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Fix Microsoft Outlook PST errors – scanpst.exe

If you are in business it is very likely that you use Microsoft Outlook for your email. Outlook is the flagship product in the Microsoft Office suite of productivity applications and is a one-stop-shop for not just managing email but also your contacts, your calendar and your tasks and notes.

I.T. guys love it when you’re using Outlook (but not Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail – they’re free, but they aren’t as easy to backup or, more especially, recover when you’ve had an “uh oh”). IT guys love Outlook because it stores all of its data in what’s called a PST file. PST files are great – they can be easily backed up. And if you’ve got good backups, you can restore them relatively easily. (Note to other IT guys reading this… I said “relatively” easy – haha!)

But what do you do when Outlook gives you an error message indicating something is wrong with the PST file?

One thing you can do is run scanpst to have it find and repair errors.


First, find “scanpst.exe”

However, like all things tech, this operation is easier said than done. The hardest part will be actually finding the scanpst program.

I don’t run across this scenario often during the course of operating my computer repair service so once again to refresh my memory “Google is my friend.”  Here is a quick guide that I reference when I need to run scanpst. Complicating this task is that Microsoft makes scanpst a “hidden file” – why they actually did that is a mystery to me but you will need to search for files when looking to run scanpst. Before you break a sweat though, go ahead and give Microsoft’s “fix it for me” tool a try – can’t hurt! microsoft inbox repair tool fix it for me

In case it doesn’t work, you’ll need to run a search for “scanpst.exe” through files that include hidden files.

And in the worst case scenario you are having a real hard time finding that file (and yes, i live in the land of “worst case scenarios”), you can find a site from which to download the scanpst.exe file. But, as the author of that site explains, there are pitfalls you need to avoid when taking that route. Caveat emptor.

Once you’ve found the tool, run it. (Note: At this point I always right-click on it and “Send to… Desktop” – that way its easy to find. You never know if you’ll have to restart the computer and have to re-search for that file again. This way you’ve got a quick shortcut right on the desktop!)

Here’s what scanpst.exe looks like… microsoft outlook scanpst inbox repair tool


Then, find your PST file

Notice it asks you to direct it where to scan. C’mon, Microsoft! This is your software! Plug in the default location for us and “if” we have deviated from the default and are storing our PST files in a custom location (yes, its possible – and yes, there are reasons and advantages for doing so), THEN prompt us to browse for and find the PST file! WHY make life harder for us?? (Grrrrr!)

So you’ll need to find where your PST file is stored. Methods include…

  • Searching from the start button for “*.pst” and letting the computer grind and grind until it finds it.
  • Going into Outlook (this may vary depending on your version of Outlook) under Tools | Options | Mail Setup | Data Files – and copying-and-pasting the location of the PST file – and navigating there in Windows Explorer.
  • Similarly, going to Control Panel | Mail | Data files | Settings — again, depending on your version of MS Office.

Once you’ve got the location of the PST file entered in scanpst, go ahead and click “start.”

Depending how large your PST file is, this process could take a while – so be prepared.

Parenthetically, that factor (size of the PST) “could” be why you’re getting a PST error in the first place. Older versions (up through 2003) had a 2GB file size limit. And MS doesn’t give you warning when you are approaching the PST file size limit, either. Furthermore, recovery involves a “blunt instrument” approach – MS simply “truncates” the PST file. In short, if your PST file is too large, resolution involves simply “cutting off” enough of the PST file to make it “fit” within size constraints. And the “cutting off” process is arbitrary. If there was important data in the portion of data that gets truncated, that’s just too bad. And you’re right.. it doesn’t “fail well.” Yes, I avoid truncating PST files if at all possible – I’ve only had to do it twice. Good blog post here on the subject of oversized PST files.

The limit on PST files size in later versions of MS Outlook is 20GB but the fact remains, they still don’t give a gentle warning – the only way you know you’ve exceeded the file size limit is A) if you monitor the size of your PST file (yeah right) or B) if Outlook doesn’t start and you get an error message. (Ouch!)

You can see why I call it the “idiot light” of the tech world.

Once the scanning operation is complete, it will give you a message indicating the results of the inbox repair tool scanpst

And… The Home Stretch

If the tool indicates errors were found, click “Repair.”

It should repair the errors.

Run Outlook, OPTEST by clicking Send/Receive and accessing the various features of Outlook.

But “what if…?”

If Outlook doesn’t run, you’ve got other problems. Click right-click Properties to check the size of your PST file. Maybe you have a virus/malware. Perhaps “something” happened – ask the user “again” what were the circumstances around the failure, when was the last time it was working correctly, etc — c’mon, its time to come to Jesus, no one’s blaming you, but we need to know what happened if we’re going to solve the problem.




One Last Thing…

This is the kind of information you just like to have in your hip pocket – you won’t need it “every” day but it is good to know its there when you need the knowledge.


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“Have a great day!”


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