Last reviewed on October 2, 2014   —  27 Comments

Using Microsoft Outlook, you can create rules to reply automatically to incoming messages with the Rules Wizard and Out of Office Assistant.

If you don’t use an Exchange server mailbox, you can create automatic reply rules using Rules Wizard but will need to leave Outlook open and collecting email. For this reason, it’s usually better to create automatic reply rules on your email server, if supported.

Out of Office Assistant | Outlook 2000 or 2002 Rules Wizard with Exchange Server | Other Rules Wizard Configurations | Inbox Assistant | Exchange Server Script | Notes | More Information

Using Out-of-Office Reply without Exchange

We are often asked:

“Can I create an “out of office” message if I’m not on a Microsoft Exchange server?”

Yes, you can do it using a rule that replies using a specific template, but it’s often better to set up a “vacation reply” on your email server. (Many POP3 and IMAP mail servers support this.)

  1. Create the template. If using Outlook 2003 or earlier, you need to use the Outlook editor to create the template. (Tools, Options, Mail format – uncheck option to use word as the editor or go to the Actions menu and choose new message using… Microsoft Outlook.)
  2. Save the template then create a rule to reply using a template and select your template.

This will only reply to email after Outlook downloads mail. This means you need to leave your computer turned on and Outlook needs to connect to the Internet regularly to check for new mail. It’s much easier and safer to set up an automatic reply on your mail server, if your server supports it. (Many do.) Look for the option to create a “vacation reply”, as this is the common terminology used on many servers.

To use a Run a script rule to emulate an Out of Office reply, see Run a Script Rule: Send a new message when a message arrives or Run a script rule: Autoreply using a template . Using run a script will send a reply with every message that meets the condition of the rule.

Using Automatic Replies with Exchange Server

An Exchange server administrator can control automatic replies to Internet addresses:

“I set a rule in Outlook to send an auto response email when any email arrives. This is working fine for internal emails and when I send an email from my another corporate account an auto reply is sent. But when I test it using a Gmail account, I don’t receive a response in my Gmail account. “

This is typical behavior with Exchange accounts. Most administrators have automatic replies to Internet addresses blocked on the Exchange server. To check the settings, the administrator will look at the default remote domain in Exchange Management Console (under Organization Configuration > Hub Transport). The administrator can create remote domains for domains that should receive automatic replies.

Sending Multiple Autoreplies to One Address

Outlook sends just one automatic reply to an address until it is closed and restarted. Outlook does this to prevent a mail loop, where it and the recipient’s email client send automatic replies back and forth until one side stops, often because one mailbox is full or the mail server crashes.

If you need to send replies to all messages you receive, you’ll need to find another solution or use a macro or add-in. If you need to use a rule, use a “run a script” rule.

Out of Office Assistant

OOA is available only if you connect to Microsoft Exchange Server. It sends a response (just once) to each message sent to you and also executes other rules that you set up in OOA. Always fill in the response text; otherwise, your correspondents will receive a blank message in return.

If you are using OOA, be sure to keep a list of all the mailing lists you have subscribed to, so that you can either unsubscribe or change your list settings so that you receive no message from the list while you have OOA turned on. It’s rude to send OOA messages to mailing lists.

Also see:

Outlook 2000 Rules Wizard with Exchange Server

Outlook 2000 and 2002 include a Have server reply action that allows you to build server-based reply rules. When you create such a rule, Outlook prompts you to create the reply message as part of the process. This reply message is saved in your Exchange Server mailbox. See:

Other Outlook Configurations with Rules Wizard

Before creating a reply rule, you need an Outlook template file containing the text and subject of the reply. To create the template, make sure that you are not use Word as your e-mail editor (Tools | Options | Mail Format), because WordMail does not allow you to save messages as Outlook templates. Create a new Outlook message, then add your own subject and text. You can also add Bcc and Cc addresses. Then use File | Save As to save it as an Outlook template .oft file.

When you create your reply, you’ll be asked to specify the location of the reply template — that’s your .oft file.

Several issues on Rules Wizard replies in such configurations:

  • Rules Wizard replies are a client-only function, because they depend on the .oft file. If you use Exchange Server and want replies to run from the server, you must disable Rules Wizard and use Inbox Assistant instead.
  • Only one reply per address is sent, no matter how many times someone sends to you. This means that Rules Wizard replies actually work like the Out of Office Assistant replies. However, it also means that, when you’re testing reply rules by sending to yourself, you must exit Outlook and then restart. Otherwise, after the first test, you won’t see any replies to other messages you send yourself.
  • If you want the replies to go out automatically, say while you’re on vacation, you need to leave Outlook running and make sure that it is set up to send and receive messages automatically.

Inbox Assistant

To use Inbox Assistant, you must disable Rules Wizard and use Inbox Assistant instead.

When you create a reply rule with Inbox Assistant, you will be prompted to create the reply message as part of the process. This reply message is saved in your Exchange Server mailbox.

Exchange Server Script

Another reply method available only with Exchange Server is a server-side script on the mailbox’ Inbox folder. See Automatic Message Responding Script for a sample script.


The Folder Assistant for Exchange Server public folders, found on the folder’s Properties dialog, can create many of the same types of rules as Inbox Assistant.

In an Exchange Server environment, automatic forwarding and replies to the Internet may be disabled at the server level. Consult your Exchange administrator if automatic replies are working to internal recipients, but not those one the Internet. See:

Replies are sent to the original sender of the message. Outlook ignores any Reply To address. See:

In Outlook 98 and Outlook 2000 in Corporate/Workgroup mode, automatic replies are not saved to the Sent Items folder.

Outlook provides no way to quote the original text of a message in an automatic reply rule. For that, we have used Email Templates, which can operate in rules as a custom action (except in Outlook 2002).



Auto-Mate is an Outlook utility that allows you use define rules to move mail from your Inbox (or other folders) based on several criteria, including the age of the message. While Outlook rules only run as messages are downloaded or when you click Run Rules now, Auto-Mate rules run on a schedule, enabling you to apply rules to messages that have been in your Inbox for a given number of hours, days or weeks. Available in Standard or Pro Version. Supports Outlook 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013. Now available for Outlook 2010/2013 64-bit.

Email Responder

Email Responder for Microsoft Outlook is an out-of-office assistant. Auto reply with away message templates; change your status and reply templates remotely. Change your free-busy status according to your Calendar or your Skype availability status. Choose which Calendar to use for the status. Turn on or off Email Responder status according to a schedule. Choose contacts to automatically reply to or do not auto reply to emails containing custom keywords in the email subject. Windows 8 and Outlook 2013 support. Ver. 2.30

Email Templates

Exchange/Outlook add-on to create custom replies, forwards, signatures -- inserting any type of boilerplate text into your message. Templates are stored in Outlook or Exchange folders and can contain scripting elements (in VBScript or ET's own script language) to build replies that use information from the incoming message. Various extensions can handle such tasks as mailing list subscriptions. For a rotating quote, download the Rotating Text template. Has some issues with Outlook 2002 -- make sure you get the latest update, disable RTF templates, and don't try to use ET as a custom action in Rules Wizard.


Integrates with Outlook to apply rules for inbound and outbound e-mail. Rules can be scheduled and can update data, route mail, run applications, and perform other functions. Can also schedule report deliveries.

Outlook Rules Manager

Mail organiser for Outlook to replace the built-in Rules Wizard. Offers unlimited rule capacity (only limited by your computer hardware), quick folder find, attachment renaming, and Bayesian antispam mail filtering.

More Information


  1. Pam says

    How do you reply in outlook without the other person message in the body. Is it possible? We just switch over to outlook and were all trying to firgure this out. Thank you!

    • Diane Poremsky says

      If you want to reply and not include the quoted message, go to File, Options, Mail. About halfway down is a section for Replies and Forwards. You want to use "Do not include original message." In older versions of Outlook, it's in Tools, Options, Email options. Screenshots of these dialogs are at the end of Can I use my own stationery in replies?

  2. Kelly Stewar says

    When creating an email to be sent to a large group of people is there setting/option to not recieve automated replies to that message?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      No, sorry, Outlook and Exchange do not have that option. You can create a rule to delete the OOF messages - not quite the same but it will get rid of the out of office messages.

  3. Pete says

    Hi, i want to make a reply filter, for ebay.... and the email addresses of my customers are in the body in the emails from ebay... how can i make a autorespone to the email addresses in the body ?

  4. Michael says

    hi, i want to be able to forward an email immediately and automatically upon receipt from one or two specific email addresses, including the attachments (excel) to the original message.
    the current rule settings/wizard allow me to specify the original sender and recipients of the messages, but I have still to 'run' the rules in my inbox. this is timeconsuming and seems to duplicate messages already forwarded in the past.
    How can I set this to automatically, and immediately, forward newly received messages and their attachments upon receipt?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      What type of email account? Rules should run as mail arrives, although if you use IMAP, they won't run unless you download the entire message body.

      If you need to use Run Rules now, you should move or categorize the messages that are forwarded. If you move them, the rule won't touch them - if you categorize them, you can set an exception to skip those messages.

  5. Fidel says

    Hi Diane, on auto reply emails for Outlook server side configuration, is there a way to send custom subject line and email body? My Outlook administrator could not find a way to do a custom subject line but he can customize the email body. The auto-reply always contained the same subject line as the original message.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      No, sorry, default reply can't be customized. You can click Rules button and Reply with template, and use a custom subject in that reply.

  6. Fidel says

    Thank you. Is there a way to send an automatic reply the will not contain any history - so both subject line and body will be customized using a template?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You can use a rule in Outlook that replies using a template or a macro to send a template. What type of email account do you use?

  7. Lukasz says

    Hello Diane,
    Is there an option to use auto response option, but different based on sender e-mail address? For example: I need to have different auto replies for each e-mail domain, different for etc. I can't provide specific e-mail address, only domain.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      Are you using Rules or or Exchange server's out of office? You can do it either way - oof supports rules or you'll use multiple rules in the rules wizard.

  8. David Sweeney says


    Maybe my question is already answered, but I am having the server send an auto response but I need to retain the subject line. People keep replying to my auto response but now any references they included in the original message are stripped off by my auto response. Clear as mud?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      No, i don't think it's been answered. :) If you use Exchange and if you create a rule to have the server reply using a specific template, then leave the subject field blank in the template, the reply will use the same subject. However, it only sends one message per sender during an Outlook session (close & restart to create a new session). If you don't use Exchange, you can use a macro to reply with the same subject.

  9. Michelle says

    Are you aware of any options for someone who would like to use auto reply but cannot leave the computer and email up and running? I am often away from the office for 4 days at a time but canot leave the computer running.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      Many email servers offer an autoreply feature - look for it in your webmail. Some servers call it Vacation Reply.

  10. Wanda Thompson says

    I have set up an auto reply for all incoming emails. It was working great, until one of the senders changed the email address to name in their address book. There is no auto reply to that one sender, the rest is still working correctly. Any suggestions? Using Outlook 10-not an exchange account. Thank you in advance.

  11. Alison says

    Is there a way to set up automatic reply for part time employees? I would like to set up a reply that says I am out of the office on the days I do not work.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You can set up an autoreply whether full or part time. You'll need to reset it each time you work - you can set it to run all the time except for Monday and Wednesday, for example.

      Are you using Exchange server mailbox or a POP3 or IMAP account?

  12. William Meeks says

    I have a user who is wants to setup autoreply. Is there a way to setup autoreply for specific senders, wthout letting them know that immediate response they are getting is not an autoreply like Out of the Office reply, but a response to an email they sent with a preformed email template.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You can use a rule to send a reply using a template or you could use a run a script rule. Run a script requires Outlook be open to run it, reply using a template should work with Outlook closed if you are using Exchange server. Run a script rules will fire for every message from an address, reply using a template is limited to one reply until Outlook is restarted.
      Reply using a Run a script rule

  13. Luke says

    Hi Diane
    Is there a way on outlook that you can set a rule to automatically reply to an email with a set template, based off what is in the subject?
    Or if not is there a way to do it with any other email system like Gmail, Hotmail etc.

    Thank you in advance.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You can use Rules that look for words in the subject and reply with a template or you can use a run a script rule to send the reply using a template.

  14. James says

    Hi Diane

    Using Outlook 2007 I have a rule that will auto reply via "have server reply using a specific message" option. Works fine, but I'd like it to reply ALL, to include all cc'd recipients. Can it be done on 2007? If not is there a later release that allows this?

    Many thanks


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