If you use Outlook to keep track of your contacts from day to day, then you may notice some subtle changes if your Outlook profile is ever changed – for example changing to use a different computer or migrating your email to a new service. Most people will notice that their auto-complete data doesn’t move in such situations, but (in most cases at least) your contacts can be moved and migrated as needed.This post will go over the differences between contacts and auto-complete data, as well as the limitations and reasons why auto-complete data can’t be transferred for some cases.


You can always view your contacts in Outlook by clicking the Address Book button or using the hotkey Ctrl+Shift+B ( ⌘+0 on MacOS ). You can also see your contacts at a glance using the contacts pane (hotkey Ctrl+3 or ⌘+3 on MacOS ). It should be noted that if you’re using an Exchange type email account (Office 365 for example) that there can be multiple parts of your address book where contacts can be saved. You can see the multiple parts by opening the Address Book then clicking the drop-down menu titled Address Book.

If you’re ever in a situation where you think you may have lost your contacts, these are the locations you should check first. Generally speaking it’s rare that people lose some or all of their contacts, it’s usually the case that you don’t have a contact saved in Outlook’s auto-complete data that causes most people to think they’ve lost their contact(s).

The Address Book window
The Address Book list drop-down

Auto-Complete data

Outlook keeps a small database of contacts separate from your regular contacts. This data is used when you begin to type a contact’s name or address in Outlook, you’ll see a little list appear with the contacts it thinks you may be typing out.This data is populated from multiple places, the most common way it will add a contact to the auto-complete data is when you send an email to someone not already in the list. If you don’t have someone’s address automatically appearing when you begin typing their name, then this is the quickest way to get them added so they appear in the future.It’s important to understand that this auto-complete data is completely separate from your saved contacts, you can technically have a person’s email address in the auto-complete list that you haven’t saved in your contacts at all. The same is true in reverse – your contacts may not necessarily appear in the auto-complete list under some circumstances.
Typing without any auto-complete data
Typing with auto-complete data available

If you ever want to turn off the auto-complete functionality in Outlook for any reason, that is also possible. You can find the option by going to File > Options > Mail and then scrolling down a bit and looking for the “Use Auto-Complete List to suggest names when typing in the To, Cc, and Bcc lines” option – un-check it to disable the feature.

You’ll also find the Empty Auto-Complete List button in that location which you can use to clear the data, this can be a useful troubleshooting step as well if you’re running into issues with auto-complete in Outlook.

Note: If you use Outlook for MacOS there is no setting for the Auto-Complete cache under Outlook > Preferences. The only way you can remove entries from the cache is when to click the X button beside the listed name when you’re typing in a text field. See the picture below for further clarification, for more information on the Auto-Complete cache on MacOS see this article from Microsoft.

The auto-complete setting and empty button in Outlook options

How to delete an entry from the auto-complete cache when using MacOS

In situations where you’ve had a new Outlook profile created (such as migrating from using POP / IMAP email to Microsoft Exchange / Office 365) you will find the auto-complete data doesn’t move with your profile. The auto-complete cache can’t be moved in most cases as there is other hidden information also saved in the cache related to your account configuration. So if it is moved over it will usually cause issues preventing your emails from being delivered when you attempt to auto-complete an email address (among other issues).At the very least if your auto-complete cache is cleared or lost, it can be rebuilt just by using Outlook normally. You may have to look up a contact every so often but it’s usually a quick process to get back to normal. This information should help you differentiate between what and where your contacts are and what the Auto-Complete cache is and how it functions, as well as why this data can’t be moved in some situations. If you’re interested in more information about the auto-complete cache you can find an article from Microsoft here.

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