In-depth look at the Public Folder Improvements in Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2


The biggest as well as most notable improvement in Exchange 2003 SP2 is without discussion the new Public Folder Settings Wizard, which was specifically made in order to make administration of Public Folders more efficient. The primary reason here was to eliminate the high number of support calls Microsoft Support Services received on Public Folder issues.
The Public Folder Settings Wizard in Exchange 2003 SP2 replaces the old Propagate Settings (Figure 1) with a new Manage Settings context menu command (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Public Folder Propagate Settings Feature

Figure 2: Public Folder Manage Settings Option in Context Menu

The reason behind this particular change was that too many Exchange administrators had a hard time understanding the real function of the Propagate Settings context menu command. The Propagate Settings context menu command lets an Exchange administrator copy particular properties of a selected Public Folder to the subfolders underneath it, but a general misunderstanding is that this option also propagates changes made to Access Control Lists (ACLs).

When selecting Manage Settings by right-clicking a Public Folder containing a subfolder in the Exchange System Manager, we’re presented with the screen shown in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: Manage Public Folders Settings Wizard Welcome Message

When clicking next a new Manage Public Folders Settings Wizard is opened, here we can choose between three actions – Modify client permissions, Modify lists of replica servers and Overwrite settings as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Specifying the Respective Type of Modification

We’ll go through each of the three main actions (Figure 4) in this section.
Modifying client permissions
The Modify client permissions gives us the possibility of adding, removing, modifying or replacing a user in order to give him/her the required permissions to the selected folder and all subfolders.

Figure 5: Setting the required permissions for a user on a folder and all subfolders

Modify lists of replica servers
The Modify lists of replica servers option gives us the possibility of making changes to the list of replica servers. The feature let’s you add, remove or replace replicas for all folders in a public folder sub tree.

Figure 6: Modify lists of replica servers option

Overwrite settings
The overwrite settings options lets you apply the properties of the selected parent folder to all its subfolders. Bear in mind this feature is only available for parent folders, although it’s still possible to change the settings of a specific subfolder afterwards.

Figure 7: Overwrite Settings

Synchronize Hierarchy

The new Synchronize public folder hierarchy option included in Exchange 2003 SP2 makes it possible to force public hierarchy replication and thereby bring the public hierarchy on a server in sync with the rest of the servers in your Exchange organization. Be aware though that we’re only speaking the public folders not the actual content!
In order to synchronize the public folder hierarchy you need to right-click the Public folder object container underneath Folders in the Exchange System Manager (see Figure 8). As most of you probably know, previous versions of Exchange 2003 only had a Send Hierarchy option, which only resends previously broadcasted data.
Although it’s generally a best practice to use the Synchronize Hierarchy command in order to synchronize your public folder hierarchy, it will in some situations be sufficient to use the Resend Changes command. The Resend Changes Command manually resend the public folders hierarchy replications messages that for some reason haven’t made it to the destination servers.

Figure 8: Synchronize Public Hierarchy

Exchange 2003 SP2 also includes a new Move All Replicas option which makes it possible to move all public folder content from the public folder store on one Exchange server to another by using a few mouse-clicks. This is an extremely valuable feature if you for some reason need to uninstall Exchange 2003 from a server containing a public folder store. As many of you probably know you can’t uninstall Exchange 2003 from a server which still contains public folder replicas.
In order to move all replicas from one server to another you right-click the Public Folder Store in the Exchange system Manager then choose Move All Replicas as shown in Figure 9 below.

Figure 9: Move All Public Folder Replicas

Stopping and Resuming Public Folder Content Replication

Another new Public Folder feature included in Exchange 2003 SP2 is Public Folder Content Replication, which makes it possible to stop all public folder content replication, via a couple of mouse-clicks in the Exchange System Manager (more specifically by right-clicking the organization object in the Exchange System Manager as shown in Figure 10 below), so that you can fix any public folder replication related issues you might experience (for example a public folder replication storm or a reconfiguration of some kind). When the issue(s) have been fixed you simply right-click the organization object again and choose Resume Public Folder Content Replication and you’re back in business.

Figure 10: Stop and resume public folder content replication

Depending on the size of your Exchange organization, one thing you should be aware of is that re-enabling public folder content replication can lead to a substantial network usage while the public folder store catches up. As you can see in Figure 11 below, Exchange actually warns you about this when you stop or resume public folder content replication.

Figure 11: Re-enabling public folder content replication can lead to substantial network usage

Tracking Public Folder Deletions

With Exchange 2003 SP2 deletions of Public folders can now be logged, this means that when a user or an administrator deletes one or more Public folders it’s logged in the Application log.
This is done via Exchange Diagnostics Logging so in order to enable this feature you need to take Properties of the respective Server object in the Exchange System Manager then click the Diagnostics Logging tab. Now expand MSExchangeIS and click Public Folder, then select General as shown in Figure 12 below.

Figure 12: Enabling Public Folder deletion Logging

In order to have Public Folder deletions logged the General category needs to be set to Medium or Maximum although Medium should be sufficient.

When a Public Folder is deleted Event ID 9682 is logged in the Application log, and as you can see in Figure 13 below the recorded event contains important details such as the name of the public folder, at which time the folder was deleted, the name of the mailbox as well as the user account that deleted the public folder.

Figure 13: Event ID 9682 logged in the Application Log

Deletion of Public folder Stores

The Microsoft Exchange team also made changes to deletion of public stores. In Exchange 2003 SP2 it’s no longer possible to delete a public store that still has un-replicated data present. This means that before you can delete it you first have to move all existing replicas to another server, or if you prefer, delete the folders you no longer need. This is the case with both public folders and system folders.

Figure 14: Public Folder Store Deletion Warning Message


As you have seen in this article the Exchange team put a lot of work into making administration of Public Folders in Exchange 2003 SP2 much better, and personally I think they succeeded. But because Public Folders are on their way out (to be replaced with SharePoint) some of you might think the time and effort put into improving the administration of Public Folders should have been used on other parts of the Exchange product. But I have to say I disagree. Why you might ask? Because Public Folders won’t be gone before E13 hits the streets, yes E13 the Exchange version after E12!

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