Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hands on debugging a broken Outlook forwarding rule


By Joe Dolittle

OutlookPower reader Vikki Chaney wrote in with an interesting rule problem:

I am hoping your team can help. I am trying to create a rule. In which incoming emails from a certain with certain words in the subject automatically get forwarded.
It does not matter what I do I keep getting an error. Below is a copy of the tools and rules screen, and the rule as I have set it up. I have also set up the exceptions so that the ongoing chatter on the email do not get re-forwarded just the original email.
A side note is the emails always come from someone different at Unum so I can't put the beginning of that in; however, I have tried removing that part of the rule and it still shows up broke.

As it turns out, I think Vikki was looking in the wrong place to solve the problem. First, Figure A shows her rule.


Note the crossed tools indicated the rule needs work. (click for larger image)

Fixing a rule like this is relatively simple. In fact, it's much like fixing any programming problem. The key is to find out what's wrong, first.

What I did here was recreate the entire rule. The only thing I changed was rather than forwarding to Vikki (who's not in our internal address book), I set the rule to forward to someone else internally.

I got the same error message. Hmm...

So then I started eliminating and changing. First, I turned off Except and it didn't change, the error was still there.

Then I turned off "and with" in the subject or body, and there was still no change.

I eventually reworked everything and as long as "Forward it to People or Distribution List" was selected, it was broken. In fact, no matter what combination of conditions and actions I tried, "Forward it to" wouldn't work.

So, clearly, that's the problem. It has nothing to do with where the emails are coming from.

Once you can narrow down the problem, then Google can be your friend. I did a search on "Outlook forwarding doesn't work" and found a lot of responses.

While I didn't find a definitive Microsoft knowledgebase article, I did find a lot of mention of Exchange restrictions on forwarding. Here at OutlookPower we use an Exchange hosting provider and since I'm writing this over a holiday weekend, I didn't want to bother our net admin (who actually would respond, holiday or not).

But the conclusion I've come to is that this is likely restricted by an Exchange policy setting. Of course, Vikki didn't tell us whether she's using Exchange, but you'll notice we've circled a rule which sure seems to imply she's running Exchange. So, that's where I'd look -- at the Exchange policies on her server.

That's really all there is to debugging rules. Narrow, eliminate, and research.

Good luck!