Inside Outlook Express

Errors, Bugs and Problems



Patches and Updates

  • Update for Windows XP (KB900930)

    Microsoft has released an update for Outlook Express on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 that includes fixes for two very old bugs: the so-called Begin bug in which OE sees an attachment that does not exist, and the Watched message or "loose catch-up" bug. This update also addresses two issues in which Outlook Express stops responding.

    Download details: Update for Windows XP (KB900930)

  • Cumulative Update for Outlook Express (Windows XP)

    Microsoft has released an update that corrects some problems introduced by Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). To install the update, go to Windows Update and click Select Optional Software Updates in the left-hand column. You will then see Cumulative Update for Outlook Express for Windows XP (KB887797).

    For full details on what is contained in the update and who should install it (everyone, in my opinion), see the KB article:

    Outlook Express for Windows update available

  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2)
    Turn on Automatic Updates
    You can download SP2 and all future critical updates automatically by turning on the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP.

    You can also download SP2 from Windows Update. If you cannot use Automatic Updates or download SP2 via Windows Update, order a CD.
  • Internet Explorer Service Pack 1, Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Both are available via Windows Update or the Internet Explorer home page.

  • OE Cumulative Update, based largely on discussions between the MVPs and Microsoft, has lots of bug fixes! It requires that Service Pack 1 be installed first. This is not a critical update and so will probably not appear on Windows Update.

    An Overview of the Cumulative Update for Outlook Express 6.0 SP1
    Download the OE Cumulative Update

    One bug this update was designed to correct is that OE forgets what folder you have chosen to save attachments and instead always defaults to My Documents. Unfortunately the update itself has a bug that prevents the new fix from working. The user-selected path for attachments is indeed written to the registry, but the final character in the path name is dropped, which means it won't work. Since the path stored at that point is not a valid path, OE dutifully defaults to, you guessed it, My Documents. Microsoft are aware of this problem.
  • Outlook Express 6 SP1 Update: Outlook Express Leaks Memory When It Sends an Encrypted E-mail Message
    If you use encrypted mail, you need this update.

  • Outlook Express 6 SP1 Update: MAPIAddress and MAPIResolveName Do Not Return Names for Distribution Lists When Outlook Express Is Your Default E-Mail Client
    If you use the Outlook Address Book (not the Outlook Express Address Book) but use OE for the default email program, you need this update.

Report a Bug to Microsoft

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Hyperlinks in messages stop working

If clicking a hyperlink in Outlook Express appears to do nothing at all, there are likely one or more registered file associations that are configured incorrectly. To repair the associations:

  1. Open My Computer and click Folder Options on the Tools menu.
  2. Click the File Types tab.
  3. Select URL:Hypertext Transfer Protocol in the list of registered file types.
  4. Click the Advanced button (Windows XP), or the Edit button (other versions).
  5. In the list of Actions, select open and then click the Edit button.
  6. The Application used to perform action box should contain this, including quotation marks:
    “C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe” -nohome
    If instead it contains a short name version of that path, or an incorrect path, change it to the above.
  7. Click OK, click OK.
  8. Repeat steps 3-7 for the file type URL:Hypertext Transfer Protocol with Privacy.
  9. Click OK to close the Folder Options window.

For more detail see Internet shortcuts in Outlook Express do not start Web browser.

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Messages in Inbox or other mail folders disappear

First check the obvious. Click View | Current View and be sure it is set to "Show All Messages". Also verify that "Show replies to my messages" is not checked or you will see only replies to your messages.

If the Current View setting is correct, then the *.dbx file for the problem folder has been damaged or deleted. Older versions of McAfee VirusScan are known to delete OE's *.dbx files if the email or Internet download scan is enabled. You can download a patch on the McAfee web site, or simply disable both the email and Internet download scan modules in VirusScan. These are not necessary to protect your computer if you still have VirusScan running in the background and scanning executable files as they are opened. In fact, the only real reason to use email and download scanning is to make you feel more secure. If this is the cause of your problem, I am sorry to say your messages are irretrievably lost.

In the case of a damaged "Inbox.dbx" file, a new Inbox with the default "Welcome to OE" message will have been created automatically, and will now be using the file  "Inbox(1).dbx" or similar. Likewise a new *.dbx file will have been created for any of the "system" folders that are damaged, Drafts, Deleted Items, Outbox and Sent Items. If your default email account is Hotmail or IMAP, the associated files will be named like "Hotmail - Inbox.dbx" or "<IMAP account name> - Inbox.dbx", etc. However the original *.dbx file will still be there, although OE will be unable to display it.

If the damaged *.dbx file still exists, or its temporary version *.dbt, move it to a new empty folder in Windows Explorer. You can then try DBXtract or Macallan Outlook Express Extraction to extract what messages it can.

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Messages in newsgroups disappear

First check the obvious. Click View | Current View and be sure it is set to "Show All Messages". Also verify that "Show replies to my messages" is not checked or you will see only replies to your messages.

Check also under Tools | Options | Maintenance to see if OE is configured to "delete news messages after xx days". That feature only works if "compact messages in the background" is enabled (as it is by default). That feature however is not without problems, and so I do not recommend using it.

By far the most usual cause of newsgroup messages disappearing is that OE automatically removes any message in your local store that has been removed from the news server. Many news servers delete messages after only 2 or 3 days, although some, like the MSnews server, keep messages for up to 90 days. There is no way to change this behavior, but there is a workaround. To save news messages past their expiration just copy them to a mail folder. Once in the mail folder, you can still read them in thead-view by clicking View | Current View | Group messages by conversation. This setting is independent of the same setting in newsgroups, so you can have thread-view in mail but not in news, in news but not in mail, or both.

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Same mail messages continue to be downloaded from POP3 account

If your POP3 mail account is configured to "leave a copy of messages on the server" under Tools | Accounts | <account> | Properties | Advanced, it sometimes happens that OE downloads the same messages each time you send and receive. This is caused by a damaged "Pop3uidl.dbx" file in your Identity's store folder. This file keeps track of which messages on the server have already been downloaded and should therefore be skipped on subsequent downloads. To fix the problem, simply delete the "Pop3uidl.dbx" file. The next time you check for mail, all the messages on the server will be downloaded again, but a new "Pop3uidl.dbx" will be created that should work properly on subsequent mail checks.

If you are seeing duplicate messages on a Hotmail or IMAP account, this solution will not work because those types of accounts do not use the "Pop3uidl.dbx" file. However there is a simple solution for both Hotmail and IMAP.

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Toolbar buttons are distorted or black

This is caused by outdated video drivers. Check the web site of the manufacturer of your video card or computer for newer versions. This seems to be particularly common for ATI video cards, so check for drivers at the ATI site. You might get temporary relieve by changing the button size under View| Layout| Customize Toolbar (or right-click on the toolbar and click Customize), Icon Options.

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Image preview stops working

This is probably due to some minor corruption in the registry. Download this small registry file to your desktop and then double-click it to repair the image files keys needed for preview to function properly.

Imagefix.reg (click to view, or right-click| Save Target As to download)

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Toolbars disappear from Message Composition windows or the main OE window

This is caused by corruption in the registry keys for your Identity. You can create a new Identity and the Message Window toolbars should appear normally. You can then import your previous Identity's message store. You might also be able to repair the corrupt Identity by resetting the default toolbar values in the registry. First make a note of the Identity's GUID, the unique number given in the registry under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Identities (more info). (Strong hint:  In Regedit, right-click on the GUID key and click Rename. Press Ctrl-C to copy the name to the clipboard, then press ESC. Do NOT rename the key!) Now click the right-click on the link below and select "Save Target as.." to download the file and save it to your Windows desktop. click to view, or right-click| Save Target As to download


Open the saved file in Notepad and change the GUID in the second line to the GUID of your Identity. If you copied the name as suggested, simply highlight "GUID" and press Ctrl-V to paste. Save the file, then rename the file on the desktop to "OEtoolbarfix.reg". Double-click the *.reg file and answer yes to merge the data into the registry. Your Identity should now have the default toolbars in all Message Composition windows.

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Strange ~ file in strange places Fixed

After installing an OE update, you may discover a file named just "~" on your desktop or some other location on your hard drive. This is an automatic backup copy of the Windows Address Book (WAB) used by OE. The file has always been created automatically by OE and saved in the same folder as the *.wab file itself, with a name like <username>.wa~. A bug in an update causes the copy to be made in the wrong location and with a truncated name. You can simply rename it to *.wab and then double-click it to see that it is indeed a copy of your address book.

This bug is Fixed in Windows XP Service Pack 2. After installing SP2, the backup file has the extension ".wab~".

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Inserting signature crashes OE 
Opening a Compose window crashes OE when using signature auto-insert Fixed

Sometimes, and for no apparent reason, inserting a signature into a message causes OE to crash. If under Tools | Options | Signatures you have enabled "Add signatures to all outgoing messages", opening a new message will appear to crash OE, although it is actually the signature at fault. There is now a patch from MS that fixes this as well as some other bugs.

This is a destructive bug in that it irretrievably destroys the message being edited, unless it has been saved before inserting the signature. You can save a message to the Drafts folder at any time by pressing Ctrl-S, so you should get in the habit of doing so. Touch typists should find the sequence easy to do: Ctrl-S (Save), Shift-Ctrl-S (Insert Signature), Alt-S (Send). Some have suggested that the crash only occurs on long messages on which you have spent a great deal of time and effort, and then only if you forget to Save before the signature. The jury is still out on whether those things are really involved in causing the crash or are simply how it feels when it happens to you.

 Once the bug hits, it usually continues until all signatures are reset. How to do that depends on whether you use internal (stored in the registry) or external signatures (stored in *.txt or *.html files). I recommend using external files, largely because they are easier to reset in case this problem begins. To do so, open Tools| Options | Signatures, click a signature, click the Browse button, select your file and click Open.  Click the Apply Button. Repeat for each signature. That's all there is to it. If you later want to change a signature, edit the source file in Notepad or whatever, then reset the signature again before you use Insert Signature.

If you use internally stored signatures, resetting the signatures is a bit more drastic because you must remove the Signatures registry key for the Identity experiencing the crashes.

  1. Close OE, click Start| Run and start Regedit.
  2. In Regedit, navigate to this key:

                        \Outlook Express

    where GUID is the Global Unique Identifier for your Identity.

  3. Click Registry| Export Registry File and save the selected branch to your desktop as "Backupsig.reg".
  4. Right-click on the Signatures keys and Delete.

    OE will create a new key when you next open it, which should work as expected. You will of course have to configure all your signatures again.

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Some messages have nothing in the Account column
OE sometimes uses the wrong account when replying to a news message Fixed

These are actually the same bug. It is fixed for OE on WindowsXP with Service Pack 2 by installing Update for Windows XP (KB900930).

Under certain conditions when downloading a Watched message, OE fails to record the Account from which the message came. When you reply to such a message, OE has no choice but to select the default news account. When you try to Send the message, an error message informs you that the group names cannot be resolved on the current server. When you switch to the correct server, the contents of the Newsgroups field is erased. Note that the last two steps are not bugs, but expected behavior when a group name is not found on the account's list of groups.

When a news account is set to be included when OE checks for new messages, and if there has already been a watched message on any newsgroup on that account, then OE adds "check for new and watched messages" in its task list. It is there that the problem lies, and any new watched messages that are downloaded by that action will be missing the Account information. That action is not included in Synchronize All.

There are two ways to work around this bug.

  1. Before you begin any replies in a newsgroup, right-click on the news account in the Folder List and click Set as Default.

  2. Avoid the specific conditions that trigger the bug in the first place.
    • Do not use Synchronize Account.
    • Do not use Synchronize Newsgroup.
    • Disable "Include this account when checking for new messages" in the Account's Properties (right-click on the account, Properties; or Tools | Accounts | <account> Properties).
    • Use Synchronize All to check all mail accounts and all newsgroups.

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OE sees an attachment where none exists (the BEGIN bug) Fixed

This occurs if your message contains a line beginning with the word "begin" followed by 2 blank spaces.  That word is used to indicate the beginning of a real attachment, and OE mistakenly tries to create an attachment from the rest of your message.  It is fixed for OE on WindowsXP with Service Pack 2 by installing Update for Windows XP (KB900930). If you receive a message with such a bogus attachment, you can read the message by pressing Ctrl-F3 to view the source. Thanks to Hans-Georg Michna MVP for bringing this one to my attention.

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OE signature separator in news messages not RFC compliant Fixed

An RFC-compliant signature separator consists of two dashes followed by a blank space and line feed, then the text of the signature. Some newsreaders (but not OE) recognize this convention and automatically remove everything after the separator from the quoted text when you reply to a news message. OE does automatically insert two dashes before the text of a signature in news messages. However, when OE sends the message, it mistakenly strips the trailing blank space, and therefore other newsreaders cannot recognize the separator and remove the remaining text. 

There is now a patch from MS that fixes this as well as some other bugs. It can also be Fixed using OE-QuoteFix (described here) and its associated ISO-fix file. See the OE-QuoteFix home page for details.

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Unable to switch Identities after installing WinXP Service Pack 1 Fixed

This bug appeared in Service Pack 1. There is now a patch that fixes it as well as some other bugs, Service Pack 2 includes this patch, so you don't need it if you have installed SP2.

 When you click File | Switch Identities, OE briefly closes but re-opens without switching to the other Identity. Microsoft is aware of the problem and is investigating. A quick workaround is to click File | Identities | Manage Identities, then remove the check mark for "Use this Identity when starting a program". Then instead of clicking File | Switch Identities, simply close and re-open OE. You will then see the Identity logon screen and can select the Identity  you want. Microsoft has already added a Knowledge Base article about the problem, and is working on a solution.

Note that the bug does not affect everyone. It might be related to using the "Main Identity" created the first time you run OE.

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