Autodiscover

Overview

Autodiscover has two purposes:

  1. It helps an email client such as Entourage, Web Services Edition, or Outlook for Mac automatically configure a user’s account based on the email address and password he enters during account setup.
  2. It helps maintain a connection to the Exchange server or update settings in the mail client when these settings are changed on the network.

This feature was introduced in Exchange Server 2007 as part of the Exchange Web Services (EWS) protocol. When properly configured it will allow most any Exchange client to ask the Exchange server for setup details by using only the user’s email address and password.

Outlook Exchange auto-configuration

During Autodiscover, an Exchange user enters his email address, user name and password. When he clicks the Add Account button Autodiscover will use this information to retrieve his account settings automatically.

Autodiscover will retrieve the Exchange user’s full name, Exchange server address and Directory service address if one is available. (Directory services are typically not available when accessing private Exchange servers via the Internet.)

Account settings retrieved during Autodiscover setup

After Autodiscover setup a user's account settings are populated for him including his Exchange server address and Directory service address, if available.

Autodiscover checks with the network to verify settings every time the mail client is launched and periodically while it’s running. If any settings have changed, such as the Exchange server address or Directory service address, then these will be updated automatically.

Laptop users who move from inside a company network with an internal Exchange server typically cannot access that Exchange server from the Internet. Autodiscover can be configured to direct laptop-based mail clients between internal and external servers. Autodiscover must be configured to direct internal mail clients to an internal server and external mail clients to an external server. This requires DNS entries to be properly configured for both networks.

Process

When a user enters his account settings into the mail client and clicks the Add Account button Autodiscover uses the SMTP domain of the email address, such as talkingmoose.pvt, to locate that domain’s Autodiscover server, which is either:

  • http://autodiscover.talkingmoose.pvt/autodiscover/autodiscover.xml
  • http://talkingmoose.pvt/autodiscover/autodiscover.xml

This directs the mail client to a Client Access Server (CAS). The CAS returns account information for the email address provided by the user. The mail client takes this account information and configures the Exchange account in the mail client.

If the mail client has changed networks, such as when a laptop moves from inside the company network to the Internet, then users will be prompted about the change and asked to confirm that they would like to change servers. For example, Outlook for Mac users will receive the message:

Outlook was redirected to the server autodiscover.talkingmoose.pvt to get new settings for your account Talking Moose. Do you want to allow this server to configure your settings?

Click Allow only if you fully trust the source, or if your Exchange Administrator instructs you to do so.

Autodiscover change

When autodiscover detects a change it will prompt users to confirm using the new information.

Troubleshooting

Where Autodiscover services are either partially or incorrectly configured, users may experience the above from their mail client indicating they are being redirected to a different server, which may not exist or may be inaccessible. This can happen when an external DNS entry points to an internal server that is not accessible via the Internet. Administrators can either:

  1. Correct the Autodiscover settings on the network to properly direct mail clients to the correct server (preferable).
  2. Disable Autodiscover for the Exchange account in the mail client itself.

To disable Autodiscover in Outlook for Mac run the following AppleScript command in AppleScript Editor.app:

tell application "Microsoft Outlook"
	set background autodiscover of exchange account 1 to false
end tell

Exchange administrators may also need to test their external Autodiscover settings during setup or to troubleshoot connectivity issues. Microsoft has provided the Exchange Server Remote Connectivity Analyzer tool for them. This is a secure Microsoft website that will test a company’s Autodiscover settings and provide feedback about network and Exchange settings.

Technical references

Exchange Autodiscover (http://www.msexchange.org/)

Understanding the Autodiscover Service (http://technet.microsoft.com)

How the Autodiscover service works with Outlook for Mac 2011 (http://mac2.microsoft.com)

Exchange Server Remote Connectivity Analyzer (http://www.testexchangeconnectivity.com)

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