Manage inactive mailboxes in Exchange Online

Exchange Online
 

Applies to: Exchange Online, Office 365

Topic Last Modified: 2017-06-08

Exchange Online makes it possible for you to retain the contents of deleted mailboxes. This feature is called inactive mailboxes. Inactive mailboxes allow you to retain former employees’ email after they leave your organization. A mailbox becomes inactive when a Litigation Hold or an Office 365 retention policy (created in the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center) is applied to the mailbox before the corresponding Office 365 user account is deleted. The contents of an inactive mailbox are retained for the duration of the hold that was placed on the mailbox before it was made inactive. This allows administrators, compliance officers, and records managers to use Content Search in the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center to search and export the contents of an inactive mailbox. Inactive mailboxes can't receive email and aren't displayed in your organization's shared address book or other lists.

ImportantImportant:
After July 1, 2017, you'll no longer be able to create a new In-Place Hold to make a mailbox inactive. Only Litigation Holds and Office 365 retention policies can be used to create an inactive mailbox. However, existing inactive mailboxes that are on In-Place Hold will still be supported, and you can continue to manage the In-Place Holds on inactive mailboxes. This includes changing the duration of an In-Place Hold and permanently deleting an inactive mailbox by removing the In-Place Hold.

  • To make a mailbox inactive, it must be assigned an Exchange Online (Plan 2) license so that a Litigation Hold or an Office 365 retention policy can be applied to the mailbox before it's deleted. Exchange Online (Plan 2) licenses are part of an Office 365 365 Enterprise E3 and E5 subscriptions. If a mailbox is assigned an Exchange Online (Plan 1) license (which is part of an Office 365 365 Enterprise E1 subscription), you would have to assign it a separate Exchange Online Archiving license so that a hold can be applied to the mailbox before it's deleted. For more information, see Exchange Online Archiving.

  • The license associated with the deleted Exchange Online mailbox will be available after you delete the corresponding Office 365 user account. You can then assign that license to another user.

  • If a Litigation Hold or an Office 365 retention policy isn't applied to a mailbox before it's deleted, the contents of the mailbox won't be retained or discoverable. However, the deleted mailbox can be recovered within 30 days of deletion, but the mailbox and its contents will be permanently deleted after 30 days if it isn't recovered.

  • For more information about Litigation Hold, see In-Place Hold and Litigation Hold. For more information about Office 365 retention policies in the Security & Compliance Center, see Overview of retention policies in Office 365.

Making a mailbox inactive involves two steps: placing the mailbox on Litigation Hold or applying an Office 365 retention policy to it, and then deleting the mailbox or corresponding Office 365 user account. After the mailbox is inactive, its contents are retained until the hold or retention policy is removed.

Placing a mailbox on Litigation Hold or applying an Office 365 retention policy retains the contents in the mailbox before it's deleted. Both types of holds will retain all mailbox content, including deleted items and original versions of modified items. Deleted and modified items are retained in the inactive mailbox for a specified period, or until you permanently delete the inactive mailbox by removing the hold or retention policy that's applied to the inactive mailbox.

If a hold is already placed on a mailbox, or if an Office 365 retention policy is already applied to a mailbox, then all you have to do is delete the corresponding Office 365 user account as explained in Step 2.

For step-by-step procedures for placing a mailbox on Litigation Hold or applying an Office 365 retention policy, see:

NoteNote:
For Litigation Holds and Office 365 retention policies, you can create an indefinite hold or on a time-based hold. In an indefinite hold, the contents of the inactive mailbox will be retained forever, or until the hold is removed or until the hold duration is changed. After the hold or retention policy is removed (assuming that the mailbox was deleted more than 30 days ago), the inactive mailbox will be marked for permanent deletion and the contents of the mailbox will no longer be retained or discoverable. In a time-based hold or Office 365 retention policy, you specify the duration of the hold. This duration is on a per-item basis and is calculated from the date a mailbox item was received or created. After the hold expires for a mailbox item, and that item moved to or is located in the Recoverable Items folder in the inactive mailbox, the item is permanently deleted (purged) from the inactive mailbox after the deleted item retention period expires.

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After the mailbox is placed on hold or an Office 365 retention policy is applied to it, the next step is to delete the mailbox. The best way to delete a mailbox is to delete the corresponding Office 365 user account in the Office 365 admin center. For information about deleting Office 365 user accounts, see Delete or restore users.

NoteNote:
You can also delete the mailbox by using the Remove-Mailbox cmdlet in Exchange Online PowerShell. For more information, see Delete or restore user mailboxes in Exchange Online.

The following list describes what you can do after you make a mailbox inactive. To get a list of the inactive mailboxes in your organization so that can manage them, run the following command in Exchange Online PowerShell.

Get-Mailbox -InactiveMailboxOnly

You can access the contents of the inactive mailbox by using the Content Search tool in the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center. When you search an inactive mailbox, you can create a keyword search query to search for specific items or you can return the entire contents of the inactive mailbox. You can preview the search results or export the search results to an Outlook Data (PST) file or as individual email messages. For step-by-step procedures for searching mailboxes and exporting search results, see the following topics:

After a mailbox is made inactive, you can change the duration of the Litigation Hold or the In-Place Hold on the inactive mailbox. For step-by-step procedures, see Change the hold duration for an inactive mailbox in Exchange Online.

If a former employee returns to your organization, or if a new employee is hired to take on the job responsibilities of the departed employee, you can recover the contents of the inactive mailbox. When you recover an inactive mailbox, the mailbox is converted to a new mailbox, the contents and folder structure of the inactive mailbox are retained, and the mailbox is linked to a new user account. After it's recovered, the inactive mailbox no longer exists. For step-by-step procedures and more information about happens when you recover an inactive mailbox, see Recover an inactive mailbox in Exchange Online.

If another employee takes on the job responsibilities of a former employee, or if another person needs access to the contents of the inactive mailbox, you can restore (or merge) the contents of the inactive mailbox to an existing mailbox. When you restore an inactive mailbox, the contents are copied to another mailbox. The inactive mailbox is retained and remains an inactive mailbox. The inactive mailbox can still be searched using eDiscovery, its contents can be restored to another mailbox, or it can be recovered or deleted at a later date. For step-by-step procedures, see Restore an inactive mailbox in Exchange Online.

If you no longer need to retain the contents of an inactive mailbox, you can permanently delete the inactive mailbox by removing the hold or removing the Office 365 retention policy applied to the inactive mailbox. If the mailbox was deleted more than 30 days ago, the mailbox will be marked for permanent deletion after you remove the hold, and the mailbox will become non-recoverable. If the mailbox was deleted within the last 30 days, you can still recover the mailbox after removing the hold or retention policy. For step-by-step procedures for removing a hold or removing the Office 365 retention policy to permanently delete an inactive mailbox, see Delete an inactive mailbox in Exchange Online .

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