can you print the Master Category list from your PC?

May 27, 2005 7:26 PM

Not that I'm aware of. Not easily anyway. I'd look into writing a macro that used the Outlook object model and see if it's exposed therein, but that's going to require some macro programming, so it's certainly not for everyone.

March 24, 2006 11:50 AM

I am looking for an enterprise wide solution -- making all master category lists the same through active directory is exactly what I would like to do. Any ideas or thoughts? Where is the key in the regestry?

Thanks for any help.

April 21, 2006 1:06 PM

Enter the Categories into your Master Categories List.
Use Desktop Standard's PolicyMaker Registry Extension (it's free) to roll out the [HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-21-1543536400-931875892-317593308-1926\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\Categories]
"MasterList"= registry key to everyone.

November 6, 2007 9:12 AM

There's an addin available that allows to import and export Outlook categories, for Outlook 2007 even colors are supported. You can also print your categories. Please look for 'Category Manager' on

January 31, 2008 12:05 PM

WORKED LIKE A CHARM. OLK 2003 solution is available at the 2002 link above. Thank you!

March 31, 2008 12:05 PM

You can save your custom Outlook categories by exporting a registry key.

Outlook 2000

Outlook 2002

Outlook 2003

Right click on the Categories folder and choose Export.

To restore it double click the *.reg.

Note that the key does not exist until you create a custom category.

July 23, 2008 4:36 AM

Hi. I am not sure that the above article & postings cover my problem. I have had Outlook 2003 transfered to a new laptop from my old PC's hardrive. All my contacts are there and each contact has it's category(s) attached in the little box at the bottom. But the actual category pop-up menu does not contain those categories. If I have missed the point, could someone point me to the right bit, or if it has not been explained, could some kind soul explain how to get the old master categories across to my laptop. Grateful thanks in advance.

October 29, 2008 12:47 PM

Outlook 2007

February 12, 2009 9:18 AM

@CharlieP, as you've seen your master category list is lost. With Category Manager you can get it back easily. The tool can read the categories assigned to all of your items, and add them back to the master category list.
@Guillermo, for Outlook 2007 the categories are stored in the PST file itself. You won't find them in the registry anymore.

Grains of Peace
May 31, 2009 4:29 PM

Subject: Transferring my Categories list on Outlook 2007 to our association's new shared Outlook Contacts on MS Exchange.

How does one proceed if there is no more registry key?
The 'Category Manager' on is from 2006 and costs way too much for a small association with 6 member PCs. And what we need for keepong a Master Category list seems to be the Enterprise Manager costing even more. The trial version leads to a licence fee that has to be approved but makes no mention that it concerns a trial version.
Any other solution?
Many thanks!

March 9, 2010 12:29 AM

You can use also the program Public Categories ( to share your category list in the network or to move them easily to another computer. It works with Outlook 2000 and higher.

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