Open an existing personal data file (*.pst) in Outlook

If you have an old pst or an old archive pst and you want to view your old email, you can open it in your Outlook profile.

Do not use File, Import and Export menu, especially if it's an Archive pst – you may end up with duplicates and will not be able to remove them using Autoarchive (because archive uses the modified date and importing changes the modified date). Just open it in Outlook.

To open a *.pst while Outlook is running:

In all versions of Outlook: go to File, Open, Outlook Data File menu and browse to find the personal folders data file (pst) you want to open.

Select File, Open, Outlook Data File to open an older pst file

This screen shot is from Outlook 2003. In older versions of Outlook, browse to File, Open, Personal Folders File.

To add an existing personal data file to your profile:

The steps to open an existing data file in your profile are similar in all versions of Outlook but the dialogs are different.

In all versions:

  1. Open Control Panel and find the Mail applet. If you use the Category view in Windows XP, Windows 7 or 8's Control Panel, look for the Mail applet in the User Accounts category.
  2. Select the Show Profiles button. If you only have one profile, you can click the Data Files button.
  3. Click the Show profiles button

  4. Select your profile and click Properties
  5. Select the profile and clikc Properties

Continue the steps for your version of Outlook below.

Outlook 2007 and up

Click Data Files to open the Account Settings dialog to Data Files
Click Data Files button

To add a pst file to your profile, click the Add button and select the data file you want to add. In some versions, a dialog will ask what type of data file (Outlook data file or Outlook 97-2002 data file), just click Ok to move to the Open file dialog.

Select the pst file you want to use as your default for delivery and click Set as Default.

Set the selected pst as the default, in Outlook 2007 and up

Outlook 2003 and older

If you just created your profile and have the Profile dialog open, skip to Step 2 after clicking Finish in the profile wizard.

  1. Select Email Accounts then View or change email accounts.
  2. Select New Outlook data file and find your existing PST, add it to the profile and set it as the default.
  3. Ok your way back to the Email Accounts dialog and select the PST you just added in the Deliver new e-mail to the following location field. The pst file that is visible in this field is the one Outlook will use as your default pst file.
  4. When you return to the Mail Setup dialog, choose Data Files and remove the extra personal folders from your profile.
  5. Remove an pst from the profile in Outlook 2003 and older


  • While the New dialog looks like you can only use it to create a new pst, you can select an existing pst file to open.

To remove a data file from Outlook when you are finished using it:

Right click on the top level and choose Close.

Right click anc choose Close data file

Note: You can have several pst's in your profile and only need to close a pst file if you prefer to keep the folder list less cluttered or need to move the file.

Video Tutorial

  • Preston

    Opening old files from outlook like you indicated did not work?
    To open a *.pst while Outlook is running:
    I followed exactly saw the files but then it gave me this error code

    Not compatiable with the current version of pst files... I am using 2002... maybe this file is newer

  • Diane Poremsky

    What version of Outlook created the pst? The new pst format, introduced in Outlook 2003 (and in 2007, 2010) is not usable in Outlook 2002 and older.

  • Anita

    I did an upgrade from MS 2007 to MS 2010 and now I have 2 In boxes! And the new one that was created doesn't have any of my rules. How do I merge them to use my old in box and maintain the use of my rules. Thank you.

  • Bob

    What do you do if Outlook says you don't have permission to open the PST file ?

  • Diane Poremsky

    That usually means the pst is either corrupt or you only have read permissions on the pst file. Check the properties - right click on the pst file and choose properties and verify its not set to read only. If it still fails, run scanpst on it.

  • biju

    good info !!

  • Karen Slavens

    My computer crashed. I had Windows XP. My new computer is Windows 7. Is there a way to recover my address book and pull it up in Windows 7. I think it would be changing from Outlook express to Microsoft Windows.

    Also in what format do you open a .pst file

  • Diane Poremsky

    You had OE on the crashed computer? The address book is in a file called *.wab. Can you access the hard drive from the old computer? It should be at [old drive]:\Documents and Settings\old_username\Application Data\Microsoft\Address Book

  • William Tsu

    I have some .pst files on a flash drive that I am trying to access with Microsoft Outlook. However, when I try to open the files with Microsoft Outlook, I get a message saying "there are no items to show in this view". Secondly, when I try to import the files, I get a message saying that "the connection to Msft exchange is unavailable. Outlook must be connected or online to complete this action."

  • Diane Poremsky

    Do you have use an Exchange mailbox? If not, the error message means the profile is not configured correctly. Go to Control panel, Mail and remove the exchange account and add the correct account type.

    In the File, Open dialog, select all files (*.*).

  • JVJ

    Have imported pst's/contacts from a ms outlook 2003 to outlook 2010 using a POP3 email acct, but unable to use Outlook Address Book with Contacts. The setting is grayed out and will not enable. Is there a fix for this?

  • Diane Poremsky
  • JVJ

    Thanks for the reply. I've tried the tip 498, created a different profile which was a no go. It seems that the option may not be available when moving pst/contacts from an older version such as 2003 to 2010.
    Initially, when setting up your profile, the feature is available but when importing the files it loses the ability. I am hugely stumped.

  • Paula

    Thanks for your tips. I'm following the steps, however there seems to be some text missing from the following step -- it doesn't make grammatical sense and I can't work out what I'm supposed to do here:

    "Ok your way back to the Email Accounts dialog and select the PST you just added in the Deliver new e-mail to the following location menu."

    So you select the PST
    Then... what do you do???

    what is "the deliver new e-mail to the following location menu"?? Doesn't make sense!

    Please clarify this step, thank you.

  • Diane Poremsky

    It would make sense if you used Outlook 2003 or older. :) In 2007 and up, you select the pst file and click the Make Default button.

  • Tynisha D Jackson

    Hey what if the only profile shows up is Outlook? I have an old laptop that I'm trying to preserve all emails. Theres an archived.pst file that I need to access but unable too

  • Diane Poremsky

    You are trying to open the archive pst in the current profile? Use File, Open, Outlook Data File. If it won't open, what error message do you get?

  • Craig

    I have .pst that I was able to add to folders list but when I click on it, it says The set of folders cannont be opened. "The file [...].pst has reached its maximum size. To reduce the amount of data in this file, select some items that you no longer need, then permanently (shift + del) delete them." However, since it cannot be opened, I don't know how to remove items. Any suggestions?

  • Diane Poremsky

    You need to chop the pst so its under 2 GB. I have instructions here:

  • Sally Luttrell

    Thank you so much for all this very clear information. I am running Outlook 2007. I would like to put all my email folders (inbox and sent files) for this year onto Dropbox so that I can refer to them while I am traveling overseas. Can you tell me if that is possible and if so, how to do that. (I am sorry if this is a stupid question!) Thank you.

  • Abrar


    I had my default outlook(2010) pst file on D-Drive. I then installed new OS, Windows 8 on my D-Drive and resinstalled MS Office 2010. My email is @gmail and I do not delete the mails from that server. Now, I'm trying to reuse the same pst file, but after I configure my gmail, I don't want it to download all the mails and end up with duplicates. How can I do this?

  • Diane Poremsky

    Unfortunately, if you use imap you can't avoid this. You can configure gmail (in online settings) to only sync the last xx messages. If you have the full messages downloaded, you can keep the old pst in your profile to access the old messages.

    To reduce the amount of items syncs, you can unsubscribe some folders and should unsub the [gmail]\all mail folder 9it's a copy of everything in your mailbox).

    If you use pop3, change the setting in gmail to pop mail received a day before you last downloaded and use the old pst as the delivery location.

  • Tricia

    I'm running Office 2010. Recently got a new laptop. Copied my .pst folder from my old laptop and opened it in Outlook on my new machine. I'm a graphic designer, so my .pst file was HUGE...over 3GB. (A lot of large attachments to emails.) The opened (also tried import/ed) file shows up, with all of its subfolders, but the emails are not in them. If the .pst file I'm opening is 3GB, how can the personal folders not have any items in them??? So confused and frustrated trying to figure out how to retrieve them!

  • Diane Poremsky

    Go to the folder list - Ctrl+6 will get you there. Look in all the folders - do you see any of your old messages? Do you have any filters set that are hiding the messages? Reset the views on the Views ribbon.

  • Bip

    Thank you...just the quick tip I needed.