Manage your mailbox remotely

By Jim Boyce

If you're like most people these days, e-mail is almost as important to you as the electricity that powers the lights in your office. In fact, e-mail just might be more important. That's why keeping connected to your mailbox can be so important when you're out of the office on a trip, working from home, or in a long meeting. You might be able to lose the lights and keep working, but that report still needs to go out to your boss and those tasks still need to be assigned to your team.

Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Server offer a handful of great features that make it easy to stay connected to your mailbox.

  • Remote procedure call (RPC) over HTTP, a feature introduced in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, makes it possible for you to access your mailbox by using Outlook 2003 when you're out of the office.
  • Remote Mail, the collective name for several features in Outlook, can be used to check message headers and to manage e-mail without actually downloading the messages. Remote Mail is particularly useful when you're working from a slow dial-up connection because you can preview messages without downloading them.
  • Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) is a feature that you can use to send and receive messages, work with tasks, and manage your other mailbox items without using Outlook. This is particularly handy when you need to check your e-mail from a public computer or access your mailbox through a corporate firewall.

Take a look at how to put these features to work to help you stay connected to your mailbox.

Use Outlook remotely

Outlook incorporates three main features to support remote mail access: RPC over HTTP, offline files (in Outlook 2003, called Cached Exchange Mode), and Remote Mail.

ShowAccess your mailbox by using HTTP

Almost every corporate network that's connected to the Internet is protected by a firewall to keep out intruders and malicious network traffic. Some network traffic still passes through the firewall, most importantly traffic that uses HTTP, which is the protocol used for Web browsing. By default, HTTP uses port 80, so almost every firewall is configured to allow port 80 traffic.

But, by default, Exchange Server and Outlook use other ports instead of port 80. Most Exchange Server administrators don't like to open the other ports in the firewall to allow remote mailbox access because of the added security risk to the network. That's where RPC over HTTP comes in.

Outlook uses RPC over HTTP to allow users to access their mailboxes by using HTTP through port 80. This means that an Exchange Server administrator doesn't have to open additional ports in the firewall and that you can still access your mailbox by using Outlook, even when you're out of the office.

After the Exchange Server administrator has configured and enabled RPC over HTTP for your network, you must configure your Exchange Server account in your Outlook profile to use HTTP access. The following links will help you do just that:

After your Outlook profile is set up to use HTTP, you can access your mailbox just as if your computer were connected to the local network where your server resides. Just connect to the Internet, and then start Outlook. Outlook takes care of establishing the connection to your server by using HTTP and gives you access to your mailbox to receive new messages, send messages, and work with your other items.

ShowWork with an offline file or Cached Exchange Mode

To ensure access to your mailbox data when your computer is disconnected from the server, use Cached Exchange Mode — the offline file feature in Outlook 2003 — if you're working from a remote location.

Outlook 2002 and earlier versions gave you the capability to use an offline file with an Exchange Server account. The offline file is a local copy of your mailbox data stored on your computer's hard disk. The benefit that an offline file offers is the capability to continue working with your mailbox even when your server isn't available. So you can still read messages you've already downloaded, work on tasks, compose messages, and accomplish everything you can accomplish with Outlook when it's connected to the server.

In Outlook 2003, offline file capability is improved with better connection management and synchronization. Turning on Cached Exchange Mode for your account is easy:

  1. Exit Outlook.
  2. In Control Panel, double-click the Mail icon.
  3. Click E-mail Accounts.
  4. Click View or change existing e-mail accounts, and then click Next.
  5. In the Name box, click the Microsoft Exchange Server account, and then click Change.
  6. Select the Use Cached Exchange Mode check box, click Next, and then click Finish.

The next time you start Outlook, it will begin creating the local cache copy of your mailbox on your hard disk and synchronize that local cache with the mailbox on the server. If you have a lot of items in your mailbox, synchronization can take some time. It's best to synchronize the first time through a local connection to your server, rather than a remote connection (such as using RPC over HTTP).

ShowUse the Remote Mail feature in Outlook

Outlook includes a feature called Remote Mail that you can use to check message headers (which includes the information in the From, To, Sent, and Subject fields) and manage messages without downloading them. If you receive lots of messages, particularly those with documents or other attachments, downloading them over a slow connection (such as a dial-up connection) can take forever. Using remote mail, you can download just the header and then review it to determine whether you want to retrieve the message. If so, mark the message for download. When you've marked all of the messages you want to download, Outlook retrieves them.

Remote Mail is also handy for cleaning junk e-mail out of your mailbox without the overhead and time required to download messages. Just mark the headers for deletion so that Outlook will delete them from your mailbox the next time Outlook connects to the server.

Remote Mail was originally a feature specific to Exchange Server accounts, but as Outlook has evolved, so has the Remote Mail feature. You can still use Remote Mail for Exchange Server accounts, but as explained in detail in Outlook 2003 Inside Out, you can also use Remote Mail for non–Exchange Server accounts.

You'll find complete instructions on setting up and using Remote Mail for Exchange Server here:

Note that you must add an offline (.ost) file to your Outlook profile to use Remote Mail. To learn how to do this, visit:

You can't use Remote Mail if you're using Cached Exchange Mode in Outlook 2003. To learn how to turn off Cached Exchange Mode, see:

Use Outlook Web Access for remote e-mail

Another feature made available through Exchange Server is OWA. Using OWA, you can access your mailbox by using a Web browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer — you don't even need Outlook. That's particularly useful when you need to check your messages from a public kiosk, a computer in a hotel's business center, a coworker's computer, or your own computer when you just can't connect to the server by using Outlook.

What do you get with OWA? You get almost all of the capability that you do with Outlook. You can work with all of your e-mail folders, such as Contacts, Tasks, Calendar, Notes, and Journal. You even receive reminders in a dialog box, just as you do in Outlook.

Note that OWA is an Exchange Server feature and not part of Outlook. The version of Exchange Server to which you are connecting determines the features available through OWA. Exchange Server 2003 offers the most OWA features and the most similarity to the user experience in Outlook.

Access your mailbox by using OWA

It's easy to work with your mailbox by using OWA. Just point your Web browser to the URL of your Exchange server. Unless your Exchange Server administrator has changed the default URL, the address takes the following form:


For example, if your Exchange server were located at, you would use the URL

After you enter the appropriate URL in the address bar and click Go, you are prompted to log on. Enter your user name and password, and then click OK. The resulting user interface looks much like it does in Outlook. You should have no trouble navigating in your mailbox and working with items.

Accessing your mailbox through Outlook Web Access

Set OWA options

In Outlook, you have a wealth of options you can set to change the way that the program looks and functions. OWA doesn't offer quite as many options, but you do have control over several aspects of Outlook.

To configure settings for OWA, at the bottom of the Navigation Pane, click Go to options. On the page that appears, you can change settings for the Out of Office Assistant, the Reading Pane, messaging options, and other features. To view and recover items that you deleted from your Deleted Items folder, at the bottom of the page, click View Items.

Configuring settings for Outlook Web Access

Stay in touch even when you're away

To some people, staying connected is one of the most important aspects of their jobs. But, you can't always count on having immediate access to your computer or your server. Fortunately, the Outlook features that were explored in this article will help you stay connected and in the information loop even when you don't have access to Outlook. With a little planning and a little setup, you'll be able to stay in touch and on task.

About the author     Jim Boyce has written more than 50 books about computers and technology, many of them about the Microsoft Office System. He regularly contributes to several online sites and publications. His latest book is Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Inside Out, which is available from Microsoft Learning.

Applies to:
Outlook 2003