What Is a PST File?

How to open, edit, and convert PST files

A file with the .PST file extension is an Outlook Personal Information Store file that stores personal information used in Microsoft Outlook and/or Microsoft Exchange. They might include messages, contacts, attachments, addresses, and more.

Outlook Personal Information Store files have a file size limit of 2 GB, after which the email program might take a performance hit. You can make the PST file smaller with Oversized PST Recovery Tool (also called PST2GB). It will trim anything past 2 GB and make a new PST file of a proper size.

PST Files

Outlook Offline Folder (.OST) files are similar to PSTs except that they support larger file sizes and are used as a cache for MS Outlook's Cached Exchange Mode feature.

How to Open PST Files

PST files are most often opened in an email program that can use the data, like Microsoft Outlook (more on how to do that below) or Microsoft Exchange Server. Microsoft Outlook Express can import PST files, too, but it doesn't save information to a PST file like Outlook does.

To open PST files in Microsoft Entourage on a Mac, use Microsoft's PST Import Tool for Entourage.

You can open a PST file without a Microsoft email program by using PST Viewer Pro. Since it's not an actual email client, you can only use it to search for and open emails or convert and extract messages out of the PST file.

Email Open View Pro is another full-featured tool that can open PST files. It supports exploring the PST file even without an email client on your computer so that you can export the messages in other formats like EML/EMLX, MSG, or MHT. It can extract emails only or the attachments, too, as well as make an HTML index of all the messages.

If you have a corrupted PST file or one that won't open, try Remo Repair Outlook (PST).

Did you accidentally delete your PST file or wipe it during a format? Try looking for it with a free data recovery tool. Older Outlook PST files are one of those really important files that are easy to forget to back up.

How to Convert a PST File

PST files in their original format with the .PST file extension aren't compatible with a huge variety of programs. However, you can do some extracting or converting to make the embedded emails work in other programs.

For example, the best way to get your PST file on Gmail or your phone is to set up the same email account (the Gmail account or one you use on your phone) on your computer and then import the PST file so that the two are merged. Then, when you sync the email client with the email server, the emails can be sent to Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, or whatever other email service you used with the desktop client.

The Email Open View Pro tool we mentioned above is another way of "converting" PST data into other formats (you can convert every email at once or only specific ones you want). You can also save one or more emails from within the PST file to PDF or a number of image formats.

Stellar PST to MBOX Converter for Mac is a program that can convert the PST file to an MBOX file (E-Mail Mailbox format) so it can be used with Apple Mail.

Backing Up and Copying Your PST File

You can move your PST file anywhere you like, and even make a backup copy of the PST file in case your current one is deleted or gets corrupted. However, you first have to find where the PST file is being stored, which you can see through your Account Settings screen.

Getting there is a little different depending on your version of MS Outlook, but here's how to do it with the most recent versions:

  1. Open File > Info > Account Settings > Account Settings.

  2. In the Data Files tab, select Outlook Data File.

  3. Choose Open File Location.

    Outlook Data File location settings
  4. Make sure Outlook is closed down, and then you can copy the PST file anywhere you like.

Another option is to use Outlook's built-in export function to save the PST file to your hard drive, flash drive or elsewhere. Use the File > Open & Export > Import/Export > Export to a file > Outlook Data File (.pst) option for that.

Adding PST Files to Outlook

It's easy to restore a PST file in Outlook or add an additional PST file so that you can switch between data files to read other mail or copy messages to a different email account.

Return to Step 2 above but choose Add to add a PST file as another data file. If you want that one (or a different one) to be the default data file Outlook uses, just select the one you prefer and select Set as Default.

Still Can't Open Your File?

The .PST file extension shares a striking resemblance to a number of other file extensions even though they aren't related and can't open with the same programs as the ones mentioned above.

For example, PSD, PSF, and PSB files are used with Adobe Photoshop but share two of the same letters as PST files.

Some other examples include PS (PostScript), PSV (PlayStation 2 Save), PSW (Windows Password Reset Disk, Password Depot 3-5 or Pocket Word Document), PS2 (Microsoft Search Catalog Index or PCSX2 Memory Card), and PTS (Pro Tools Session) files.

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