Working with message folders in Outlook on the web in business

Messages that are sent to you are stored in your Inbox by default. But you can organize your messages into a hierarchical folder system and adjust it as your needs change.

In this article

Default folders

Shortcut menu for folders

Creating folders

Moving folders


Assign retention and archive policies

Deleted Items folder

Handling messages

More information

Default folders

Your account starts with these default folders:

Default mail folders under Favorites
  • Inbox Incoming messages arrive in your Inbox unless you’ve created an Inbox rule to redirect them to another folder, or they’re identified as junk email.

  • Clutter Helps you filter mail based on how you handled incoming messages in the past. When turned on, the email server keeps track of messages you read or don't read. Messages you don't read are moved to the Clutter folder.

  • Sent Items By default, a copy of every message you send is put in your Sent Items folder.

  • Deleted Items When you delete a message, it’s moved to the Deleted Items folder.

If you choose More under Folders, you'll find those default folders are organized under Favorites. The same default folders also are listed under your personal folder, and become part of a longer list of folders, many of which your administrator might have created. Folders your administrator might have added include, for example, the following:

  • Drafts If you create or respond to a message, but can’t finish it right away, it will automatically be saved to your Drafts folder. You can come back to the message later to continue editing it, and then send it.

  • Junk Email Messages that have junk email characteristics but that aren’t blocked by a spam filter before they reach your mailbox will automatically be moved to this folder. The Learn about junk email and phishing article has more information about your Junk Email folder.

  • Notes This is a read-only folder. You must use Outlook to create or edit items in this folder.

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Shortcut menus for folders

Most of what you can do with a folder can be found in the shortcut (context) menu that appears when you choose a folder and right-click. Which shortcut appears depends on if you've selected a folder under Favorites or under your personal folder.

Favorites folder

The Favorites folder shows the top mail folders. The shortcut menu features options that are used or needed most often when working with these folders.

Context, or shortcut, menu that appears when you right-click the Mail inbox

  • Move up in list or Move down in list Use one of these options to reposition the folder higher or lower in the folder hierarchy. Which action appears first in the list depends on the location of the chosen folder in the hierarchy.

  • Remove from Favorites Removes the link to the folder you created from Favorites; default folders can't be removed. The folder is retained in your personal folder.

  • Empty folder Deletes everything in the folder, including any subfolders.

  • Mark all as read Marks every item in the folder as read.

  • Assign policy If this option is available to you, it can be used to assign an archive or retention policy to messages in the folder.

  • Permissions You can give other users access to folders in your mailbox.

Personal folder

Your personal folder is a collection of all the mail folders available to you. The shortcut (context) menu attached to your personal folders offers more options than the shortcut menu with the Favorites folder. Not all options, however, are available for all folders. And some options might not be available because of administrative permissions.

Context, or shortcut, menu that appears when you right-click a personal folder

The shortcut menu for the personal folder has four options that the shortcut menu for the Favorites folder doesn't:

  • Create new folder Use to create a new subfolder in the folder you right-clicked.

  • Rename Give the folder a different name. Default folders, such as the Inbox folder, can't be renamed.

  • Add to Favorites Adds (links) the current folder to your Favorites.

  • Move Opens a window so you can move the selected folder to a new location in the folder hierarchy. You also can select and drag a folder to a new location.

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Creating folders

You can create additional folders to organize your messages as you like. Create a folder, for example, for a specific project, all messages from a particular person, or all messages sent to a distribution group that you’re a member of.

There is a difference between a folder and a subfolder. In a hierarchal structure, a folder—like your Inbox—is at the parent (first) level, and a subfolder is at the child (second) level.

To create a new folder

  1. To create a new folder, do one of the following:

    • Next to Folders, Favorites, or the name of your personal folder, choose Create new folder Add icon .

    • Choose your personal folder, right-click, and then choose Create new folder.

      Create a new folder under Folders in Mail for Outlook on the web for business
  2. In the new folder box, enter a name for the folder, and then press Enter.


    • Any new folder created automatically appears below the default folders.

    • Any new folder created when you choose Add icon next to Folders automatically is added to the Favorites folder and to your personal folder.

    • Any new folder created in the Favorites folder automatically is added to your personal folder, but it can only be deleted from the personal folder.

    • Any new folder created in your personal folder, however, will appear in the Favorites folder only if you use the shortcut menu and choose Add to favorites.

To create a new subfolder

  1. In your personal folder, choose the folder that you want to add a subfolder to.

  2. Right-click and choose Create new subfolder.

  3. In the new folder box, enter a name for the subfolder, and then press Enter.

Important: Should you decide to delete a folder after you've created it, it's moved to the Deleted Items folder and remains in the Deleted Items folder it's emptied manually or automatically.

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Moving folders

In your personal folder, you can drag a folder to a new spot in your folder hierarchy, or you can use the Move option in the shortcut menu to do the same thing.

  1. To move a folder, do one of the following:

    • Choose the folder you want to move and drag it to where you want it.

    • Right-click the folder you want to move, and then choose Move.

  2. In the Move Folder window that opens, choose a new folder to move the folder into, and then choose Move.

    Mail move folder window that appears showing folder hierarchy for personal folders

    Or choose Cancel to not move the folder and close the window.

You also can create a new folder to move the folder into by right-clicking the parent folder you want and choosing Create new folder. And by using Inbox rules you can automatically move incoming messages to specific folders based on criteria you choose.

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Favorites automatically includes these folders: Inbox, Clutter, Sent Items, Deleted Items. You can add folders to Favorites to make it easier to keep track of the folders that are most important to you. Adding a folder to Favorites doesn’t move the folder, it creates a link to it, and you end up with folders listed in both Favorites and in your personal folder.

  • Add a folder to Favorites. Right-click the folder, and then choose Add to Favorites.

  • Reorganize folders. Arrange you folders in Favorites to meet your needs. You can choose a folder and drag it to a new position in the folder hierarchy. Or, choose a folder, right-click, and then choose Move up in list or Move down in list.

  • Remove a folder. Choose the folder you want to remove from Favorites, right-click, and then choose Remove from Favorites. This action only removes the link to the folder; the folder still resides in your personal folder.

Depending on your organization's policies, you may be able to add a public folder to Favorites. For information about how to create a public folder in Outlook on the web for business and add it to your Favorites, see Create a public folder in Outlook.

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Assign retention and archive policies

Archive policies and retention policies can be used to automatically move or delete messages after they’ve been in your mailbox for a certain amount of time. The option to assign these policies is part of Outlook Mail settings.

Mail settings options menu showing automatic processing options with Retention policies as the chosen option

To learn more about these policies and how to assign them, see Retention and archive policies in Outlook on the web for business.

Note:  Policies are controlled by your organization’s administrator. Policies may not be available for your account.

Deleted Items folder

When you delete a message, it’s moved to the Deleted Items folder. You can either let messages stay there and manually remove them, or you can set outlook_on_the_web_for_business to automatically empty your Deleted Items folder when you sign out. Your administrator may have set up a policy to empty items from your folder after they’ve been there for a preset number of days. There may be a policy, for example, that removes messages that have been in your Deleted Items folder for 30 days. For more information, see Recover deleted items.

To configure your Deleted Items folder to empty when you sign out

  1. On the Outlook nav bar, choose Settings Settings icon .

  2. Choose Mail under My app settings, and then choose Automatic processing >Message options in the Mail folder.

  3. Select Empty the Deleted Items folder when I sign out.

  4. Choose Save Create group button to complete the change.

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Handling messages

You can handle messages manually or automatically. Manual requires nothing more than dragging a message from one folder to another. You also can right-click a message and choose an option on the shortcut menu. Automatic requires that you assign rules about how to process messages. You can use a command on the Outlook menu bar to set up rules to manage your messages. The menu bar appears when you choose a message in list view, which is the pane to the right of the left navigation bar in the window.

Use the options available in the menu bar to manage your messages

You can explore the different options available to manage your messages. In the example that follows, we create a rule to move messages received in our Inbox from a certain person. The Inbox rule involves choosing the conditions that will direct the move of the message.

  1. Select a message that you want to assign a rule to, and then choose More commands More icon on the menu bar.

    Mail menu bar showing available options for the More options command

    Note: The options available in the shortcut menu that opens when you choose More commands depends on the folder in which the message resides. Based on the folder, there might be fewer or more options in the shortcut menu.

  2. Choose Create rule.

    Create rule options available when you choose the Create rule option on the More options shortcut menu that appears when you choose the More options command on the Mail menu bar

    The New inbox rule dialog box (form) opens.

    • Name Shows the name of the source of the chosen message.

    • When the message arrives, and it matches all of these conditions Three conditions were set for the received message.

      Notes: Choose the drop-down arrow in a condition box and you'll find a list of predefined conditions. Some conditions include an arrow (>) that leads to additional options that can be used to further restrict the condition.

      If you can need more conditions, choose Add condition.

    • Do all of the following One of three predefined action conditions was chosen. The current condition as well as the other two can be further defined with the additional options provided when you choose the arrow (>) next to each. And those additional options might include another set of options.

      Note: If you want to define another action, choose Add action.

    • Except if it matches any of these conditions Although we didn't choose to set any condition exceptions in this sample, predefined conditions are available. These conditions include additional options, many of which are accessed by choosing an arrow (>).

      Note: Choose Add exception if you find more than one is needed.

    • Stop processing more rules By default, the check box is selected.

  3. Choose OK to save the rule. Depending on the structure of your account, you might receive a warning about modifying your rules. If necessary consult your administrator.

There are other ways to manage messages, including using the Inbox and sweep rules.

Inbox and sweep rules option available under Automatic processing that is part of the Mail settings options

You can use Sweep in combination with rules you created to automatically process your incoming messages. There also is the option to select a message in list view, and choose the Sweep command on the menu bar. When you make that choice, you'll find that you're presented with options to quickly remove messages from your Inbox or to keep the most current message and delete the rest.

Settings window for the Sweep command on the Mail menu bar

Note: If you need to move messages out of your mailbox but want to save them, you can use Outlook and set up a .pst file to move those messages to. The messages will be available only when you’re using Outlook and can access the .pst file. For more information, see Introduction to Outlook Data Files (.pst and .ost), and Create an Outlook Data File (.pst) to save your information. Once you’ve created a .pst file, you can use it just like any other folder in Outlook.

More information

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