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Burning email folders to CD is a reasonable way to archive email and free up space - until you want to read it. Then additional steps are needed.

I have many folders in Outlook Express that I would like to copy to CD to free up hard disk space. I would like to then access them directly from the CD in the future to read and print. I can't get it to work. Why not?

Well, you certainly can put your email on CD. In fact, it's a popular way to back things up.

But in what many consider to be a really perverse "feature" of both Outlook and Outlook Express, you can't read your email directly from CD.

Here's what you need to do.

Copy the CD contents back to your hard disk, and make sure the file(s) are not marked read-only.

Both Outlook and Outlook Express require that they be able to write to your mail folders. Even if these are your permanent archives on which you never plan to make any changes, they still insist that they be able to write to them. (Technically it would be to allow them to update things like the read/unread status of messages and the like.)

The "solution", such as it is, is that you need to copy your mail folders back off of the CD's and place them on your hard disk so that the email programs can access them.

As you can see, that puts "freeing up disk space" and "accessing your archived email" at odds with each other. You can free disk space as long as you don't need to read the mail. If you need to read the mail, you can't free up the disk space.

"Both Outlook and Outlook Express require that they be able to write to your mail folders."

There's also a catch that gets a lot of people: when you copy a file from a read-only media like a CD-ROM and place it on your hard disk, most frequently the files "Read Only" status will be set on the hard disk. That means - you guessed it - Outlook and Outlook Express still won't be able to open the file.

The solution is to reset the "Read Only" flag for the file.

Using an Outlook ".pst" file as an example, locate it in Windows Explorer, and right click on the file:

Windows Explorere Open on Outlook.pst

Click on Properties:

Properties of Outlook.pst

Note the Read-only checkbox. If you've just copied the file from CD, chances are this setting is checked. Uncheck it, click on OK, and you should now be able to open the file in Outlook.

Article C2807 - October 10, 2006 « »

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?

James Le
October 12, 2006 6:27 PM

You can try DBXtract or DBXpress program to extract all messages (*.eml) from DBX files. Then burn EML files to CD for future access directly. Of course, you must have email client program running on your system to read them (Outlook or Outlook Express). For more info visit:

James Le
December 22, 2006 4:40 PM

Also, you can simply extract messages by dragging them from the message list and dropping them on your desktop or a folder if you don't want to pay for the 3rd party software.

Jon Hall
September 16, 2007 6:01 PM

Thanks for your willingness to share what you've learned. Your attitude and patience are great, and your ability to simplify and illustrate is superb. Thanks again. I am subscribed now to your weekly updates.

Please tell me how to copy cd contents (Outlook Express e-mails in multiple files already backed up ) to my hard drive.



erin mcgee
September 17, 2008 10:04 AM

i copied my outlook mail folder to hard drive. i looked at its properties and the read only attribute is NOT checked, but still it won't allow me to open (wants me to pick a program to open with but nothing works). Help!

Bob Gall
December 13, 2008 11:17 AM

An e-mail I want to save has music on it I want to access. Will your suggestions allow music to be retrived? Bob

December 28, 2010 8:30 PM

I copy my outlook all the time to disk or a diff hard drive. just click any email in box and go to edit and click slectall it will highlite all your email and drag it to a folder its just that simple. and if u want to add it back to the same computer or a diff computer just drag it back into your outlook one email or all of them and it will add them back just like it was before you taken it off..

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