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June 25, 2023 4 minutes to read ∙ 1000 words

Ask Techie: What’s the Difference Between Microsoft Outlook’s Archive Folder and the Trash Folder?

Welcome to the latest installment of our monthly Q&A column, where a panel of experts answers your questions about using technology in your law practice.

This month we answer readers’ questions about the difference between Microsoft Outlook’s Archive folder and Trash folder, and between data backups and data archives. 

Q: What’s the Difference Between Microsoft Outlook’s Archive Folder and Trash Folder?

A: If you spend much time in Outlook, you may be curious about two folders that sound like they do the same thing. Outlook has a “Trash” folder and an “Archive” folder. These correlate to options you have in the menu bar of an email message to either delete or archive the message. When you delete an email message, it disappears from your Inbox and goes into the Trash folder. However, when you archive an email message, it disappears from your Inbox and is defaulted to the Archive folder. The Archive folder is never automatically emptied, and any email you see in either the trash or archive folder can be moved back to your Inbox folder. By default, the Trash folder has to be manually emptied. However, it can be configured to automatically delete items in the folder.

One way is by instructing Outlook to empty the deleted items folders when exiting Outlook. This may help manage the size of the stored emails by eliminating the emails that you have already determined you do not need. Another way is to configure the Trash folder’s AutoArchive properties (all folders have AutoArchive properties). To do this, right-click the Trash folder in your side panel. This will pull up a menu, and at the end of that list, you will click “Properties.” From there, you will see two tabs labeled “General” and “AutoArchive”; select AutoArchive. From this menu, you can choose from the following:

  •  Do not archive items in this folder.
  •  Archive items in this folder using the default settings. (You can designate the settings as six months, 14 days, etc.)
  •  Archive the folder using these settings. (You can designate the folder to archive every certain number of days, weeks, or months, and you can designate what folder the items are archived to, such as your backup storage folders).

That’s it in a nutshell. One folder will store your items indefinitely; the other will store them indefinitely if that is your wish. Unfortunately, you can’t store every email forever without overloading your server and your allotted space on your email provider’s server, so it is important to employ a system to archive and permanently delete unnecessary emails.

Techie: Ashley Hallene, JD, GPSolo eReport Editor-in-Chief ([email protected]).

Q: What’s the Difference Between Data Backups and Data Archives?

A: Data backups and data archives have similarities and differences. They both protect your important files so that they are available when you need them. Yet, they are maintained and used in different ways.

Recovery: The Purpose of Data Backups

If your firm suffers a data loss incident, backups enable you to recover. You restore what you lost as of a point in time before the incident.

No doubt, you are familiar with the high-risk incidents facing law firms today:

  • Ransomware attacks.
  • Fires, floods, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.
  • Theft of your files and threats to publish them.

In addition to these traumatic, drastic events, your valuable files face more mundane threats:

  • Accidental deletion or overwriting.
  • Operating system meltdown.
  • Hard drive failure.

Your backups rescue you from all these misfortunes—so long as they themselves are stored safely in a cloud data center or offsite.

Long-Term Storage: The Purpose of Data Archives

Archives protect files that are valuable but are not needed in the short term. The files are moved off of the network and servers and onto storage media.

Data archives are great for keeping inactive or old files for long periods of time. They are also used to comply with legally mandated data retention periods.

Characteristics of data archives:

  • Retrieval speed is not a priority.
  • Drives or discs are stored disconnected from any computers or networks.
  • Offsite storage is typical.

Backup and Archive Confusion

In practice, it is easy to confuse archives with backups.

To preserve some old files, for the sake of expedience, you might simply copy a backup file or volume onto a USB drive. Once it is offsite, it can serve as an archive. You use this archive to store files that you then purge from the active file server. A backup has become an archive.

Be careful and methodical with the creation of data archives. Otherwise, you could encounter either of two pitfalls:

  • Creating a disorganized and duplicative collection of backups and archives.
  • Not knowing what files you have archived and where they are located.

Redundancy is ordinarily good. When disorganized, it becomes a problem.


Assiduously follow a regular practice of making, transferring, testing, and pruning backups. These processes can be semi-automated. But make sure you do not skip the testing.

Follow your own written procedures for archiving data you need to retain for longer time periods. Your procedures should include safely storing the archives and logging your archiving operations. It makes sense to make duplicate copies of archives and to store them in different physical locations.

For multi-year preservation of smaller archives (under 100 GB), consider using a Blu-ray BDXL disc writer (burner). BDXL optical discs and the M-Disc media, in particular, have much longer predicted lifespans than magnetic media such as USB hard drives, NVMe flash drives, and standard flash drives.

LG and Pioneer make inexpensive, external BDXL burners. Verbatim makes M-Disc media in 25 GB, 50 GB, and 100 GB sizes. These are excellent for data archives.

Techie: Wells H. Anderson, JD, GPSolo eReport Contributing Technology Editor and CEO of SecureMyFirm, 952/922-1120,—we protect small firms from cyber threats with affordable, multiple layers of defense.

What’s YOUR question?

If you have a technology question, please forward it to Managing Editor Rob Salkin ([email protected]) at your earliest convenience. Our response team selects the questions for response and publication. Our regular response team includes Jeffrey Allen, Wells H. Anderson, Jordan L. Couch, Ashley Hallene, Al Harrison, and Patrick Palace. We publish submitted questions anonymously, just in case you do not want someone else to know you asked the question.

Please send in your questions today!

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Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 12, Number 11, June 2023. © 2023 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.