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Outlook Express auto reply with message rules

Outlook Express auto reply with message rules

So you need to send an auto reply with Outlook Express? I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Obviously the good news first – You can configure Outlook Express to send auto replies with the help of message rules and I shall soon detail how its done.

Now the bad news – the Outlook Express auto reply will work only when:

  • the message rules have been set up correctly in Outlook Express,
  • the email program is running and, thus, able to send and receive messages,
  • the internet connection is active and
  • the computer is kept on (obviously).

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For example, there can be two scenarios when you’re going on a holiday and want to set up an Outlook Express vacation reply. You either take the computer (laptop) with you or leave the system behind, right? As mentioned above, the Outlook Express auto replies will be sent only when all the above listed conditions are met.

Thus, carrying your laptop on holiday with the Outlook Express auto-reply feature configured properly will not suffice. You need to switch on the machine and connect to the internet to receive messages and send the auto-replies. And if you are not lugging your system around the world, I suggest setting up this functionality directly on the email server OR keeping your computer on while you are away.

When can the Outlook Express auto reply feature be useful?

Here are a couple of real life examples wherein I’ve put the Outlook Express auto reply feature to good use.

Online orders collected from my web site typically have a predefined email subject. The message rule I set up in Outlook Express identifies these incoming messages and sends an auto-reply immediately. Please note, that replies are sent only when emails are downloaded using the Outlook Express email client.

And then there was a time when we were relocating our office. A couple of months before the actual shifting took place, I created a message rule that sent auto replies with the new office address and phone numbers to emails received from clients. So by the time we moved most of our important customers had the new address.

Employing message rules to send auto replies in Outlook Express

If you are not aware of message rules, you have missed a very powerful feature of Outlook Express. Message rules are like “instructions” that process incoming email. For example, you can create rules to automatically sort all incoming email to specified folders, delete potential spam on the server or avoid downloading emails with very large attachments.
Let us now see how message rules can be employed to send auto replies.

Open the Message Rules window by selecting “Tools” > “Message Rules” > “Mail”. There are 12 Conditions that one can choose. We shall soon see which one is the best for your needs. The Action that we are interested in is the fourth from last, “Reply with message” – refer image below.

To create a message rule that sends an auto reply to an email with a defined subject, select the second condition – “Where the Subject line contains specific words“. Orders over email from web sites will typically have a predefined. For instance, email orders from my web site have the subject [New Order BDPL]: today’s date – thus, the words “New Order BDPL” are placed inside square brackets which is enough to identify the email as one coming from my web site and carrying a new order for us. (The actual date that follows the first phrase is of no use in this exercise and can be ignored).

Setting up a message rule in Outlook Express for auto reply

The image above displays the rule that we are creating. In the Rule Description box, you will notice two blue hyperlinks – “contains specific words” and “message“. We first need to inform the message rule of the specific words that it needs to hunt for in the email subject and send an auto reply message. Click on the first link, enter the words and hit the “Add” button – refer image below.

Specifying words to check in the email subject for the message rule

Did you notice that one can provide this message rule with more words/phrases to check in the email subject? Use the “Add” button to refine or broaden the incoming message filter.

The next step is to create the auto reply message. For now, open Notepad (or an similar text editor), type in your message and save the file as .txt (Text format). Click on the blue message hyperlink in the Rule Description box and select your auto reply text file. FYI, Outlook Express allows you to use a .nws (news), .eml (email), .htm or .txt file. You can provide a descriptive name and click on the “OK” button.

Now each time you download email, Outlook Express will scan the subject lines of all incoming messages and send the specified auto reply to ones that match the criterion defined in the rule.

By the way, Outlook Express auto replies can be sent for each and every message received (check the last “Condition” for message rules) but that would not be a good idea because you would end up sending replies to spam messages too!

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