How to repair the Outlook 2010 search index

Many enterprise users have extremely large mailboxes, and therefore rely heavily on Outlook 2010’s search feature to sort through messages. While the search feature is normally reliable, it can break down as easily as anything else. Your job is to ensure that user productivity doesn't come to a screeching halt by diagnosing and repairing the search index.

Outlook 2010’s search is based on a search index. If the index is missing or corrupt, search will not work. Before attempting to rebuild the index, take a moment to verify that the computer in question is not running low on disk space, which can often lead to indexing problems.

Assuming that the computer has sufficient disk space, you must now diagnose the problem. To do so, open

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Outlook 2010 and click in the Search box. Click the Search Tools icon, then navigate to Location to Search. Select the user’s mailbox (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Make sure that Outlook 2010 is configured to search the user’s mailbox.

The next step is to ensure that the computer is configured to index Outlook 2010. To do so, click the File tab, then click Options, then Search. When the Search Options page appears, click on the Indexing Options button (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Click the Indexing Options button in Outlook 2010.

You will now see the Indexing Options dialog box (Figure 3). This lets you see exactly what the computer is configured to index. Notice in Figure 3 that Microsoft Outlook appears on the list. If it is missing, add it by clicking the Modify button. Next, select the Microsoft Outlook check box on the subsequent screen.

Figure 3. The Outlook 2010 Indexing Options dialog box lets you see what has been indexed.

If the computer is configured to index Microsoft Outlook, take a moment to verify that the Windows Search service is running.

In Windows 7, click the Start button, then type Services.msc. This launches the Service Control Manager. Scroll through it until you locate Windows Search. Make sure that the Search service is started (Figure 4). If the service is not running, right-click it then select the Start command.

Note: The Windows Search service only exists in Windows 7. In previous versions of Windows, it was known as the Indexing Service.

Figure 4. Make sure that Windows Search service is running.

After you verify that the Windows Search service is running, run Outlook’s built-in index troubleshooter. To do so, go back to the Indexing Options dialog box (shown in Figure 3) and click the Advanced button.

When the Advanced Options properties sheet appears, click the Troubleshoot Search and Indexing link (Figure 5). This will run an automated diagnostic and repair routine in Outlook 2010 to detect and correct indexing problems.

Figure 5. Click on the Troubleshoot Search and Indexing link in Outlook 2010.

Fixing Outlook 2010 search: A last resort

If the described techniques do not fix the Outlook 2010 search problem, your last resort is to delete and rebuild the index. Remember that Windows uses a common index for all of the computer’s content, not just Outlook content. Therefore, rebuilding the index will impact your ability to search for things like files or documents. You should also know that re-indexing the system tends to be a time-consuming process and can take many hours to complete depending on how much data is indexed.

To rebuild the index, go back to the Advanced Options properties sheet (shown in Figure 5) and click the Rebuild button. To check the re-indexing status, click Outlook’s Search bar, then the Search Tools icon. Finally, select the Indexing Status option (shown in Figure 1). When you do, you'll see how many items still need to be indexed (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Outlook’s Index Status function tells you how many items still need to be indexed.

Brien Posey
is an eight-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

This was first published in September 2012

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