How to Create Server-Side Rules in Outlook

Server-side rules run on the server rather than in the Outlook client, so they allow you to apply rules before messages hit your system. Here's how they work and what you can do with them.

What are the server-side rules?

When you configure normal rules in Outlook, they only work when Outlook application is open on your system. These rules are called client-side rules because they work in the Outlook client application. They're great for things like filtering email in different folders because the rules fire when you open Outlook or when messages arrive in your inbox.

But what if you want the rules to fire when Outlook is closed, like forwarding messages to a colleague while on vacation? To do this, you need server-side rules, which work on the server that handles your mail, whether or not Outlook is open on your computer. Outlook also allows you to create them. So let's go through the process.

caveat: Server-side rules work if you use Microsoft Exchange for your mail server (cloud-based O365 or a local Exchange server), but not if you use Outlook to process mail from a provider like Gmail or Yahoo! . You can still set up a reply and out-of-office rules for a non-Microsoft account, but you will need to leave Outlook enabled and running. If this is what you need, we have instructions for you.

How to configure server-side rules

You create normal rules (client side) in the rules manager by going to Home> Rules, but we don't use them. Instead, go to File> Options and click the "Auto Replies" button.

To start creating a server-side rule, click the "Rules" button.

This brings up the Autorespond Rules panel, and as you can see, there is not much you can do, except click the "Add Rule" button.

The Edit Rule window that opens allows you to create your new server-side rule.

You will see that the options for these rules are much simpler than in the rules manager. In effect, you are limited to the actions that can be performed by the server. If you want Outlook to play a specific sound when an email from your boss arrives, you can only do so with a client-side ruler.

Suppose a team member is absent and wants any e-mail on How-To-Geek to be moved to a specific folder and forwarded to a specific person. First of all, they would select the option "Sent directly to me". Then they would enter "How-To-Geek" in the subject line. They would then select the "Copy to" option and choose a folder. Finally, they would check the "Forward" option, select the recipient from the address book, and then click "OK".

The rule is added to the list of server-side rules, and will be executed whether or not Outlook is open.

You can add as many of these rules as you want. And of course, you can do more with them than the simple example we showed here. You can use them to change the importance of messages from specific contacts or that contain certain words in the subject. Or you can ask a server-side rule to delete certain types of messages before they reach your inbox.

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