Outlook Contacts, Address Book, and Autocomplete

Last reviewed on February 21, 2014   —  41 comments

Many users are easily confused by Outlook's contact options - you have Contacts, the Address Book and the auto-complete list. Add Outlook 2010's Suggested Contacts and there is a lot to be confused about.


Contacts is a folder to hold addresses & phone numbers - email addresses, snail mail addresses etc - and personal information like spouse's name and birthday. Basically all the stuff you'd write in an address book or on a Rolodex card in years past.

Contact form

Address Book

The address book contains a list of all Contacts who have electronic addresses (a Fax number is an electronic address). It's not a "real" folder or contact list, but a virtual view of all contact lists available to Outlook.

Outlook Address Book

I like to compare Outlook's Address Book to a shoe box or desk drawer where, in the past, we kept address books, business cards, and scraps of paper with addresses or phone numbers. The Outlook Address Book is a container that holds all your sources for addresses. Outlook Contacts folders and GAL (for Exchange users) are the address books, cards, and scraps of paper containing addresses stored within the drawer.

Note: The top level listing "Outlook Address Book" is the container that holds all address lists (for many people, Contacts is the only list).

When you select Outlook Address Book, it will say that there are No entries in this Address Book. This is expected, since it's just the "box" your other address lists are stored in.

Address book

Auto-Complete List

The Autocomplete list contains the addresses that come up when you begin typing in the To field. It's just a cache of recently used list of addresses.

autocomplete list

In older versions of Outlook, a lot of users stopped creating contacts and just used the auto-complete cache as their address book. Except the autocomplete list corrupted easily. Suggested Contacts was created for this group of people - they won't lose their addresses and the automatically saved addresses won't clutter up the "good" Contacts folder.

When I start to enter a name in the To... field, I am offered several possible names and addresses starting with that letter in a pop-up under the field, that do not correspond to ALL the ones that start with that letter in the contacts cards.

That is the auto-complete list offering names of people you recently replied to (well, the last 1000 people, so some might not be recent). You can disable this in options if you don't want to be offered any names. If you want to add all of your contacts to this list, open a new message and click To. Select all addresses and add them to the message. Close the message without sending and the addresses should come up when you start typing.

If you want to see a list of the addresses in the autocomplete cache, or import them into Outlook Contacts, you'll need to use a utility. See Autocomplete Cache utilities for a list.

Video Tutorial

Suggested Contacts (Outlook 2010 only)

Suggested Contacts are contacts Outlook created for you and are email addresses only. This is a feature saves all addresses you send email to, automatically adding the addresses of people you send mail to, to the contacts folder. These are people you sent email to who are not in your contacts folder (or who Outlook couldn't find in your contacts - the look up is not very good and you may end up with duplicates).

Note: Suggested Contacts is only in Outlook 2010. It was removed from Outlook 2013. When upgrading from Outlook 2010, the Suggested Contacts folder is left in the data file but Outlook will not add new contacts to it. You can delete the Suggested Contacts folder if desired.

About Diane Poremsky

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlook forums by Slipstick.com.

41 responses to “Outlook Contacts, Address Book, and Autocomplete”

  1. Bruce

    How do I put suggested contacts into a group in my contacts folder

    1. Diane Poremsky

      you want to make a Contact Group aka DL? You may want to move the contacts to the main contacts folder first (select all, drag or cut and paste). To create a Contact Group, open a new group then click the Members button. Select the contacts. You can also create a list view in Suggested contacts that shows only the email addresses, select all then paste into the members field. Instructions are here - http://www.slipstick.com/tutorial/how-to-create-a-distribution-list-from-a-list-of-addresses/

  2. Alex Davidson

    Do you know of a way I can 'import' a bunch of addresses into a bunch of people's AutoComplete .NK2 file?


    1. Diane Poremsky

      Depending on your version of Outlook, you can add the addresses to a new message and save it to drafts. Otherwise, one of the tools at understanding nk2 should do it.

  3. anitahorowitz

    How do I move contacts from suggested contacts to my icloud contacts? Or move any contact from one list to the other?

    1. Diane Poremsky

      Select and drag. To move all, select all (Ctrl+A) and drag - right click drag for move or copy options. You can also use the move to folder (or copy to folder) command.

  4. Jim Fouss

    still not sure how to remove the suggested contacts folder -- keeps popping up when I just want contacts folder in my address book

    1. Diane Poremsky

      You can disable the ability to create suggested contacts and disable it as an address book, but deleting it is harder. See How to Hide or Delete Outlook's Default Folders. Hiding is better than deleting as Outlook doesn't seem inclined to unhide it.

  5. John Reidhar

    If you want to add all of your contacts to this list, open a new message and click To. Select all addresses and add them to the message. Close the message without sending and the addresses should come up when you start typing.

    Worked for me.

  6. Pete Nayler

    All of my clients use autocomplete. When I upgrade their computers, I either move the NK2 file or know that Suggested Contacts will save their addresses. Now that they are using Outlook 2013, which has neither of these features, how do I restore autocomplete?

    1. Diane Poremsky

      Outlook 2013 has a dat file, Stream_Autocomplete_*.dat. It's in %localappdata%\Microsoft\Outlook\RoamCache. You should be able to restore it if you change the file name ot match the new one, or use a utility to recover the names - some of the NK2 utilities can read it (i like the one from nirsoft).

  7. Pete Nayler

    So another step backwards for Microsoft. The Office pre-2010 NK2 file was in the %appdata% folder, and Office 2010 Suggested Contacts folder was stored in the mailbox itself. Now to migrate settings fully, we have to grab a file out of %localappdata%.... a file that has proven to be far less reliable than NK2, and harder to identify as well.

    1. Diane Poremsky

      I wouldn't necessarily say it was a step backwards - the dat file is not as fragile and there are less problems with it. Suggested Contacts folder is gone, but that feature seemed to go over like a lead balloon - many people hated it, so they removed it. Because the stream is less likely to become corrupted, suggested contacts is not needed as backup to the autocomplete cache.

  8. Pete Nayler

    Whilst I agree that Suggested Contacts wasn't ideal, at least it aggregated contacts into the mailbox. Only one file to deal with, if at all - in the case of an Exchange server. Every single one of my clients use autocomplete and every single one of them need it transferred when they change computers. Outlook 2010 made that simple. It's just the method of implementation that was clunky. It was tough for people to fix if the autocomplete cache was corrupted - but I only came across that once or twice. Definitely a step backwards, in my opinion.

    1. Diane Poremsky

      In the new autocomplete, its stored in the mailbox as a hidden file and cached in the stream dat file. The mailbox copy should travel with the account - when an exchange mailbox is opened on another computer, autocomplete works - no need to mess with the file.

  9. Pete Nayler

    OK that's good news. Do you think I can find that information anywhere? Documentation is strangely lacking (or at least, very hard to find).

    1. Diane Poremsky

      I'm not sure it's well documented - if it is, it's probably in MSDN. I'll see what i can find.

  10. Pete Nayler

    Thanks Diane, I'm not particularly fussed about you finding it for me, but I would think that it should be documented given the importance of the feature for most users and consultants.

  11. Travis

    Excellent Instructions!!!

  12. Bryan

    How do I delete the old Suggested Contacts address book from showing up in Outlook 2013?

    1. Diane Poremsky

      You can delete the entire folder if using Outlook 2013. If you want to keep the folder but remove it as an address book, right click on it and choose Properties, then Outlook Address Book tab. Untick the option to display as an address book.

  13. Bryan

    The problem though is that it doesn't show up as a folder but only as an address book. How do I get it to show up as a folder or just delete the address book? Thanks

    1. Diane Poremsky

      That's odd. It should be in the folder list and if enabled as an address book, be listed when you click To in a message or click the Address book command. It's not anywhere in the folder list? (use Ctrl+6 to open the folder list, click the Mail link or icon to get out of it)

  14. Bryan

    The Ctrl+6 shortcut worked! I can now see it in the folders list but I still can't see it on the Contact/People page in the list of contact folders. I'm not sure why? By the way, I recently upgraded from Outlook 2010 to 2013. Thanks for your help.

    1. Diane Poremsky

      Suggested contacts is a feature that was new to outlook 2010 and widely hated. I'm not sure why its not on the contact page - but Outlook 2013 doesn't create suggested contacts so you could go through the contacts in it and either move them to contacts or delete them then delete the folder.

  15. Bryan

    Thanks. I've made a copy of them as an Archive folder.

  16. Rick McCormick

    We want to use the Offline Address Book as our primary Address book for our company which uses Outlook 2013 from Office 365. Is there a way to add the Offline Address Book to the Contacts folder? Clicking the 'Address Book' in the toolbar does not show mobile phone numbers until you go into the properties of a user and then go to Phone / Mobile which is kind of a lot of clicks just to get to the person's mobile phone number.

    1. Diane Poremsky

      You can add the GAL contacts to Outlook contacts but it's not automated - however, once added, one feature of the social connector is to keep the contacts updated if the gal entry changes.

      You can select several GAL entries, right click and Add to Contacts. I don't know if there is an optimal number to do at a time - but it might be slow to do the entire gal at once. :) The duplicate contact checker will popup if there is a match, so it's not something you can start before a meeting and let run unattended, unless you turn Check for duplicates off.

      There are a couple of utilities here that might be able to automate it.

  17. Hugh

    Can you change the default State and/or Country that is used in Contacts? I am doing business in the USA but live in Canada. It is defaulting every contact to Canada and I have to go in and change it. Would be much easier if it defaulted to the USA. Any suggestions are appreciated.


    1. Diane Poremsky

      it picks up the default from Windows settings.
      Phone default: Control panel, Phone and modem.
      Address Default: Control panel > Region (or Regional, the name varies with windows). The Formats tab sets the country, and outlook uses this for the address default.

  18. Tang Chanrith

    thank you very much

  19. Rick McCormick

    We use Office 365 email. We all have multiple devices that sync contacts to the Office 365. Many of us have mysteriously lost contacts. Is there a way to backup our Contacts folder on a regular basis to somewhere other than Office 365 so that if a device connected to Office 365 accidentally deletes a Contact there is a way to get that Contact back? Thank you.

    1. Diane Poremsky

      You can export them to a pst file regularly, which is generally a good idea every now and again anyway.

  20. Rick McCormick

    Thank you Diane.

    Getting users to do backups is like .... well, lets say, not so reliable. What is another way, that does not involve the user, that I can get Contact backups on a regular basis? Have you heard of a powershell command that can do it? We, as systems administrators, have access to all Office 365 accounts.

    Thank you.

  21. Rick McCormick

    Hi Diane,

    This is wonderful to be getting a reply from you.

    Using a Powershell to export to a csv would be fantastic. I would do this once a month for all users. Getting contacts and autocomplete would be ideal. Do you know the syntax for such a powershell command?

    I am already copying the .dat file for the autocomplete per user per login (example: Stream_Autocomplete_0_.dat) however my goal is to have something in readable fashion.

    Thanks very much.

  22. anderson

    thank you soooo much it worked

  23. Kai

    Hi, what happened to the good old CTRL + K?? When I type that the contact don't come up anymore. Thanks! Is there any other shortcut now?

  24. Rick McCormick

    Hi Diane,

    Did you ever find an answer to my request? - from Rick McCormick January 5, 2015 at 4:09 pm ?

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