Public Folder Basics (Part 1)

If you would like to read the next part in this article series please go to Public Folder Basics (Part 2).

What Are Public Folders?

For the administrator, public folders are a separate database.

Figure 1

This screenshot shows the Exchange databases on a single Exchange 2003 Standard server. The priv1 database, composed of both an EDB and an STM file, contains the user mailboxes. The pub1 database contains the public folders. Both databases in Exchange 2000 and in Exchange 2003 up to SP2 had a limit of 16GB. In the fast moving Internet days, 16GB is not much. However, most mail accumulates in user mailboxes, leaving the public folder database pretty empty. Later on I will show how public folders can be better used to even this out, so you get a smaller mailbox database and more room to grow.

Public Folders contain the same type of folders you can access using Outlook, and can hold mail, calendaring and task information. You can set security on these folders so that only specific people will have specific types of access to these folders.

Creating Public Folders

Public folders can be created using Exchange System Manager or the Outlook client.

Figure 2

Outlook 2003 sort of hides the public folders, so you first have to access the Folder list, then on the right side, open the Public Folder List, All Public Folders and the select “New Folder…”

Figure 3

Exchange System Manager can only create folders that hold mail items, such as your Inbox and Sent Items folders, while Outlook can also create other types of folders such as Calendar items.

Figure 4

You can also create Public Folders using Outlook Web Access.

Figure 5

Figure 6

Public Folders Security

Public Folders have two types of security mechanisms – administration and client access.

Public Folder Administration security can only be set by Exchange System Manager. It allows you to decide which of the Exchange administrators have the right to manage security for the public folder and administrate the database (also called information store).

Figure 7

In most cases, in a small to medium company you would mostly need to set client permissions and not administrative rights. These can be set by the Outlook client and Exchange System Manager, but not the Outlook Web Access client.

Figure 8

Figure 9

The above screenshots show the default security settings for Public Folders. The owner of a public folder is the user who created it and gets full control of the folder. Authenticated users (designated here as Default) are granted the right to add items and delete their own items and anonymous users can add items but not read them.

When creating a new public folder that you want a user to administer, you can simply add the user to the permission list and change the permission level to Owner.

Figure 10

The owner would be able to create subfolders for the folder you created and set further permissions on it.

Using a Public Folder as a Mail Repository

Collaboration in even a small company is very important. A lot of people like Outlook so much they use it as their primary work tool. If Chris wants to show Mark an e-mail or a movie, he can either invite over or forward the item. Exchange has single instance storage capabilities which means an item forwarded will only have one copy, but once you forward an item, it is changed, so single instance storage loses its edge. This means you have documents and other heavy mail items bouncing around, inflating your information store database.

Also while Mark is very efficient in storing and cataloging important e-mails, once he is on vacation or otherwise indisposed, he won’t be able to forward e-mails. This can cause all kinds of problems. Instead, you can have departmental or project related mail folders in the public folder repository.

Instead of moving mail items to folders in your own mailbox, you move them to a specified public folder.

Figure 11

This way the item becomes available to the relevant department personnel, if you set the right permissions.

Figure 12

If you are worried about mailbox limits you can also create public folders for “heavy users” and only grant them permissions on those folders. They can move large items to their private public folder, saving room.

Company Contact Folder

While storing contacts in Active Directory can be a valid solution, it has a few shortcomings. You need to teach non technical personnel to use the Active Directory Users and Computers console and install it on Windows XP workstations. Alternatively you can use third party interfaces for managing contacts. However, since users are already accustomed to Outlook you can simply create a shared contacts public folder.

Figure 13

The downside of this approach is that each user has to add this folder to his or her own Outlook Address Book so that the contacts will appear there. This is done in the Outlook Address Book tab of each folder in Outlook.

Figure 14

After doing so the contacts appear in the address book.

Figure 15

Public Calendar

A public calendar is also a useful tool. It can also save you money, because unlike a dedicated mailbox, a public folder doesn’t require a license. You can have as many public folders as you like. So, instead of creating a mailbox enabled user in Active Directory for scheduling meetings in, say, a meeting room, you can simply create an accessible public calendar folder.

Unfortunately, public calendar folders are not published in the free/busy folder, so you can’t really do advanced scheduling with these folders.

Public Folder Favorites

It is also beneficial to add the public contacts folder or any other public folder that you use frequently to your public folder favorites by dragging it there or by using the context menu using Right-click and choosing “Add to Favorites”. Be sure to also add sub-folders.

Figure 16

If you use Outlook 2003, after adding a folder to the public folder favorites you will be able to access it using the regular sections without the need to browse all the way to the folder list.

Figure 17

If you have public calendar favorites, you will be able view them side by side to determine which calendar is free and compare them to your own calendar.

Figure 18

You can also modify your Exchange account in Outlook 2003 Cache mode to download public folder favorites so they are automatically available offline. From the Outlook menu choose Tool > E-mail Accounts > Exchange Server Settings > More Settings > Advanced.

Figure 19


Public folders is a handy and powerful tool, not always the easiest to set up, but providing many benefits and granularity. If you know how to use it, it can also save you time and money.

This article covered the basic of the basics. Public Folders, like most features in Exchange, are full of hidden surprises. I will try to cover more of that in a future article.

If you would like to read the next part in this article series please go to Public Folder Basics (Part 2).

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