To Make Automatic Reply Rules

Last reviewed on December 30, 2013

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.

Notes

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).

Tools

Auto-Mate

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, 2913. Now available for Outlook 2010/2013 64-bit.

Email Responder

Email Responder plugin for Microsoft Outlook is an out of office assistant. Auto reply with email away message templates. Change your status and out of office reply templates remotely. Change your free-busy status manually (Away, Out of Office, Vacation, Tentative, Custom) or use your MS Outlook Calendar or Windows Live Messenger availability status. Auto response to selected Contacts or Distribution lists only. Enable MS Outlook auto forward. Version 2.20

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.

MailRules

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.

Written by

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.

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