More on Exchange Retention and Archiving Policies/troubleshooting

As the Exchange Retention and Archiving Policies is a topic many people run from, I think it is always better to get more info on the topic for easier troubleshooting.

For more information and description of the Retention Tags and Policies, please refer to TechNet “Understanding Retention Tags and Retention Policies” article.

I will summarize some key points, which I consider important in understanding the behavior of the Retention Policies and Tags.

There are three types of retention tags:

  • Default Policy Tag (DPT) – applies to all items that do not have a retention tag applies, either inherited of explicit;

  • Retention Policy Tags (RPT) – are created for the default folders, such as Inbox, Deleted Items, Sent Items etc.;

  • Personal Tags – are used by Outlook and Outlook Web App (OWA) users  to apply retention settings to customer folders and individual items, such as e-mail messages 

A Retention Policy is a group of retention tags that can be applied to a mailbox.

A retention policy  can have one DPT to move items to the archive, one DPT to delete items, one DPT to delete voice mail messages, one RPT for each supported default folder, and any number of personal items.

Users cannot change a RPT applied to a default folder, but then can apply a different tag to the items in a default folder.

We cannot include more than one RPT for the same default folder type in one retention policy. For example, if a retention policy has an Inbox tag, another RPT of type Inbox cannot be added to that retention policy. RPTs cannot be applied to the Contacts folder.

Personal Tags are a premium feature. Mailboxes with policies that contain these tags (or as a result of users adding the tags to their mailbox) require an Exchange Enterprise client access license (CAL).

Although you can add any number of personal tags to a retention policy, having many personal tags with different retention settings can confuse users. The recommendation is to link no more than 10 personal tags to a retention policy.

If a RPT is removed from a retention policy, any existing mailbox items with the tag applied will continue to expire based on the tag's settings.

To prevent the tag's settings from being applied to any items, you should delete the tag. Deleting a tag removes it from any retention policies in which it's included.

Retention polices are applied to mailbox users. Different sets of users can have different retention policies.

The Exchange version is important, as starting with SP2 RU4, there were some changes regarding retention/archiving policies, as support for Calendar and Tasks was added, please verify this TechNet blog.

Starting with Exchange 2010 SP2 RU6, a new option was added that disables the PermanentlyDelete retention action in an Exchange Server 2010 organization.

As there were some issues reported with the default behavior or applying the Retention Policies, most of the case due to the misunderstanding of the Messaging Records Management (MRM), we decided to test, reproduce and do some tests in the lab environment.

For a test user, the Default Archive and Retention Policy (DARP) was applied and the Start-ManagedFolderAssistant cmdlet was ran in the Exchange Management Shell  -> all the folder in the mailbox have the inherited tags for the default folders and cannot be changed from the client.

We can verify if a Retention Policy was applied using the MFCMapi tool: after logging to the user’s mailbox, right click one folder (in our case the Inbox folder) -> Open associated contents table -> Message class: IPM_Configuration_MRM  -> PR_ROAMING_XMLSTREAM, and look for the associated policy applied.

mapi 1 

mapi 2

We can see in the above screenshot the two RPTs applied for the folder: “4 Days Delete Sent Items” and “3 Days Delete Inbox”, and the details for each policy tag.

This is the safest way to verify if a specific RPT was applied after running the Managed Folder Assistant.

If the user creates a new folder (ex. under the Inbox folder), the folder policy tags are inherited from the parent folder and the user is able to change it.

For individual items in the folder, we can manually set other RPTs, or use the folder policy.

The DARP has 2 DPTs (“Default 2 year move to archive” and “Recoverable Items 14 days move to archive”) and other personal tags that can be applied to items from Outlook/OWA.

The test user had two e-mails in the Inbox folder, received on 09/19/2013. For one of the e-mails, the personal tag “1 Month Delete” was applied -> the item was to expire on 10/19/2013 and will be moved to the Dumpster, as the “Delete and Allow Recovery” action was selected. User will have the possibility to recover the item from the Dumpster.

We can set the “Permanently delete” action, so that the user will not be able to recover it anymore. The item will still be available for the Exchange administrator when doing an in-place search.

A new Retention Policy "Test delete" was created, with 2 RPTs:

  • Delete after 3 days, type Inbox, action Delete and allow recovery;

  • Delete after 4 days, type Sent Items, action Delete and allow recovery

The policy above was assigned to the test user that had the DARP and the cmdlet was ran ->"> all the e-mail in Inbox (received on 09/19/2013) were deleted">, except the e-mail which had the “1 Month Delete” personal tag applied. The e-mail header message is: "This item will expire in 24 days. To keep this item longer, apply a different Retention Policy. Retention Policy: 1 Month Delete (30 days). Expires: 10/19/2013".

Please note that the “Retention Policy” term that appear in Outlook and OWA, is the RPT that we set in Exchange.

Having the above policy applied, with only the 2 RPT, for Inbox and Sent Items folders, the user will not have the possibility to assign another RPT or personal tag, as it is not available for this policy.

Applied back the DARP -> the item in the Inbox with the personal tag applied was the same, while the other items did not have the 3 days deletion tag, but the default settings from the DARP.

To conclude, when changing the Retention Policies, the tags that apply to the items in user’s mailbox can be different, depending on the personal tags from the DARP applied by the users to individual items or custom folders, or depending on the actions set by the custom delete policy.

In some cases, the behavior of the retention and archival polices might look a bit strange, that is way we need to closely check the behavior and the applied tags.

For more in depth information on the Retention Policy Tags and MRM development, please verify the “Search and Replace Retention tag on Microsoft Exchange 2010 (MRM)” blog entry.


I hope you will find the above information useful,


Comments (7)

  1. Hello,

    Thank you for your feedback. I will update the blog post if these features will be available.
    Do you a specific business need to have the Retention Policies applied directly to archive mailboxes?

    Thank you,

  2. John says:

    When will Microsoft provide the capability to prevent retention policies from applying to the Archive Mailbox or having a separate retention policy for Archive Mailboxes? This is a significant drawback, which is preventing us from deploying Archive Mailboxes
    combined with retention policies. This is a big thumbs down for Microsoft.

  3. jim says:

    I absolutely agree about the need to allow separate Retention Policies for archive mailboxes!

  4. Jason says:

    We are in the same pickle, how can you have a policy to delete email after a time period which would need to be a default otherwise use could create a non-root folder and move items there and bypass the policy. But the default applies to the archive too.
    So you can’t restrict the mailbox and allow separate tag for archive, which negates the purpose of an archive if without a default policy the user could just move items to non root. What am I missing?

  5. Steve Tillman says:

    It would be a huge feature to have separate retention policies for archive mailboxes.

  6. Dean says:


    Can we forcefully overwrite the personal tag that is explicitly assigned to a folder by a different retention policy? For example, I have a retention policy that includes a 6 month archive tag. I apply the tag to my inbox so the inbox will archive 6 month old items. Later, IT support removes the retention policy from my mailbox. However, I can see the 6-month archive tag is still applied to my Inbox. Can I apply a different retention policy to my mailbox to overwrite the 6-month archive tag that is on Inbox? We have a business need to switch the retention policy to a different one and want to overwrite the previous tag. We want to do this without the manual intervention by the end user.

  7. I also found a more detailed blog post on the same topic from a colleague from India, please check it out:

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