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Windows Live Mail may be having connection and synchronization issues. We'll walk through a few troubleshooting steps.

I have a Dell N5110 running Windows 7 Home Premium with Service Pack 1. Why does Windows Live Mail (version 2011; build 15.4) lose messages it knows about? Sometimes I click on a message, and it says that the message has not been downloaded or it cannot find the message.

In this excerpt from Answercast #39, I look at a few common scenarios that would give an error that an email message cannot been found.

Lost messages

I don't have a specific answer for why this is happening, but I think that a little bit of clarification on exactly how it works might very well shed some light on this.

The most common scenario that I can think of where this might occur is if (for some reason) you're reading your email without having an internet connection.

The reason I say that is when Windows Live Mail connects up to things like a Hotmail account (or some of the other types of accounts that it can connect up to), it uses a protocol called IMAP.

Incoming mail through POP3

We're used to, in the past, using a protocol called POP3 which literally moves the email from your email service provider down to your PC.

It's a big batch operation that copies everything from the remote server to your machine. Then, everything is on your machine for you to look at.

Incoming mail through IMAP

IMAP works a little bit differently.

  • IMAP leaves everything up on the mail server;

  • And only copies down those things that it needs when you're actually using it.

In the background, it will copy down almost everything. It just takes a little while, and it's not necessarily as obvious that it's doing so.

Email not available

So, for example, let's fire up a scenario here: you bring up your email and you start browsing your new email.

What IMAP servers will usually do is provide the program with only the email header to begin with. It can provide all of those headers very quickly. The actual body of the email is not yet downloaded.

  • So, you can see all of the subject lines, and all of the information that might be in the list of emails that are in your inbox

  • But, unbeknownst to you, the emails themselves have not yet been downloaded.

They may start to get downloaded automatically, but it's kind of transparent.

  • When you finally click on an email to read it, the body of that message may not yet have been downloaded.

  • When you click on it, the IMAP or your email program quickly runs out and gets the body of the message from the server and downloads it to your machine so that it can display it.

If you're not connected

Now, if for some reason you're not connected, then it can't download the body. There's just no way for it to get it. And that's why it may not be able to find it.

Change on the server

Another scenario is that, for some reason:

  • Between the time that you have looked at the subject line (or the time the list of headers has been downloaded to your PC) and the time you actually click on the message to look at it, the message is deleted on the remote server.

I can see the two – program and server – getting a little bit out of sync with exactly what's what. So the program may get a little confused about the message no longer being available.

  • Because it got a header, it thinks, "There should be a message."

  • And yet, when it goes to ask for the message from the email server, there's nothing there.

  • The server then says, "This message no longer exists."

It's also possible that this can happen if a message is moved from one folder to another on the server's side.

  • So your email program might ask for the headers of your inbox;

  • It gets all that.

  • In that time, something on the server moves a message from your inbox to one of the other folders you may have out there.

  • Your email program then says, "Give me the body for message number seven in the inbox," and the server might reply, "That message doesn't exist anymore."

  • And that's because perhaps the server has moved the message to a different folder.

So there are lots of ways, at least in concept, where this kind of thing can happen.

It shouldn't happen

In reality, it shouldn't. In other words, in reality as long as you've got a good internet connection and programs are working properly, things should remain in sync.

I happen to use IMAP right now for all of my email and leave all of my email body up in Gmail. The two stay in sync relatively well. It's actually pretty neat to watch; to see that happen. It allows me to read my email from any number of different machines, including portable machines.

Why is it happening?

The short answer is there are certainly ways that I can envision it happening. Why specifically it's happening to you and what conditions are causing it to happen to you I honestly don't know.

But hopefully a little bit of understanding about how it works might give you some clues to help you track down what's going on here.

Article C5635 - July 29, 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.

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