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Exchange 2010 FAQ: What is the Difference Between Disabling and Removing a Mailbox

Question: What is the difference between disabling and removing an Exchange 2010 mailbox using the Exchange Management Console?

Something that I see a lot of new Exchange administrators get mixed up with is the difference between disabling and removing mailboxes in Exchange Server 2010.

In the Exchange Management Console when a mailbox is selected the actions pane shows two tasks; Disable and Remove.

Exchange 2010 mailbox tasks: Disable and Remove

These two tasks do the following:

  • Disable will remove the Exchange attributes for the user account but leave the user account in Active Directory.  The mailbox is then also left in the Exchange mailbox database until the retention period has lapsed, then it is removed permanently.
  • Remove will remove both the Exchange mailbox and the user account from Active Directory

Unfortunately some admins wrongly assume that Disable is for temporarily disabling mailboxes, and that Remove will only remove the mailbox and not the user account.

If you’re having trouble remember the correct usage of these tasks think about it in terms of the Exchange Management Shell commands and how they pair up.

  • Enable-Mailbox is for creating a mailbox for an existing user, and Disable-Mailbox removes only the Exchange attributes from the user account
  • New-Mailbox is for creating a new AD user and mailbox at the same time, and Remove-Mailbox removes both the mailbox and the user object.

But if thats too hard just to try to remember that Disable is the safest option, because you can quickly reconnect the mailbox to the user again if it is still within the retention period.

Paul is a Microsoft MVP for Office Servers and Services. He works as a consultant, writer, and trainer specializing in Office 365 and Exchange Server. Paul is a co-author of Office 365 for IT Pros and several other books, and is also a Pluralsight author.
Category: Exchange Server

22 comments

  1. Chaitu says:

    Why can’t Microsoft just rename “Disable” to “Disconnect” when “Disconnect a mailbox” is the term used to explain the present “Disable” named task. 🙂

  2. EK Koay says:

    Hi Paul,

    What if we accidentally click Remove rather than Disable? Can we still re-connect back the disconnected mailbox if it is still within retention period? Please advise. Thanks.

  3. Minstralm says:

    People think in opposites, Disable – Enable, Delete -Create, Remove-Add

    2008 Exchange is VERY inconsistent- sometimes it says Apply sometimes OK or even other words like Confirm . I think the Software engineers didn’t have a continuity checker.

  4. jc says:

    ..and it´s good to remember when disabling mailbox – it also disconnects archive mailbox and that you cannot reconnect again like primary mailbox – right ?
    /jc

    “Disabling mailbox “Xxxxx Xxxxx” will remove the Exchange properties from the Active Directory user object and mark the mailbox in the database for removal. If the mailbox has an archive or remote archive, the archive will also be marked for removal. In the case of remote archives, this action is permanent. You can’t reconnect this user to the remote archive again.”

  5. Lisa says:

    I just want to completely DELETE, GONE, HAVE NO MORE 2 accounts. Can l do this prior to having a breakdown, or must we take valium first?

  6. jessi says:

    very helpful posting, but how can i disable all resigned staff at the same time ..? (beginner) ex: i have txt file(UPN list) that have to be disable

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