Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Email Troubleshooting

Import/Export | winmail.dat | Outlook | Mac Mail | IMAP Issues | Gmail

Email tips and troubleshooting.

Dealing with Email Issues

If you have issues connecting with the Internet generally, you'll be unable to send or receive email. See Internet Connection Issues for troubleshooting tips.

See Computer Basics & Terminology for help with technical terms.

Email Security Issues

Email remains one of the most important forms of communications today. It is convenient and is now available “on the go” via your smart phone.

However, you don't want to jeopardize your mail, your security or trade your privacy for ease-of-use.

Obsolete Email Programs Dangerous

Do NOT use obsolete email programs like Windows Live Mail, Outlook Express or Eudora.

Security Protocols

Traditionally, email programs logged onto unsecured ports using only the user name and password for security, but later evolved to use other security measures to ensure the safe access to email on the server, particularly when sending mail.

Secure SSL/TLS Recommended

TLS encrypts data such as your username and password for delivery over the Internet to maintain security and privacy.

SSL is not as secure as TLS but provides better protection than using unsecured connections.

Secure SSL/TLS settings using dedicated ports (such as IMAP on Port 993 or POP3 on Port 995) are recommended rather than Non-SSL settings on regular ports (IMAP on Port 143 or POP3 on Port 110).

Your ISP and/or email provider will have documentation on which of these protocols are available to you. Use the most secure protocol supported by the server and your email program.

Using HTTPS is strongly recommended for your webmail service, particularly where you're sharing public WiFi like in a coffee shop.

Program Vulnerabilities

Email programs have a number of recognized vulnerabilities which will depend upon the program and the platform (operating system) you are running it on. Those that wish to avoid spam (unsolicited junk email) should avoid software with these challenges.

Internet Explorer for Viewing Messages

Some Windows email programs use Internet Explorer components for displaying images and HTML (styled) messages. These programs are subject to the same vulnerabilities that Internet Explorer has.

Remote Images

If a remote image (one not attached to the email, but downloaded from the sender's server) is automatically displayed you risk the fact that the sender might be tracking whether the image is downloaded to your computer.

Some spammers use an identifiable image to determine which users actually open the mail in order to verify whether an email address is valid and if the message is read.

More recent email programs such as The Bat! and Thunderbird disable the downloading of images by default to protect you from this risk.

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Importing/Exporting Mail, Contacts & Settings

When changing email programs, you'll want to import the mail, contacts and settings from the old program to the new one.

Many programs will import this information from the most common current programs and even a few of the older ones.

  • Thunderbird can natively import/export address books, mail and settings in a number of formats.
  • Pocomail and Barca can natively export address books in a number of formats but only exports mail to outdated RFC822 formats so you'll need to use one of the third-party programs. See Exporting PocoMail's Mail, Contacts and Settings.
  • The Bat! imports and exports email messages in .MSG, .EML and UNIX mailbox formats and now supports Exchange Web Services (EWS) protocol. See Moving to The Bat! for help moving from Pocomail.
  • Outlook see Outlook Resources for help in importing/exporting with Outlook.
  • Outlook Express see Exporting From Outlook Express.

Third-Party Import/Export Programs

However, many (like Pocomail and Barca) might need an intermediary program when moving to a more recent email client.

These programs match the format of the data from program you're exporting from and convert it to the one you're importing this information into.

  • Aid4Mail MBOX Converter (free edition) converts mbox-type mailboxes to EML files.
  • Aid4Mail (from US$19.95) is an easy-to-use migration tool that can also archive mail.

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Dealing with "winmail.dat" Attachments

If you receive a message with an attached file called winmail.dat you probably will be unable to open it.

Invisible to Outlook Users

The winmail.dat is invisible to users of Outlook and Outlook Express, so such users may not know what you are referring to when you mention it to them.

Other email clients, like Thunderbird, Pocomail, or webmail programs can all send enhanced HTML-based email without any problems for the recipient. This issue is specific to Microsoft's email clients.

I recommend referring them to the documentation on this page so they can view an explanation and provide solutions:
https://www.russharvey.bc.ca/resources/mail-issues.html#winmail-dat

It's a Microsoft Format Issue

Microsoft email clients (particularly Outlook in earlier editions), use the proprietary TNEF to encode the enhanced (styled) portions of the message and sometimes attachments are encoded using TNEF.

If you have difficulty opening a messages sent by Outlook but don't see the winmail.dat attachment, it is still possible that TNEF is the issue.

TNEF provides special features which makes it useful within a network where all members are using Outlook, but this can create display issues for non-Microsoft email programs.

What Version of Outlook are You Running?

The solutions in this section vary by what version of Outlook you are using. Check Wikipedia for a history of the various versions of Outlook.

You can click on the Help menu then select About Outlook to determine what version you are using. Corporate users can contact their IT department for assistance.

It is strongly recommended that you do not use older versions of Outlook.

A Plain-Text-Only Solution

The easiest solution depends upon the person re-sending the message as a plain-text message. Any other formatting (including Rich Text Format, enhanced (HTML) or messages composed in MS Word) will create this problem for non-Outlook users unless you disable TNEF.

Disabling TNEF

In the following section you need to know what version of Outlook you're using because Microsoft changed its approach in Office 2003 (XP) and again with Office 2007.

For Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 or later follow these steps to turn off TNEF:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options, click the Mail Format tab.
  2. In the Compose in this message format list, click Plain Text or HTML, and then click OK.

Microsoft provides a more technical solution based upon external domains for Microsoft Exchange users that may help your IT department determine a solution for all addresses external to your network.

For Microsoft Office Outlook before 2007 follow these steps to turn off TNEF:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options, click the Mail Format tab.
  2. In the set the Send Format to either Plain Text or HTML. Do not select Rich Text format and be sure that you uncheck the "Use Microsoft Word to Edit Email Messages" box, then click OK.

Users of earlier versions of Outlook (97/2000) should simply send the message as plain text as any other formatting (including Rich Text or HTML format as well as messages composed in MS Word) will create this problem for non-Outlook users.

It is strongly recommended that you do not use older versions of Outlook — upgrade to a currently-supported version or move to a recommended email client.

Disable MS Word as Email Editor in Outlook XP or 2003

Unless you are exclusively sending messages within an internal department, Outlook 2002 (XP) and 2003 users will want to disable Microsoft Word as your default email editor because anyone not using Outlook or Outlook Express may be unable to read your message (or not as you intended).

To disable Microsoft Word as your default email editor in Microsoft Outlook:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options.
  2. Click on the Mail Format tab and uncheck the "Use Microsoft Word to edit email messages" box, then click OK.

Microsoft Documentation

Other Explanations

  • MozillaZine discusses TNEF for Thunderbird and other Mozilla email programs and provides some solutions.
  • Wikipedia's explanation of TNEF.
  • Wikipedia's history of the various versions of Outlook.

Third Party Solutions

Why it Matters

As you can imagine, most people will simply ignore your message or fret over their inability to view the winmail.dat attachment. Take a look at the suggestions in the Email Newsletters section for some ideas if you are sending out regular updates of any kind to a variety of people.

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Outlook Resources

Microsoft Outlook is routinely used by business and governments, particularly in large corporate environments where capabilities for inter-office communication and project coordination are necessary.

Until more recently, Outlook was not as widely used by consumers because it is both complex and wasn't aimed at consumer requirements. However, Microsoft has included it with many Office products and more recently has promoted it for online sharing using free iOS and Android applications.

I Don't Support Outlook

If you decide to move to Outlook, be aware that I cannot provide the level of support I can with my recommended programs. I neither use nor recommend Outlook. It has given me more than its share of headaches and has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Using Outlook:

Backing Up Outlook:

Having difficulties with Outlook? Try these resources:

Utilities for Outlook:

  • The OutlookAddressBookView displays the details of all recipients stored in the address books of Microsoft Outlook.
  • Aid4Mail (from US$19.95) can migrate, archive and analyze the messages in all your email programs. It does this without modifying the original messages.

Moving to or from Outlook? These tips and guides will help you:

You may need to use a third-party import/export solution.

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Dealing with Mac Mail Issues

Apple MacIntosh users face similar issues than Windows users. These resources may help you to resolve them:

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IMAP Issues

Traditionally, people had only a single computer and downloaded all message to that one computer, storing important messages forever using POP/SMTP settings.

However things have changed.

We Want Anywhere Access

Today people want copies of their messages on their computer, laptop, smartphone and tablet.

Most ISPs (e.g. Shaw, Telus, Gmail, etc.) simply give people what they ask for, without explaining the issues or potential problems.

So they tell their customers to set up their email using IMAP.

I-Who?

IMAP, POP and SMTP are email protocols and important only when configuring email retrieval.

Once setup, email will be managed transparently if the settings are correct.

IMAP then mirrors the messages on the server AND on all IMAP-connected devices.

That means you have simultaneous access to your email on multiple computers and other devices — including sent messages.

Sounds perfect, doesn't it? But there are potential downsides if you're not careful.

The IMAP Downside

You need to understand how IMAP works and what is different from traditional POP/SMTP email protocols to understand what you're trading for that any time/everywhere access to all your mail.

IMAP Not Great for Archiving

Email clients using POP/SMTP downloaded email messages from the server and retained them indefinitely on our computers unless we manually delete them. This included copies of sent messages (but only on that one computer).

With IMAP, when you delete a message it deletes in on that device, the server and all other IMAP-connected devices.

So, you need to leave ALL your messages on the server, rather than deleting them from the server when they've successfully downloaded to your computer.

  • Most email accounts have limits on how much you can store on their servers.
  • Once you pass that limit the ISP may simply delete the oldest messages OR “bounce” all new incoming messages (often arbitrarily and without warning).
  • You can purchase extras storage, but some ISPs limit the amount of space you can purchase even though their costs to provide storage has greatly decreased.

Primary Account POP/SMTP

Set up and use a primary account (using POP/SMTP) so that you can retain your important email on your main computer — archiving important messages over the long term.

That primary account should NOT be an IMAP account.

Of course, you'll need to create regular backups of the mail on that computer in case of computer failures or viruses.

IMAP for Secondary Accounts Only

Use IMAP only on a secondary email account for messages on all your portable devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, secondary laptops).

You can still access the mail on your primary account on your remote devices provided this account is configured for POP/SMTP. You'll be able to access NEW message as long as the primary computer has not accessed them.

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Gmail Issues

Subscription Lists Broken

Gmail made changes that broke how subscription lists were dealt with. This created problems for people subscribed to lists.

What Happened?

Gmail changed how email subscriptions were sorted. The Primary category was designed so you could quickly find your most important emails easier.

Mail deemed less-important was moved into either the Social (Facebook notifications, etc.) or Promotions (bulk mail such as ads but also subscriptions, updates and more) categories.

Unfortunately, subscription lists and update notices were categorized as Promotions, along with “junk” ads.

How to Fix It

  1. Click on the Promotions tab and select messages you wish to go into your primary mailbox.
  2. Drag the selected message onto the Primary tab.
  3. A pop-up message will ask if you wish to do this for all future messages from the addressee of the dragged message. Say “Yes.”
  4. Continue to monitor the Promotions inbox to ensure that other messages aren't getting left behind.

Alternatively, you can turn off the new tabs completely by going to the settings, click on the Inbox tab and deselect the tabs you don't want to use (e.g. Promotions) then save the changes.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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www.RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/mail-issues.html
Updated: November 12, 2017