How to create an autoresponder in Outlook Express

Question: How do I set up Outlook Express to send a message when I’m out of the office? —Jack B.

Answer: That’s called an e-mail auto-responder (or auto-reply), and it’s sort of the e-mail equivalent of an answering machine.

People tend to expect immediate responses to e-mail these days, and when they don’t get them they feel like they are being ignored. That may not be a big deal for personal e-mails, but at work you don’t want customers to feel slighted. Setting up an auto-responder is a good way of keeping both groups of people informed of your movements.

Be aware that there are some limitations. If you set up an auto-responder in Outlook Express, you will have to leave the computer on, the e-mail program running, and the system connected to the Internet. This will work if you have an always-on Internet connection, but you don’t want to do it if you use a dial-up connection on a phone line. (Here are instructions for Outlook 2000 users, and for Outlook 2002 users.)

Setting up an auto-responder in Outlook Express is not too difficult. Here are some instructions and tips that should help you set it up. There are three parts to this process:

  1. Creating the response message.
  2. Creating an Outlook Express rule.
  3. Linking the message to the rule.

Let’s create the message first. The easiest way to do this is to use Notepad in your Accessories folder (Start > Programs > Accessories > Notepad).

  1. Open the program, click File menu, and then click New.
  2. Type in the text of the message you want to be sent in response to messages that arrive while you are away—something like: “Hi and thanks for your e-mail. I am out of the office between (type in the dates you will be away). I won’t be checking e-mail during that time. Rest assured that I have received your e-mail and it is safely in my inbox. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible after my return.”
  3. This is your auto-response file so next, you;ll want to save it to your hard drive. Let’s name it outofoffice and save it in a folder called email-files on your main hard drive (don’t worry if you’re not sure how to add a new folder&mdashinstructions follow in just a few more lines).
  4. At the top of the window where you typed your auto-response message, click the File menu and choose Save As. A dialog box will open.
  5. In that dialog box, create a folder called email-files to keep the auto-responder message in. To do this:
    1. Click on the pull-down box at the top of the dialog box and choose the C: drive.
    2. Then click on the Create New Folder icon at the top of the dialog box&mdashyou probably won’t see those words under the icon until you put your mouse over it, so just look for a picture of a file folder with a star exploding on its edge, and click that. A highlighted folder named New Folder will appear.
    3. Rename New Folder to email-files and hit your Enter key. Then double-click on the newly created folder. Make sure it says outofoffice in the File name field, and click the Save button.
  6. Save your response message in this new folder. It will be created as a .TXT file, so you’ll end up with a file called outofoffice.txt in the c:/email-files” folder. (A note to advanced users: You could also create the message in HTML as you would a web page.)

Next, you’ll create an e-mail rule.

  1. In Outlook Express, click the Tools menu, click Message Rules, and choose Mail. A four-part dialog box will open up.
  2. Under Select Conditions for your rule, scroll to the bottom of the list and add a check mark by For all messages.
  3. Under Select Actions for your rule, check Reply with message.
  4. Under Rule description, the following items should now be listed:
    1. Apply this rule after the message arrives
    2. For all messages
    3. Reply with message
  5. You’ll notice that the word “message” in the last line is underlined. Click on it and a dialog box will open.
  6. In the files of type box, choose Text (*.txt).

If all goes well, your outofoffice.txt file will be there. If not, click the pull-down menu and choose the C: drive, then go into the email-files folder.
Select the outofoffice.txt file, and click the Open button. You’ll go back to the New Mail Rule dialog box where you created the rule. Under the item Name of the rule, enter a description of what the rule does. You can simply call it Out of the Office.

The rule is now set up, so click OK. You’ll see the rule with a check mark next to it now listed in the Message Rules dialog box. When you’re in the office, be sure that box is unchecked. When you’re heading out of the office, put a check mark next to it to activate it.

To find the rule again if you want to change it:

  1. Start with the Tools menu, choose Message Rules, then Mail.
  2. Select the rule by clicking on it, then click the Modify button. Just like you’d update an answering machine message, you also need to keep you auto-responder up to date.

Also, don’t be afraid to be a little creative. The example above was pretty boring, but you could create something more informative. Let’s say you were buying more birds for your emu farm. You could tell people this in your auto-responder: “Hi friends and colleagues. I’m headed to Australia in February to find sixty emus to add to the forty we already have. While I’m away, urgent business emails can be sent to [email protected] All other issues can be directed to Jose, my chief emu tender at [email protected] or call us at 1-800-EMU4YOU.”


Here are other related how-tos:

  1. How to back up your e-mail settings
  2. How to open photos that arrive by e-mail
  3. How to send e-mail to “undisclosed recipients”
  4. How to restore or read archived e-mails
  5. How to fix your return e-mail address
  6. How to send large attachments
  7. How to set up e-mail filters
  8. How to avoid unwanted e-mail (a/k/a spam)

More resources:

  1. ABC Outlook Express Backup
  2. ABC Outlook Backup
  3. Easily export calendar events, contacts and email items from Outlook with OutlookExport.