Q: How do you delete and recreate corrupt Outlook rules?

A: In Microsoft Office Outlook 2000 and earlier, user-created rules and alerts are stored in their own file ending in .rwz, located in C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. In Outlook 2002 and later, rules are stored in a hidden table called Associated Contents, within the default mail store. For example, if the default delivery location is a Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox, then rules are stored in a hidden table called Folder Associated Contents, representing hidden items in the inbox. An IMAP account cannot be the default account in Outlook; rules created within an IMAP account are stored separately in the IMAP .pst file.

If you use different versions of Outlook to access the same profile, you need to be aware of Outlook version compatibility problems that can corrupt your rules. The safest approach is to use the most current version of Outlook to create or edit rules—especially if you use Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, which expands the functionality for rules. Rule corruption can also occur if you upgrade to Outlook 2007, then uninstall the program and revert to an earlier version (perhaps after the trial period ends). The previous version of Outlook might then deny access to the rules, returning an error message such as “Your stored rules appear to have a bad format.” Restoring an Exchange mailbox from backup, especially if the mailbox had been accessed with an earlier version of Outlook, can also result in incompatibilities with rules.

A couple of methods exist for dealing with this problem. If the rules reside in an Exchange Server 2003 mailbox, then you might be able to use OWA to access and delete them. Exchange 2003’s OWA rules administration allows for basic rule creation. You can then use OWA or Outlook to generate replacement rules. Some exceptional rules require an Outlook client for modification. Unfortunately, Exchange Server 2007 removes rule administration from the OWA interface, until SP1.

You can use Outlook switches (i.e., /cleanrules, /cleanclientrules, and /cleanserverrules) to remove corrupt rules. The cleanrules switch deletes all the rules for all the accounts in a user profile. The switches cleanclientrules and cleanserverrules delete only the type of rules named in the switch (i.e., client-side or server-side rules). Server-side rules contain actions that can be performed solely by the Exchange server. Client-side rules require the Outlook client to facilitate the defined action. For example, a rule that assigns a specific category to a message is a client-side rule because category information is stored in the user’s computer registry. A rule that moves a message from a specific address to the Deleted Items folder is a server-side rule because Exchange can manage all the actions for that rule from the server. To execute the Outlook switches, launch Outlook from the Start, Run menu or from a command prompt. After you use /cleanrules to delete all the rules, you can recreate the desired ones.

Some people use rules extensively and might find that recreating them from scratch is tedious and frustrating. To avoid recreating rules, you can export them to a file to back up or to migrate them to another account, profile, or workstation. To export and import rules in Outlook 2002 and later, select Tools, Rules and Alerts, Options. Clicking the Export Rules button assembles an .rwz file that will be saved at a user-determined file location. Clicking the Import Rules button imports the .rwz file.