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Recovering data from an Outlook PST file may not be possible. A complete backup would have saved an intact file for you.

I'm running Windows 7 Ultimate, Firefox 14, Microsoft Office Pro 2010. I mistakenly deleted my complete email contact list in Outlook. I've searched and searched and also your FAQs. I just thought I'd ask. Is there a way for me to get them back?

In this excerpt from Answercast #49, I look at the problems involved in retrieving lost data from an Outlook PST file if that file was not backed up.

Deleted contact list

Unfortunately, my answer here is, "Probably not."

I will point out that this is the exact kind of a case that backing up regularly would take care of.

  • If you were backing up your Outlook PST file (which is where all of this information is kept);

  • On any kind of a regular basis;

  • You could recover all of your contacts from the backup PST file from your backup copies.

In lieu of a backup, I really don't have a solution for you to recover the data from the PST.

Outlook data is complex

The data in a PST is kind-of like it's own little file system. It tends to be fairly complex.

There are third-party utilities out there (that tend to be fairly expensive) that might be able to help, but I don't have one that I would recommend to you offhand.

Backup in the future

The best thing I can offer is:

  • As you rebuild your contact list;

  • In the future, make sure you are also (at the same time) setting up some kind of a regular backup;

  • That will prevent (or at least allow you to recover from) a problem like this, should it happen again in the future.

Article C5763 - September 1, 2012 « »

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?

September 4, 2012 2:00 PM

It may be possible to use the Previous Versions feature in Windows 7 to recover a version of the PST file prior to the accidental deletion of the Contact list (if too much time hasn't passed). Just find the Outlook.PST file, right click and choose Properties, then click the Previous Versions tab. You may need to wait some until the version list is "built" before seeing what is available. But Leo is right -- the best way to have a backup, preferably more than one iteration.

September 4, 2012 5:31 PM

Make one (or several) copies of the pst-file and run pstrepair.exe on that file and let Windows try to repair the Outlook database file. You have nothing to loose.

Going forward, part from regularly backing up the pst-file, you should also have several pst-files so you can back-up your contacts "inside" Outlook w/o having to exit the program.

And for simple pst-file backups, Microsoft has a neat (and free) little utility that runs when you shut Outlook down, prompting if you want to backup, an then does it for you. Very simple, very effective. Program used to be called "Outlook Personal Folders Backup" (yet another not very correctly descriptive name on a good piece of SW).

September 4, 2012 5:33 PM

Should also add: if you have an iPhone, very easy to restore the contacts from that one into Outlook (apple/iOS actually have that better nailed down than Microsoft/Windows Phone).

Peter Mackin
September 4, 2012 6:10 PM

Another option, depending on how the contacts were deleted is to look in your Outlook deleted items folder. As a test, I created a dummy contact and then deleted it. Deleting the contact moved it to the deleted items folder. You can restore a deleted contact by simply dragging it from the deleted items folder and dropping it on your contacts.

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