Exchange Server 2013 Backup and Restore 101 – Recovering individual items (Part 1)

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In this article series, we are going to go over the process to restore data using Exchange Server 2013 built-in capabilities. We are going to start from the simplest assumption when an administrator has to restore a single message and from that point on, we will move forward with the restore capabilities of Exchange Server 2013 for several items, such as individual items, disabled mailboxes, deleted mailboxes, mailbox databases and finally server recovery.

All articles of this series are based on Exchange Server 2013 Service Pack 1.

Recovering Deleted items – An Introduction

The first stop of this article series is how we can retrieve single messages from a mailbox using the built-in tools. The Mailbox Database is the main component where we define how long any deleted item will stay in the Database and from there an easy restore process can be initiated from either side: end-user or administrator.

In order to identify how many days a message will stay on any given mailbox is controlled by the attribute Keep deleted items for (days) and that can be found on the properties of a Mailbox Database and by default the value is 14 (fourteen) days.

The steps to get there are, open Exchange Admin Center (EAC), click on servers, click on databases, and double-click on the desired database. Then, click on limits (Figure 01).

Figure 01

In previous versions of Exchange that was known as Dumpster however, since Exchange Server 2010, the feature has been called Recoverable Items folder and the structure can be seen in Figure 02.

Figure 02

Another concept that must be clear for the administrator is to understand the differences between delete, soft delete and hard delete.

Using either Outlook client or Outlook Web App a user can select a message and hit delete button on the keyboard, or right-click on the message and delete (Figure 03), and that message will be removed from the current location and it will end-up in the Deleted Items folder. This operation is called delete.

Figure 03

If you are using ActiveSync (iOS in this example), the Trash option will be displayed when moving items from regular folders to the Deleted Items folder, as shown in Figure 04.

Figure 04

So far we moved the items from wherever they are to the Deleted Items (delete operation), and from there we can right-click on the Deleted Items folder and then click on empty (Figure 05) to perform a soft-delete operation. A soft delete operation means that the message is not visible on the client side however, it can be restored easily because all the content is located in the Deletions folder of Recoverable Items folder.

Figure 05

We can soft delete a message directly from its original folder by holding Shift and hit Delete button. When we do that, a dialog box asking for confirmation will be displayed (Figure 06), when we click ok the message will be removed without stopping by your Deleted Items folder.

Figure 06

If we try to delete a message from the Trash folder on iOS device we will notice that the caption changed to Delete, as shown in Figure 07.

Figure 07

End-user restoring process…

Time has come when a user lost a message and the user could not find the message on the Deleted Items. We can instruct the user to right-click on the Deleted Items folder and then click on recover deleted items… item, as shown in Figure 08.

Important note:
If the message was deleted longer than the number of days defined in the Mailbox Database of that specific mailbox, we will not be able to restore such item using the current procedure.

Figure 08

In the new window (Figure 09), the end-user will have all deleted messages, and the end-user can select any given message and right-click and then recover and purge options will be available. The same options are available at the right bottom corner of the same page.

Figure 09

When the end-user selects recover option of a message the following dialog box (Figure 10) informing where the restored message will appear is going to be displayed, just click OK.

Figure 10

All items located in the Deletions folder of the Recoverable Items folder are moved to the Purges folder when their retention period is reached or when the end-user uses the option Purge and that is considered a hard delete operation. In the Figure 11, we can see the dialog box that will show up when we try to purge an item from recover deleted items window.

Figure 11

The problem… hard delete operations

In the previous section, we look at the Recoverable Items folder and how we can use to restore items to our end-users but we will have the risk for a hard delete operation and if that occurs we will need a previous backup to bring that data back to a regular situation, but there is methods to overcome this challenge.

We can also have common situations where a user knows or has access to their mailbox before being fired, then the user removes all information from the mailbox and Recovery Deleted, and that will create a problem to restore the data afterwards.

To avoid these issues described above we can take advantage of a feature called Single Item Recovery, which enforces that the number of days defined on the database will be honored. When this Single Item Recovery feature is enabled, then all messages that are moved to the Purges folder will stay there for the time defined in the database.

In order to enable a user, we just need to run the following cmdlet Set-Mailbox <Mailbox> -SingleItemRecoveryEnabled $True, as shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12

Using Single Item Recovery feature, we can have consistency among restore time for end-users and in some scenarios replace the current tapes/backup solutions. For instance, if you have Single Item Recovery enabled for all users and 30 days defined at the database, then we should never use tapes to restore for at least the last 30 days.


In this first article of our series, we saw the different types of deletions of an item from the restore perspective. In the last section, we also covered how we can enable Single Item Recovery feature on a user basis and we will take advantage of

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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