Help - IMAP Configuration gone bad

I set a new IMAP configuration through Outlook 2013 for one of my clients. He originally had a POP3 setup.

My client stated he was wasting allot of time updating his desktop Outlook after he made changes (read, delete, send, etc.) on his iphone, hence the move to IMAP.  

The transition was not easy! He had massive custom folders (including sub folders) under his inbox containing client emails over the years. He is basically keeping a history via his outlook. I ran into a ton of problems attempting to restore a PST backup to an OST IMAP account - too long to explain. At a certain point I was moving one folder at a time/counting emails. I finally got to the finish line. All the folders/emails were synced to the online email server.  As I'm about to report the great news, my client tells me he opened a suspicious word document which turned out to contain a virus.

So...I had to buy new drives , and perform a full restore of  recent backed up images. I bring the system back on line, it performs an outlook sync and proceeds to freeze up the on-line email server web account (purchased through a 3rd party vendor). I am now unable to access any folders, or emails either through the web interface (to a 3rd party email server) or through Outlook. I called up the 3rd party, who stated they will refresh their server. I await the results.

In hind sight, I feel like I should have kept those custom folders out of the sync process. At this point, it feels like a total mess.

How does the IMAP process know which direction to sync? In my scenario, the online email server had all the latest info, while the restored PC was out of date.

I am also confused on how IMAP handles calendar/contact data. It know it is not part of the sync process. How can I back up the calendar and contacts?

Can you do a backup and restore with IMAP, like you would with a PST ?

Do you have a better, global way to handle this move from POP3 to IMAP?
GeeMoonIT ConsultantAsked:
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nociSoftware EngineerCommented:
IMAP only stores mail.....
Calendar & contacts used to be some FTP or likewise transfer of files.  Nowadays CalDAV & CardDAV are used for this.

Nextcloud can handle this in a nice way including sharing of calendar, tasks & contacts maybe worth checking out.
Nextcloud has no native IMAP handling but has a plugin to access an IMAP server if needed.
GeeMoonIT ConsultantAuthor Commented:
Here is the current status.

It appears the restored Outlook Desktop account attempted to sync with the online email server. The desktop Outlook started showing error messages stating ' Failure - Directory doesn't exist'. I opened Outlook to discover that all emails, in all the custom folders are gone. I also noticed that Outlook created a new Outlook data folder/file account (within the desktop Outlook) -  and recreated the whole custom folder structure, which included all the missing emails.  It appears to be off-line (not syncing with the on-line 3rd party email server). The only thing that appears to be working is the original parent  'INBOX' folder for emails.

All the custom folders, that had synced in the past, via the web interface (web mail) are now inaccessible. I am able to create a new test folder via the web account. I was hoping that would refresh the account. It did not. I attempted to delete a custom folder from within the web mail account only to receive the following error:

'Could not complete request - Reason: Mail Box does not exist, or must be subscribed to.'

The refresh, the online 3rd party vendor performed on their email server, did nothing to solve my problem.

I am trying to figure out what I can salvage, what I can do to free up this locked process, and/or clean the slate to move forward.

Any ideas ???
Karl Timmermans (Outlook MVP 2012-2018)PrincipalCommented:
To deal with the easy part of this "contacts & calendar". To sync contact/calendar data across multiple devices without the use of any 3rd party addins for Outlook desktop is to use a Microsoft Exchange account which can be easily done by creating a free email account, moving contact/calendar data to the respective folders in the account and then configuring this account on all devices. There's no requirement to use the account for email purposes.

How to share Outlook contact/calender data using POP3 and Imap accounts

Lastly, on a generic level regarding the IMAP migration - direction etc

1) Rename the .ost file for the IMAP account which will result in Outlook recreating a new .ost file and then sync all the subscribed email folders. This assumes that when everything exists on the server as expected when accessing the account via webmail

2) If answer to webmail contents is "yes" - then it's just a matter of waiting for everything to sync down which can take a while depending on much data is involved. The "direction" in this case is easy - the local .ost file is empty so only one direction for things to do in
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GeeMoonIT ConsultantAuthor Commented:
Thank you for the great responses.

Here is the status:

I started with the online 3rd party web interface to the email server. I want to ensure I was pulling from a know good source.

 Just to recap, I connected a restored (from a backup image) workstation to our domain, containing the image of the  last version of the Outlook 2013 IMAP profile. It contains and 'inbox', and a custom folder entitled 'Office'. That 'Office' folder contains several years of custom folders, which contains sub folders.

 I assumed this workstations Outlook was going to check in with the online server and assess what is different between the respective folder trees, then sync. My mistake was walking away and not watching the process. I believe what actually happened was a new folder was created automatically under 'Office' entitled 'Master Folder' - residing on the desktop outlook. This automated process proceeded to copy the entire contents of the Office folder to the new Master Folder while it was attempting to sync to the online server.  Yep, not happening! I started receiving error messages on the desktop stating: Your IMAP server wants to alert you to the following: Fatal Error! Not a directory.

Meanwhile, on the online server, all the original custom 'Office' folders were all inaccessible (grayed out). There were a couple of 'Master Folder' folders (accessible - able to view), but, not the complete restoration of the original 'Office' folder you would expect. I had the 3rd party refresh on their end - they called it provisioning. That provisioning processed failed twice on their end. So, obviously the sync process got jammed on one of the folders and lock everything up. The 3rd party suggested that I :

Please log into the webmail account to un-subscribe the folders that are currently not accessible. * The reason that they are not accessible is that they are not currently active on the server side.

Once completed, you can log into your application via IMAP and then re-subscribe to the folders. The folders and content will then be re-created on the server side.

I followed their above blanket suggestion. What they failed to recognize was this new creation of the 'Master Folder', and that all the data (emails/attachments) appears to be gone from all the folders residing in the original 'Office folder' . I also highly doubt that the automated data transfer form 'Office' to 'Master Office' was successful - meaning that data is gone. Fortunately, I do have an original 'Office' backup residing in a PST. So ultimately I un-subscribed the 'Office' folder completely.

So now here's the strange part: I setup a 2nd test PC containing the same restored image. I performed Karl's task of renaming the .OST file. It proceeded to pull the whole 'INbox' containing years of emails and then recreated the tree of the  'Master Folder' (including emails) from the online server - even thought the online server is jammed, and the 'Master Folder' is completely un-subscribed.

I know I have said a month full. I will take a breath, and return with a possible solution to this mess for open discussion.
GeeMoonIT ConsultantAuthor Commented:
So, here what I'm thinking I want to do moving forward. I would like to remove all the custom folders from the sync process. I just want a clean 'InBox' sending /receiving emails.

I would like to move, or un-subscribe, all the custom 'Office', and now the new 'Master Folder' folders, so that they are not apart of the sync process. Those folders, emails and attachments are merely for history reference, and don't need to be taking up capacity on the online server, or synced to multiple devices.

I went back to the online server. I subscribed all the new 'Master Folder'  folders, that weren't subscribed (even though the test PC downloaded the whole data tree while it appeared to be un-subscribed from the online email server). Once they were all subscribed, and  where accessible within the online directory tree, I un-subscribed them in order to start with a fresh new 'In Box' moving forward with the desktop Outlook IMAP profile.

I went back to my test restored PC, renamed the .OST file and allowed it to re-sync. Perfect! I just got my 'INBox' - Nice and clean. I went back to  the original system to apply the same logic. I renamed the .OST file,  it started to sync, then I noticed immediately that the whole 'Master Folder' folder structure was there, and pulling down emails.  Why is that happening? They are un-subscribed on the online server. How is it not starting from a clean state? Is it because they were originally created on that PC? I checked the desktop Outlook IMAP folders to see if they were listed as subscribed. They are not, all is listed as un-subscribed.

At this point I'm waiting for the sync (2.5 hours) to finish. Should I just delete the folders from the Desktop Outlook profile? I assume at that point it will delete what ever resides on the online server. Every time I make a move, I'm  getting conflicting results.
GeeMoonIT ConsultantAuthor Commented:
The sync finished on the original PC. Yep, all the 'Master Folder'  folders, and remnants of the original 'Office' are now within my renamed .OST file within my  original desktop Outlook. I thought I was going to end up with a clean slate - just like on my test PC showing just the 'INbox' containing daily emails.

So..... I discovered the difference between the 2 PC'S, is the fact that the test PC has a check mark next too 'When displaying hierarchy in Outlook, show only subscribed folders - within the IMAP Folders sub menu. This is why my test PC  appeared clean too me. That mystery (just mentioned above) has  now been answered.

So here is my question:

If a folder is un-subscribed, then all syncing between the online server, and your outlook desktop, will stop. No data will transfer between the two entities, correct? But, if a folder and all it's emails were originally synced to the  online server, it will download all it's latest data (folders/emails) to any new IMAP setup, regardless of the fact it is currently set to un-subscribed, correct?

If the above is correct, how do I clean the slate (get rid of all the past folders/emails)? Do I just go to the online server (being the master template) and just delete the folder/emails (currently called 'Master Folder')?

Is it possible to move all my custom folders from a backup to the  current .OST profile w/out it ever syncing to the online server? The only item I would want synchronized is the 'InBox'. I would keep the custom folders as history reference.
Karl Timmermans (Outlook MVP 2012-2018)PrincipalCommented:
Is it possible to move all my custom folders from a backup to the  current .OST profile w/out it ever syncing to the online server?

Going to try and keep this as simple as possible

#1 - Folders (email data) that you want to maintain for historical purposes should be kept in a PST file. There is absolutely no benefit of keeping that data in an .ost file if for no other reason that an OST file can only be opened by the Outlook profile/email account used to originally create the file.

#2 - Not at all clear of where you do or don't have this data backed up but since you can't open an "orphaned" OST file, have to assume that this is currently stored in a PST file which if the case, just need to add the PST file to the profile (go to File --> Open & Export --> Outlook Data File)

#3 - If you have all the data in a backup PST file, just delete the folder(s) from the server that you no longer want/need

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GeeMoonIT ConsultantAuthor Commented:
Thank you for the great support Karl
Karl Timmermans (Outlook MVP 2012-2018)PrincipalCommented:
Thank you for the great support Karl

Your welcome and glad it (hopefully?) helped square things away for you.
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