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Taming the Entourage Database

by Derrick Story
06/04/2002

The first time I heard about an Entourage database crashing and leaving the poor user with neither mail nor contact info, I immediately dashed up to my hotel room and backed up my laptop. This wasn't going to happen to me.

The way I see it, we have two noteworthy alternatives for handling mail on Mac OS X. Choice #1 is the Mail.app client that comes with the operating system. Mail.app is clean, stable, and pretty. It handles POP3, IMAP, and secure mail transfer. The application is still evolving and will make a substantial leap forward in its upcoming release with Mac OS X 10.2. But at the moment, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles some users want.

The other big name option is Entourage X, which is included with Microsoft's Office for Mac OS X. This version of Entourage is familiar to those who've used Office 2001 on Mac OS 9. Even though the look of the client has been updated to Aqua, it's still essentially the same concept under the hood, and that includes the database that drives the application.

Until recently, the maximum size for the Entourage database that manages all of your mail and contact info was 2 GB. That should be more than enough room for all but the heaviest users, but if it isn't enough head room for you, download Service Release 1 that increases the database limit from 2 GB to 4 GB. Plus this update enhances Entourage's overall performance and stability. If you haven't updated your Office suite with Service Release 1, then I recommend you add it to your To Do list.


Screen shot.
After installing the Service Release, choose "About Entourage" to double-check that you've upgraded.

Beyond that, common sense says that you should take a few precautions with Entourage so you don't end up living one of those horror stories you may have heard by now.

Database Maintenance

Back Up

As with any other database, a regular backup schedule is essential. Your valuable information is located in the User --> Documents --> Microsoft User Date --> Office X Identities folder. Inside the Identities folder you'll see a folder for each identity you've created in Entourage. Inside each of those folders you'll see files for the actual database, database cache, signatures, rules, and mailing list.

I back up the entire Identities folder at least once a week and more often when possible. You can manually do this by dragging and dropping the folder on to a separate hard drive or CDRW disc. Also, for about $50 you can buy Retrospect Backup Express for Mac OS X. Dantz offers a free trial of this software so you can try it out first to see if it's right for you. Either way, develop a regular backup procedure you can live with and will use regularly.

Thin Out and Delete

Chances are you have lots of junk mail in your database that can be purged. When you highlight mail and press the "delete" key or click on Entourage's trash can, you're simply moving the mail to the Deleted Items folder, not removing it from the database.

To really purge these messages, hold down the "ctrl" key and click on the Deleted Items folder. Select "Empty Deleted Items" from the pop-up window, and Entourage will remove this content from your database. This is not a speedy process, so save this task for when you have a few minutes to go get a cup of coffee.

If you ever have to restore your database from a backup copy, simply quit Entourage, replace the corrupted database in the Identities folder with the clean copy from your backup disc, then re-launch the application. If your restored information doesn't appear, then try "Switch Identities" to jumpstart the restored database.

Office X for Macintosh:  The Missing Manual

Related Reading

Office X for Macintosh: The Missing Manual
By Nan Barber, Tonya Engst, David Reynolds

Rebuild the Database

Once you've backed up and thinned out Entourage, you can optimize performance and regain some hard disk space by rebuilding the database. It's quite easy.

First, check the current size of your database by using the "Show Info" command (CMD I) on the "Office X Identities" folder. In my case, this folder was occupying 261 MBs of hard disk space. Then make sure you have enough hard disk space available for twice that amount. As part of the rebuilding process, Entourage creates a second database file. This means that I need 522 MBs to rebuild.

Then quit all Office applications (including Entourage). Now hold down the Option key and re-launch the application. In a few seconds you'll be greeted with a dialogue box asking if you want the "Typical Rebuild" or the "Advanced Rebuild." Choose "Typical." The "Advanced" rebuild is only for emergencies and should not be used for maintenance.

Screen shot.
Hold down the Option key when you launch Entourage to get this dialogue box for rebuilding the database. Choose the "Typical" option.

Entourage will then compact your database and optimize it. This normally takes less than 10 minutes for 300 MBs or less (on a TiBook ... your mileage may vary).

Screen shot.
Once your database has been optimized, you'll see this notification.

After optimization, run the application for a few minutes and check that everything is OK. If so, then go back to your Identities folder and delete the "Old Database" and "Old Database Cache" files because you no longer need them.

Screen shot.
After you've rebuilt your database and checked the application's performance, you can delete the old versions from your hard drive.

If you use multiple identities, you'll need to rebuild those databases separately. Entourage will only rebuild the database for the identity that was last open. To rebuild a second database, switch to that identity, close the application, then hold down the Option key when you restart.

So how did things turn out? My database size was 261 MBs before optimization and only 180 MBs after I completed the operation.

Final Thoughts

By following the three steps of backing up, thinning out, and rebuilding, you should avoid all but the unluckiest of Entourage disasters. I have heard of one case where the database corruption didn't manifest right away and was present in the backup copies as well as the current database. This was unfortunate because the user lost all mail and contact information.

But I've only uncovered one such devastating incident. Chances are, if you follow the guidelines above, you should be in good shape.


Office X for Macintosh: The Missing Manual takes you behind the scenes of Microsoft's new office suite created especially for Mac OS X. Learn the tricks that enable power users to accomplish their tasks effortlessly in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage.


Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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