Fast Searching in Public Folders

Fast Searching in Public Folders

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I respond to a lot of questions answered on an internal alias for Windows Installer support, some of which inspire posts on my blog. That alias is also archived in a public folder on our corporate Exchange server so there is a vast treasure trove of information for reading - far too much to use Outlook's built-in search.

For those also in an environment where public folders exist in Exchange full of information, there are many ways to find information quickly. I prefer to use Windows Desktop Search. To set this up, follow these instructions:

  1. Switch to Outlook's Folder List.
  2. Expand Public Folders and find the folder you want indexed.
  3. Right-click the folder and click Add to Favorites....
  4. Set any options or rename the favorite and click the Add button.
  5. Right-click on Public Folders and click Properties for "Public Folders"....
  6. Click the Advanced... button.
  7. Click the Advanced tab.
  8. Check Use Exchange Cached Mode and Download Public Folder Favorites.
  9. Click OK to close the Advanced property sheet.
  10. Click OK to close the Properties property sheet.
  11. Select your favorite folders or otherwise synchronize your client to download all items. This can take quite some time and is not recommended over remote connections.
  12. Download and install Windows Desktop Search if not installed already.
  13. Open the Windows Desktop Search property sheet. You can do this currently in the following ways:
    • Click in the task bar search box, click the MSN logo in the lower-left corner, and click Desktop Options.
    • With Internet Explorer or Windows Explorer, click on the MSN logo on the left side, and click MSN Search Toolbar Options.
  14. Click on the Desktop Search tree node.
  15. Select Custom folders and e-mail locations.
  16. Click the Browse button.
  17. Expand My Email, then Outlook, and check Public Folders.
  18. Click OK to close the Browse dialog.
  19. Optionally, click Rebuild Index to rebuild the index now. This can slow your machine's performance.
  20. Click OK to close the Desktop Search properties.

You can now force a rebuild of the index or wait a while for the index to get built when your machine is idle. When finished you should be able to find mail, posts, and attachments from any favorites you have selected very quickly.

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  • Nice tip, I have started to use this as well, so far so good for searching.

  • Is there a way to use WDS to search public folder without having to enable the cache mode?
  • Tom, to my knowledge that isn't currently possible with Windows Desktop Search. Since it works on local content it requires Exchange Cached Mode because that caches all your items locally. This also greatly reduces strain on the server.

    For more information about Windows Desktop Search, visit
  • Cool tool
    Seems like the Public Folder Search is limited to top level folders only in nesting of folders allowed, even tho the preferences sheet "see and list them" so you can check them to be indexed, no indexing occurs on subfolders??

  • I am finding the same problem of not being able to search sub folders in public folders.  

    This is a bummer too because we have thousands of items in our public sub folders and the built-in Outlook search doesn't cut it.  

    Is this a bug - since you can select the sub folders in the Desktop Seach options - or is there a certain way that you have to search them?  i.e. keyword(s)?  

    If not, I'm going to have to look into Google's version and see if it supports it.  But I would really love to use Microsoft's...
  • gabe, add what public folders you like to your favorites, then in Outlook you can set these favorites to synchronize to your local cache so that Windows Desktop Search can index them.

    I do this for a number of public folders, but we have far too many public folders to ever imagine trying to index them all on my desktop computer!
  • Heath -

    Thank you for your comment.  It is great to get a response!  

    When I set up WDS, I have done all the above steps. I set up Favorites, Cached, and Synchronized the respective public folders that we want to search.  

    However, I still cannot seem to search some of the sub (nested) folders within.  Is their perhaps a restriction as to how many directories WDS will drill down to?

    I am able to search the Parent directory and the first child directory, but anything deeper - like a child directory of a child directory - and I can't get any results.  

    Again, it does allow me to select them within the options dialogue of WDS, and it even looks like it's indexing them when it indexes, but when I try a query I have no luck.

    Am I missing something?
  • gabe, are the sub-folders in Outlook set to be cached?
  • As far as I know.  I have done the steps you have written out above.  I have also read on forums and on to see if there was a step that I was missing and I can't seem to find anything to suggest so.  

    I have even tried moving my outlook.ost file to my desktop to rule out if it wasn't being indexed at that location but still no luck!

    My Outlook is set to cached mode and I am downloading favorites.  

    I have looked pretty thouroughly through Outlook and have found no place to search sub folders.  The only option I have found is to 'Use Cached Exchange Mode' and 'Download Public Folder Favorites', which I have done.  

    In WDS, I have checked all of the top level and sub level folders that I want indexed and have rebuilt my index as well.

    When I rebuild the index, it acts as if it's reading the emails but doesn't seem to index them.  e.g. 'Items left to scan: ' says 8796 but 'Items Indexed so far: ' says 1533 at the end of the run.

    I can see that it is traversing through the public sub folders when indexing but it doesn't seem to register them - only the top level and second level.  And they are checked to be indexed in WDS.

    Is there perhaps logic in the exchange server that would only allow indexing on top level directories?  Seems far fetched but at this point, who knows?!

  • Wow.  I just typed out a full explanation but when I submitted I got an error page and lost it.

    To keep it simple.  As far as I know - yes.  All though, I did not see the option in Outlook to cache sub folders, only to Use cached mode, and Download public folders.  
  • gabe, I'm sorry but beyond setting options I can't provide support for Windows Desktop Search. I was merely blogging about a method I use to be able to search vast amounts of email threads buried in public folders. All I can suggest is to add the sub-folders as top-level favorite folders. Beyond that, I would recommend sending feedback to Winodws Desktop Search from under
  • Heath -

    Your help and knowledge has been much appreciated.  I will look in to sending the feedback to Microsoft.  Thank you for your time.  :)
  • Outlook's built-in search is able to search Public Folders? Now that's news, I wasn't aware of that. But I think that it searches with about the same speed as in my local index so I'd say that this is not the fastest way. I prefer lookeen which is also able to build a shared index, one index for all members of a company, for example, which can be searched by every single member.

  • Hi Heath,

    Hope you can provide some assistance.  Office 2010.  We have a group mailbox on an exhange server.  I need to search the subfolders within the inbox (some 20 to 30 folders).  I can't see me needing to add all of these folders to my favorites, especially since folders are added on a monthly bases.  Any suggestions on how I can search subfolders of a public mailbox.  Windows Search only seems to search my favorites and Advanced search has subfolders disabled.

  • @Greg, sorry but I'm not sure of another way to do that. You might contains your Exchange administrator and see if they can do anything on the server. We also have forums for IT professionals that may help at

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