Outlook Address Books

In this article I'll talk a bit about the various Outlook Address Books, what they're used for and how to manage them.  It's going to be a work in progress so check back from time to time as I add content.

Let's start with something new to Office 2010...

Suggested Contacts

The Suggested Contacts folder in Outlook 2010 is sort of a catch-all for misfit addresses that don't (yet) have a home somewhere else. 

In early versions of Microsoft Outlook if you sent an e-mail to an address that wasn't in any of your other address books (Notably Contacts, the Global Address List (GAL) or the Personal Address Book (PAB)) it was just a one-off and it would vanish when you clicked Send.  Outlook 2002 introduced the Nickname file (.NK2), which feeds Outlook's AutoComplete feature, where those addresses would be captured, for a while.  But that file isn't enduring, it has a limit of 1000 addresses.  So, eventually, the oldest addresses will be pushed off that list by newer ones.

With Outlook 2010 they've added the "Suggested Contacts" folder.  Now when you type a new e-mail address in a message that address will get added to the Suggested Contacts folder where two things happen:

  1. It's preserved indefinitely.  You can delete it from there if you like, but it won't expire from that folder.
  2. It becomes part of the Outlook Address Book which means that while addresses in Suggested Contacts don't get offered up as part of AutoComplete (which suggests addresses as you type) but do get used to AutoResolve addresses.  Type the name of somebody in Suggested Contacts and Outlook will, eventually, resolve that name to the e-mail address, just as it resolves names in your Contacts folder or GAL.

Couple of things you need to be aware of with Suggested Contacts though...

  1. An address will only get added to Suggested Contacts if it's not already in one of your other address books such as Contacts, etc.
  2. If you delete an item from Suggested Contacts, it's NOT deleted from the Nickname cache (which still exists in a new form; we'll get to that shortly).
  3. If you reply to an e-mail from somebody not in your Outlook Address Book (Suggested Contacts, Contacts and GAL, at least) they will also get added to Suggested Contacts.
  4. If you want to add additional information to a Suggested Contact you can - it's just a contacts folder - but you would probably be better served to drag and drop that item to the regular Contacts folder and do it there.
  5. When you first install Outlook 2010 it will import the items from your existing Nickname cache (.NK2) file (if you have one) into Suggested Contacts.

Want to change the order of how address books are checked? See our article on how to do that.

Nickname Cache

Outlook 2002 introduced the Nickname file (.NK2) as a way to AutoComplete addresses, especially handy for addresses you've e-mailed to before but which don't exist in your Outlook Address Book (Contacts and Global Address list, at least).

With Outlook 2010 the .NK2 file is gone, at least in its traditional format.  When you upgrade to Outlook 2010 it will import your old .NK2 file into a hidden message in the Inbox. The data is still there, it's just not stored in a separate file anymore.  And just like always, when you send an e-mail that address will be cached in the Nickname file so that Outlook can offer it to you as an AutoComplete entry when you start to type it in an address field. 

Managing the Cache

Managing the Nickname cache is easier in Outlook 2010 too.  In previous versions deleting a single address from the file meant when you saw that address you wanted to delete you'd use your keyboardDeleting an address from AutoComplete (NOT your mouse!) to highlight the address from the AutoComplete list then press Delete.  In Outlook 2010 when you see the AutoComplete list it has a delete "X" on the right end of each address.  You can click that "X" and the address will be deleted from the Nickname cache. 

In earlier versions of Outlook clearing the entire cache file meant finding and deleting (or renaming) the .NK2 file.  Outlook would create a new, empty, one for you the next time it started up. In Outlook 2010 you can just go to File | Options | Mail and if you scroll about 2/3 of the way down the dialog box you'll find "Empty Auto-Complete List" which will...well...empty the list.

HOWEVER...deleting one or more addresses from the Nickname cache DOES NOT delete it from the Outlook Address Book, which means the address(es) may well still exist in Suggested Contacts (or Contacts or GAL or ) so if you really want this address gone your housekeeping may not be finished.

Two things to know about this file...
  1. It's still limited to 1000 addresses.  Once you hit 1001, the oldest address gets dropped out.
  2. In Outlook 2010, since this information is now stored as a hidden message in your mailbox, you no longer have to worry about backing it up separately (if you care).  When you backup your mailbox, you're backing up the Nickname cache too.

The Contacts Folder

The venerable Contacts folder doesn't really need a lot of explanation. It's the main repository for Outlook Contact information. 

One of the more common questions regarding the Contacts folder is that folks don't see the contacts in it when they go to address an e-mail message.  The most common reason for this is that it hasn't been selected as an e-mail address book.  To solve that, right-click the Contacts folder, select Properties and then Outlook Address Book.  There's a checkbox there that says "Show as e-mail address book".  Make sure it's checked.

If it's greyed out that could mean you don't actually HAVE an Outlook address book in your profile.  To fix that, go to Tools | Account Options (in Outlook 2003 or 2007)  and on the Address Books tab make sure that Outlook Address Book is there.  If it is, delete it.  Then create a new one by clicking Add.

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