Using Outlook Links

Last reviewed on July 18, 2013   —  19 comments

Microsoft Outlook includes several ways to quickly view the information you need — through hyperlinks in messages and other items, the Outlook Bar and shortcuts. Here is a collection of tips and how-tos for making these work for you.

Tips: If the file path or URL contains a space, you may need to use %20 in place of the space for the link to work. For example, instead of entering outlook:Inbox\Spam list, you would enter outlook:Inbox\Spam%20list

Some characters, such as #, may not work. You’ll need to use the hex code to replace those characters. You can get the hex codes from Window’s Character Map (Start menu, Run type charmap) or Word’s Symbol dialog. Reference lists are also available on the Internet, including Wikipedia’s ASCII printable characters.

Outlook 2007 does not register the Outlook:// protocol so these shortcuts will only work within Outlook. See Outlook 2007 and the Missing Outlook:// Protocol for more information and the fix.

Outlook 2007 does not support XNK links by default, See .XNK Extension error: “Cannot Open File” for more information and a fix.

For the hyperlink error message “This operation has been cancelled due to restrictions in effect on this computer. Please contact your system administrator.” , see This operation has been cancelled due to restrictions in effect…

Hyperlinks | Outlook Bar | Shortcuts | File Shortcuts | Offline Calendar Access
Tools | More Information

Hyperlinks

Any Internet address that you type into an Outlook message or other item becomes a hotlink that other Outlook users can use to get quickly to that resource.

For messages sent to non-Outlook users, the recipients’ e-mail software determines whether the links are hot or not. Most e-mail software today supports hotlinks.

When you use plain text format or the Outlook editor, just typing an Internet e-mail address (such as invalid@slipstick.com) or www.microsoft.com does not create a hotlink that Outlook users can click on; you need to use the fully qualified URL with the mailto: or http:// prefix.

In current versions of Outlook and when using HTML email format, email addresses should be converted to clickable hyperlinks provided you press the spacebar or Enter after typing or pasting the address.

Outlook folders and items can also be added as hyperlinks in messages and other items. See the MSKB article Using Hyperlinks to Access Outlook Folders and Items. Angle brackets <> around the hyperlink are required. Some examples:

Folder in your default folders

<Outlook:Sent Items>

Folder in another user’s mailbox that you have added to the Microsoft Exchange Server service in your profile

<Outlook://Mailbox - Mary Conrad/Sent Items>

Folder in another set of Personal Folders that have been added to your profile

<Outlook://Jan 97 Archive/Sent Items>

Public folder

<Outlook://Public Folders/All Public Folders/Getting Started Guide>

Item in a folder (note the tilde ~ in front of the specific item name)

<Outlook:Contacts/~Anglo-American School>

Any item

<Outlook:entryID>
where entryID is the long ID associated with the item

There is one significant limitation to this technique: If you don’t see a folder in the Folder List, you can’t open it with an Outlook hyperlink. In particular, you can’t use hyperlinks to open other users’ folders that are available to you through the File | Open Special Folder | Exchange Server Folder command. You need to use an alternative method, listed below under Shortcuts.

Outlook Linker is a free tool that creates the link text for you, ready for pasting into a message or document.

If you create a link like this as a Windows shortcut — for example, on the desktop — you can then drag it to the Outlook Bar. This is an effective way to open an individual Outlook item directly from the Outlook Bar.

Also see:

Outlook Bar

The Outlook Bar is a collection of shortcuts to folders — either Outlook folders or system folders — and, in Outlook 2000, to individual files and web pages. In Outlook 97 and 98, you cannot put shortcuts to individual items or files on the Outlook Bar; see Shortcuts for another way to approach this.

You cannot add to the Outlook Bar any shortcuts for Outlook folders that you don’t see in the Folder List. In other words, if you open John’s Calendar folder with the File | Open Special Folder | Exchange Server Folder command, you cannot add it to the Outlook Bar. Instead, use the alternative method listed below under Shortcuts.

You can, however, add John’s Calendar folder to the Outlook Bar if you have added John’s mailbox to your profile (Tools | Services | Microsoft Exchange Server |Advanced). John, of course, must first give you permission to access his folder, and must also give you at least Folder Visible permission on the top level of the mailbox. Otherwise, you won’t be able to see John’s folders in the Folder List.

To reorder the Outlook Bar icons, just click and drag any icon to a new location. If you drag it over the bar for another group, that group will open.

The Outlook Bar icons are incredibly useful as destinations to drag other items to. If you right-drag (drag with the right mouse button held down), then release the mouse button, you’ll see a menu of different options, depending on the type of folder you’re dragging to.

Also see:

Shortcuts

The Outlook Email Security Update prevents users from opening shortcut files, so some of these techniques may no longer work in the latest Outlook versions.

Let’s start out with the basics of creating Outlook item shortcuts:

To create a new Outlook item that includes a shortcut to another Outlook item:

  1. Use the right mouse button to click on the item that you want to create a shortcut for, and drag it to the folder where you want to create the new item.
  2. Release the mouse button, and, from the pop-up menu that appears, choose Copy Here as <type of new item> with Shortcut.

To add a Outlook item shortcut to an existing Outlook item:

  1. Open the item, and click in the body of the item (where you’d type notes or message text).
  2. Choose Insert | Item.
  3. Select Insert as Shortcut.
  4. Select the item you want to add, then click OK.

Under Hyperlinks, you saw how to create an Outlook folder hyperlink, but learned that these work only for folders visible in the Folder List. There is a different type of folder shortcut, called an Exchange Shortcut, that can be used to open any folder for which you have permission, whether it’s in the Folder List or not. These shortcut files are similar to Windows file shortcuts, but are saved with an .xnk extension.

To create a folder shortcut as an .xnk file:

  1. Drag the folder from the Folder List in Outlook to your Windows desktop to create the shortcut.
  2. (optional) Right-click the shortcut on the desktop, then choose Rename and give it a more descriptive name. For example, if Albert dragged his Calendar folder to the desktop, he might want to rename the shortcut "Albert’s Calendar."

Exchange Shortcut exampleThese .xnk shortcuts (see example at left) can be distributed as file attachments to people you want to be able to open particular folders from your Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox. Remember that the File | Open Special Folder | Exchange Server Folder command lets you open only certain Outlook folders for other users. You might want to make it easy for someone to open your Sent Items folder, for example, without forcing them to add your entire mailbox to their profile. To do this, grant permissions for your Sent Items folder, create a Sent Items shortcut using the .xnk technique, then e-mail the shortcut to everyone who has permission to open the Sent Items folder.

Also see:

.XNK Extension error: “Cannot Open File” if using Outlook 2007.

A real benefit of this technique is improved privacy for your mailbox. You do not need to grant the Reviewer role to the mailbox root (required if people are going to add your mailbox to their profile) just so people can get to your Sent Items folder. Instead, send them a shortcut.

Taken one step further, you can use .xnk shortcuts to address the problem of quickly viewing all the calendars for everyone on your team. Here’s my method:

To get quick access to team calendars:

  1. Have each member of the team grant appropriate permissions for the Calendar folder.
  2. Have each member of the team drag the Calendar folder to the desktop to create a Calendar.xnk shortcut, then rename it with their own name (John’s Calendar, Abigail’s Calendar, etc.) and e-mail it to you. (Or, you could make the team members responsible for putting the shortcuts in a system or Exchange Server public folder, as described in steps 4 and 5.)
  3. Create a system folder on your local drive to hold the shortcuts. You might name it Team Calendars. If you want everyone on the team to use these shortcuts, either create the system folder on a network drive or create a public folder.
  4. If Team Calendars is a system folder, save the .xnk shortcuts, which were e-mailed to you as attachments, to that folder.
  5. If Team Calendars is a public folder, save the shortcuts to any system folder, then drag them into the public folder. You’ll probably want to change the view on the public folder so that it shows just the Subject field and maybe the Icon field.
  6. In Outlook, display the Folder List and drag the new folder to the Outlook Bar to create a shortcut there.

When you’re done, you should see something like this folder, where you can double-click any of the shortcuts to open a team member’s calendar in its own window. Notice that the Outlook Bar includes a Team Calendars shortcut to this folder:

Team Calendars folder example

As you may have guessed, putting shortcuts in an Outlook or system folder, then adding a shortcut that points to that folder is one way to get around the limitation of not being able to create Outlook Bar shortcuts for individual items. For example, you could place shortcuts to your Dial-Up Networking connections in a folder named DUN and add the DUN folder to the Outlook Bar to get quick access to all your DUN connections.

File Shortcuts

The Outlook Email Security Update prevents users from opening shortcut files, so they’re not as useful as they once were, unless you’re in an Exchange environment where the administrator has unblocked them. In Outlook 2002, when you’re creating a rich-text format message, you have an option to insert a file as a hyperlink, but this option is missing from HTML and plain text messages.

One workaround is to use the file:// URL syntax to point to a file. If this message is going to other people on your network, the link to a file named myfile.doc in a folder shared with the name OurFiles on a server named FileServer would look like this:

file://\\FileServer\OurFiles\myfile.doc>

Recipients should see it as a blue underlined hyperlink and be able to click on it to open the file, just as they would click on an http:// link to visit a Web page.

Also see:

Offline Calendar Access

While shortcuts make it easy to open colleagues’ calendars, they don’t help solve the problem of seeing those calendars when you are working offline. Outlook 2003 and up, using cached mode, will cache shared folders. In Outlook 2003 and 2007, only non-mail shared folders are cached; Outlook 2010 caches all folders. This feature can be enabled or disabled in the Exchange account’s More Settings dialog, on the Advanced tab.

Enable caching for shared folders to use them offlineTo check your cache setting, go to Tools, Account settings (File, Account settings in Outlook 2010). Double click on your Exchange account then click More Settings button and switch to the Advanced tab.

This screenshot is from Outlook, which supports caching all shared folders. In Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003, only non-mail folders are cached.

If you don’t use cached mode or use an older version of Outlook, if you need to see other users calendars while offline you’ll need to copy the calendar entries to either a folder in your own mailbox or a public folder; see Synchronize mailbox and Public Folders for some tools to assist with this.

Tools

Email-As-Link

A script to send links to files on shared network drives by email.

Mailto_URL

Context menu command for Internet Explorer 4.0 or later to work around the problems using IE's File | Send | Link by E-mail command. This command creates a new mail message containing the link as text. Follow the Readme.txt instructions to copy the file to your system and register the command.

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.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlookforums.

19 responses to “Using Outlook Links”

  1. len raphael

    before moving to exchange 2010, i was able to copy all of a users outlook folder shortcuts to their new machines or other machines on which they had outlook profiles, but going into usersusernameapp datalocal or roaming depending what kind of user microsoftoutlook and copy eithere the outlook.xml or usename.xml file to the new pc.

    now the only xml files i see with right dates are " -autodiscover.xml" files with long strings of numbers in front.

    i have a bunch of shortcuts to a bunch of multi level deep subfolders.

  2. M.Singh

    Is there a way to have an .xnk link to a public folder open in such a way that the navigation pane in Outlook will also move to the particular folder and show the subfolders?

  3. Amy M

    Thank you very much for this information, it was very useful to help one of my users.

  4. lenzi

    why are color codes washed out in the hard copy of calendar appointments using version 2010 outlook?

  5. Mr Trevor Lewis

    Being a computer dummy, I have tried leaving you Feedback but cannot find the Link, also I cannot sign in or out of my Outlook Express in-box, it is always open. I also want to activate my second email account, I have tried several times, but failed. Please believe me, I want to obey your rules, but I don't know how to. Any advise will be gratefully received. Thank you.

  6. GA Anderson

    In Outlook 2010, I created a 'signature' that has my email included. The signature has a logo in maroon but I also added my name and address above the logo (typed in the signature window) so this address will display even if a recipient has plain text on their computer. The issue is that in my 'typed in' address, I want my email address to stay in the dark gray color that the rest of the address is in and not change to a blue, underlined hyperlink. No link needed... just want the info there and I want the color it to match the rest of the address. How can I do that?

  7. Terry

    I cannot use Outlook 2013 embedded hyperlinks. It gives me an error and tells me to contact my helpdesk

  8. PB

    I would like to add a link to an Outlook Exchange (Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010 installed) folder into my Endnote - any idea how to do this? I tried to drag and drop the folder onto the desktop to create the shortcut, but that did not work (action was not allowed). Any advice would be welcome.

  9. juno

    Hi Diane, do you know what is the Outlook Protocol to open or create hyperlinks to Outlook items (open the items outside of Outlook) from a pdf document by any chance?

    I've tried and was able to open an Outlook item via hyperlink from a Word document but when I saved that document in pdf format, the same hyperlink wouldn't work. It just won't open the Outlook item.

    Any thoughts what I need to do?

    Thank you Diane.

  10. Chris Roux

    Hi Diane, I was wondering if you could help shed some light on an issue. I have an end user who wanted to disable the 'Protected View' from her Excel spreadsheets. So I looked online and found out how to do that: "In Excel go to File > Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings > Protected View, and then uncheck ‘Enabled Protected View for files originating from the Internet.' We also unchecked the ‘Enable Protected View for Outlook attachments’ as well as the 'Enable Protected View for files located in potentially unsafe locations.'. This appeared to work, with the following exception: when she opens a file from a hyperlink that is sent to her, it still opens with the Protected View on. Any thoughts? Not sure if it has to do with how hyperlinks are handled, or what...?
    Thanks for your time, -ccr.

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