How do you back up your Contact Lists for IMAP email?

It appears that I’m not fully understanding how IMAP works, because every solution I’m coming up with seems pretty lame. My old computer (which I just upgraded) had two “email Accounts” set up for a single email address in Outlook 2013:

  1. IMAP for email, with offline cache stored in an ost file
  2. POP3 (I think?) for contacts, stored offline in a pst file

This is obviously inelegant. The net result was that for the last 8 years, my “folder pane” on the left side of Outlook 2013 looked like this, with the email account listed first and old-style pop3 account listed second:

…Inbox <== this is where new emails come in
…Junk E-Mail
…Search Folders
…Unread Mail

…Inbox <== important emails gets saved to folders I created under this
… …Amazon
… …Auto
… …Charities
… …Computer
… …(28 more folders. I have 32 folders for organizing saved emails)
…Sent Items
…Deleted Items
…Junk E-mail
…RSS Feeds
…Search Folders

Having two different “accounts” for the same email was super annoying, but it worked so I counted it good enough. I never really understood it so I essentially just ignored the “duplicate” Deleted Items, Junk E-Mail, Outbox, etc… But now with my brand new spiffy system I built myself from scratch, I’m looking to do it the right way this time.

So I set up IMAP as the default account. Now my brand new Outlook 2019 shows the following for the side panel, beautifully, perfectly manicured:

… …(all 32 folders)
…Sent Items
…(all the rest of the normal folders you see like Junk, etc…)

I was absolutely thrilled. Finally, I no longer have two different (confusing) “accounts” for a single email address. Importing my contact list and old saved emails from the old computer’s .pst file worked easily and flawlessly. Really, I couldn’t have been happier. Until I started using it.

This new IMAP default account with no POP3 secondary connection (if that’s what was actually happening on the old system) doesn’t default to show my email contacts. If I hit New Email, then choose “To…” to pick recipient(s), no contacts appear in the list. I have to manually change the “Address Book” dropdown from the new default of “Contacts (This Computer Only)” – which is empty – to “Contacts”, which has my actual contacts.

Every. Single. Email. If I create a new email, my default contacts list is empty, forcing me to change out the default “Contacts (This Computer Only)” address book to the “Contacts” address book. If I get an email from a new address I want to add to my contacts list, adding the new address defaults to the empty “This Computer Only” list, again forcing me to manually change the address book. If I forget – as in, I just add the new address normally the way I always used to – the new contact ends up alone in the “wrong” address book.

So, fine, if that’s the way of things in the modern world, I can adjust. I could (I think?) move all my “Contacts” to “Contacts (This Computer Only)” and call it a day.

Except, if I move everything to “Contacts (This Computer Only)”, those contacts cannot be backed up by backup software. Outlook saves IMAP data to ost files instead of pst files, and ost files cannot be backup up. Well, I mean, you can, but you CANNOT restore any data from ost files.

Which means that every time I do a backup, I will first have to manually open Outlook and click a million things to export all of my contacts (being sure to correctly pick them!) to a csv file or whatever, and only then can I run a backup.

This can’t be correct, can it? What kind of fucked up system requires you to manually open individual programs and manually export data to a different format just to be able to back it up?

Am I correct that IMAP email DOES NOT save your contacts list to the server? IMAP email can ONLY have “offline” contacts lists? That can’t be right.

Please, does anyone know anything about IMAP? I want to set up my beautiful new computer as follows:

  1. Using Outlook 2019 is a hard requirement
  2. In the left pane, I just have a single “account” with a single Inbox, a single Sent Items, etc…
  3. When I create a new email, the “To…” dialog defaults to my actually populated contact list.
  4. When I do a daily (weekly more likely) backup, I DO NOT WANT to have to open Outlook at all, just like I don’t have to open Firefox at all to back up my firefox profile.

Is it actually possible to accomplish this goal, satisfying all four of the above requirements? I assume it is possible because it seems like the kind of thing that pretty much everyone should want. Which leads me to suspect that I just don’t understand something very basic about how IMAP works.

Does anyone know if the very basic, straightforward, common sense solution I’m looking for is even technically possible?

My current solution is to abandon IMAP altogether and just go straight POP3 for everything, since that saves everything to a pst file which is easily backed up and restored from. Note that I don’t particularly care about syncing emails between multiple devices. This is for this-desktop-only email that I will never check on any other device.

Before I go the (seemingly crazy in 2021) POP3 route I figured I’d ask here to see if anyone knows the “proper” way this is supposed to be done.

So in a nutshell, how do you back up your contacts list for IMAP email?

Turns out that it is not correct, thankfully. IMAP contacts are saved on the server; all I had to do was switch my default address book to the online address book instead of the offline (This Computer Only) one.

From Outlook’s main ribbon/toolbar, click Address Book. The same address book screen opens as if you clicked the “To…” button on a new email, except when you open it from the main toolbar it has a file menu that lets you change Options (or Settings or whatever.) In those settings you can change the default address book to the online address book instead of the (This Computer Only) one.

And then you’re all done. No backup of any kind needed ever; all your emails and contacts are backed up by the email provider on their servers. In fact, you CANNOT back up any of it because if you try to restore from a backup, it will erase all your server data when it tries to auto-sync. Definitely do not back up anything.

This simple (and seemingly obvious) solution was incredibly confusing to figure out thanks to google searches, which only seemed to find articles like this when searching for help:

Don’t risk losing your Contacts and Calendar when using IMAP in Outlook 2013, 2016, 2019, or Office 365
This article says to move you contacts and calendar to a pst file so you can back them up. Don’t do that. Just keep them on the server.

Contacts – Can I get rid of “contacts:this computer only folder” since I don’t use it?
I can’t 100% for sure say what this solution is suggesting, but it says to go to File => Account => Data File to change something. That’s wrong; you’re changing the Address Book, not the Data File.

The fact that Microsoft creates and then defaults to local “This Computer Only” folders is the root problem. If they didn’t do that, everything would work fine right out of the box. Creating empty local versions of your address book and calendar, and then defaulting to those local empty versions, is seemingly just cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Not cool, Microsoft.

Also, unimpressive help out there in the various forums. Hopefully the next person who struggles with this will now see this thread.

(I don’t use Calendar, but I assume it works the same.)