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Mailbox autoreplies

If you are considering creating an autoreply message or rule, you must read the background on this page and consult your IT support staff or the IT Services Help Centre before going ahead.

What is an autoreply and why would I want one?

An autoreply is a message sent for you, automatically by the server, in response to an incoming email. It can be set up using Microsoft Outlook and its advantage is that Outlook does not need to be running for the response to be generated. There are, however, some disadvantages to using the autoreply feature of Outlook rules and you should think carefully before doing so.

An autoreply rule is any which, in Outlook, uses the option “have server reply using <a specific message>”.

Reasons for wanting an autoreply on a mailbox include
  • Where a simple out of office (OOF) or vacation message will not satisfy your requirements
  • Where it is important that a rapid response is generated without Outlook being left running
Can I just use an Out of Office response when it is not strictly a message to say that someone is ‘out of the office’?
Yes, and you are strongly encouraged to do so! There are risks to using manually created autoreplies that can be avoided by using an ‘out of office’ message.
Are there any risks in working with autoreplies?
Yes. You run the risk of creating mail loops, encouraging spam and endangering the Oxford Nexus service for your own and others’ use.
What is a mail loop and how can this cause one?
These questions are best answered by an example. Some people’s Reply-to settings mean that an email sent to them goes to a machine with an auto-responder, such as an issue or ‘ticketing’ system. If such a person were to email your mailbox with your autoreply rule active, then your mailbox would generate an email reply to the address requested. If that address also had an auto-respond rule applied or was, for example, an issue tracking system, it would reply to you. Then your mailbox would auto-respond with an email and a loop is therefore generated. Thus, in minutes, your and their mailbox could fill up with automated messages. The loop is only broken when one of the rules is deactivated or if one of the mailboxes fills so much that it becomes suspended or unable to receive any more messages.
How is an OOF any better?
Out of Office (vacation autoreply) messages are created with some extra information to indicate that they are machine-generated. Most automatic response servers, such as issue tracking systems, know not to respond to such messages in order to avoid mail loops.
Will I be encouraging spam?
Yes, you could be. Spammers routinely generate hundreds of thousands of ‘made up’ or guessed addresses. If they receive a reply from one of those addresses, they know that they were lucky and have hit a real mailbox. Spam to a mailbox with an autoreply may therefore be intensified.
This is an experimental service
Many email services do not allow autoreply rules. However, there has been a demand at Oxford and Oxford Nexus therefore supports this functionality on an experimental basis. If many problems are encountered, the service may be withdrawn.


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Written by IT Services. Latest revision 5 September 2014