Outlook crashes & hangs

Is Outlook constantly asking to be rebuilt, hanging or crashing? Unlike Microsoft Entourage, which stores messages within the Database file and creates one multi-megabyte or even multi-gigabyte file, Outlook stores messages separately from the Database file. You can read all about the new database in Outlook, Outlook, how does your Database grow? Even though we have a new improved database there are still issues. Many involve the initial import into Outlook. Let’s first look at dealing with some known causes for crashing before we start troubleshooting.

Known causes for crashing

  • Constant errors to rebuild? You rebuild but the error keeps coming back. Signatures with graphics seem to be one of the culprits that gives you the “database needs rebuilding” errors. Select a different default sig without logo/image.
  • Importing .PST file causes Outlook to crash. Some users import with no problems and others start crashing as soon as they import. See this post on using Emailchemy to ease the process if you are one of the unlucky users experiencing problems importing .PST files.
  • Importing from Entourage. If your Entourage data was corrupt and didn’t import correctly, I suggest first testing in a new Identity without importing to be sure Outlook opens without crashing. If Outlook works, then try exporting Entourage data as .rge or .mbox and import those files rather than importing directly. See directions on the Entourage Help Page for help exporting your data.
  • Duplicate Fonts and font caches. Clearing duplicate fonts and cleaning font cashes can quickly fix some crashes. See Font Management for help.
  • Huge data files on the server– If you have thousands of messages on the server, some users are reporting days before the sync is complete causing Outlook to be unstable and crash. If you can create smaller folders, this might help with the sync. See Optimize Entourage to better work with Exchange (same concepts apply to Outlook)
  • Your base system files – If your OS files are not updated and you are running an old version of Safari, you could be experiencing problems. Download the latest Apple combo updater and run Software Updater under the Apple in the Menu bar. I also suggest running Repair Permissions using Disk Utility.

Quick Steps to Troubleshoot

  1. Does Outlook work if you boot using Safe boot Mode?
    Starting your computer in Safe Boot Mode forces your computer to run various maintenance tasks and disables fonts. If it works in Safe Boot Mode, you can narrow your search to the items that were disabled. On user found a startup item was causing their hangs with download messages. More info
  2. Have you tested Outlook in a new Identity?
    Testing in a new Identity can eliminate problems with your current Identity. More info
  3. Have you tested Outlook in a new User?
    Testing in a new User will quickly tell you if the problem is system wide or if it’s your User’s folder that contains the problem. Go to System Preferences –> Create a New User in Accounts. Switch to the New User by logging out/in or use Fast User Switching. Test your problem in the new User. If the problems go away, start troubleshooting your User’s folder. More info
  4. Rebuild your database– the new database is quicker to rebuild. It requires 3x space of data files. More info
  5. Repair your Identity – this option is new. You completely remove the database and Outlook will reconstruct a new database using the Data Records data files.
  6. Remove Preferences– See Step 4 in this Microsoft KB to remove preferences
  7. Free Disk Space– If you have less than 10% free disk space odd things can start to happen. See this page to see how to check for free disk space and how to clean up some large files if you need more space.

Details on troubleshooting Office and Outlook

You might want to start with troubleshooting Office. If your base install of either the OS or Office is faulty then Outlook will also have issues. I’ve only hit the highlights in this post, the following links will guide you through troubleshooting Office and Outlook with more details.

Microsoft KBs to help troubleshoot:

See Outlook FAQs for answers to other issues like can’t reply or create new emails.

Share this:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • PDF
  • Print

4 comments to Outlook crashes & hangs

  • Brian

    I just rebuilt my database and Outlook won’t open at all. I click the icon and it bounces in the dock twice then stops. Nothing else happens. What can I do?


    • Let’s test your Identity in a new User.

      Drag your current Identity folder to Shared. Your Hard Drive/Users/Shared

      Go to System Preferences –> Create a New User in Accounts. Switch to the New User by logging out/in or use Fast User Switching.

      Open Outlook and let it create a new Microsoft User Data folder and Identity.

      Quit Outlook

      Drag from Shared your Identity. (it actually copies)

      Replace the blank Identity with your Identity

      Open Outlook. Does it work?

      If yes, this indicate problems in your User’s folder. You can try removing Microsoft .plist files and the Microsoft folder in your User’s Library/Preferences folder.

      If no, then your database is most likely hosed. At this time we have to magic retrieval process.

      Remember to drag back from Shared your Identity when you are in your regular User’s account.

      Let us know if this works.

  • shawna


    Thank you for posting these instructions. I started having the exact same problem today with my Outlook 2011.I removed the .plist files, etc. and it didn’t start. I removed all, and when the box came up to select a main identity, I clicked on add new. I had to enter all of the account info in again, but once I did this, Outlook started right up without issues. (for now, haha)

    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge!

  • Bocaboy

    Same problem here. I had to build a new Exchange identity to get things working again. My problem started when I inadvertently tried to delete the Sync Issues folder. Even after I put it back into place, Outlook still displayed the yellow error sign. Within a day, the computer started to freeze and I traced the problem back to Outlook. In my case, rebuilding did nothing to solve the problem. The only way I could restore this was to build a new identity. I probably could have also restored from a Time Machine backup, but since all of my Exchange data is on our company server, my thinking was that this was the easiest way to get things working again.