The automatic or out-of-office "OOF" reply (also called "out-of-office assistant") has been available in Exchange for a long time and is one of the most important features for end users. If they can't set up their automatic replies themselves, the admin can use ECP and PowerShell to do so.

This function is used when employees are not present in the company, due, for example, to vacation, illness, or other reasons, and cannot be reached by email during this time.

The automatic reply can be configured both in the Outlook client and via OWA. The user writes the text, which can be different for internal and external recipients. These replies can be limited to a certain period of time. Rules can also be configured, for example, to forward incoming mail.

To avoid an email loop, the automatic reply only responds once per sender. Hence, a sender who sends a message to a mailbox with an out-of-office reply will receive only one reply.

Setting up automatic replies for users

In some cases, the Exchange administrator or the service desk has to activate an automatic reply for a user. This is the case, for example, when the OWA is not accessible from outside the company, and the user cannot access their mailbox from home.

The easiest and fastest way is for you, the administrator, to access the user's mailbox via the Exchange ECP by selecting Another user from the dropdown menu in the upper right corner.

Switch to the settings of another mailbox in the ECP

Switch to the settings of another mailbox in the ECP

Select the user for whom you want to set the automatic reply. The user's mailbox options are displayed. Here, you can set up the out-of-office reply on the right side under Set up an automatic reply message.

Link to the automatic reply settings

Link to the automatic reply settings

Set up the automatic reply via PowerShell

Another possibility would be to configure the automatic reply via PowerShell. The Set-MailboxAutoreplyConfiguration cmdlet is provided for this purpose.

A simple command looks like this:

Set-MailboxAutoReplyConfiguration -Identity $mailbox -AutoReplyState Enabled \`
-InternalMessage $Emailbody -ExternalMessage $Emailbody

The parameters Identity, InternalMessage, and ExternalMessage get their values from variables in our example. We used the same message text for internal and external recipients. This is defined by a Here-string in PowerShell:

$EmailBody = @"
 <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
<body style="font-family: Calibri;">
Dear Sir or Madam,<br/><br/>
Thank you for your message.<br/><br/>
I will be back in the office on ddmmyyyy. Your email will not be forwarded.<br/><br/>
Please contact if the matter is urgent.<br/><br/>
Best regards<br/><br/>

In addition, you can use the Starttime and Endtime parameters to specify the period during which the out-of-office message should be valid. To do this, however, you have to invoke the AutoReplyState parameter with the scheduled option.

An already configured automatic reply can be read using Get-MailboxAutoReplyConfiguration.

Redirecting a mailbox as an additional option

The only drawback with both ECP and PowerShell is that apparently, rules cannot be edited or created in the automatic reply. For example, to redirect the mailbox via ECP or PowerShell, you could issue the following PowerShell command:

Set-Mailbox $Identity -ForwardingAddress $ForwardAddress -DeliverToMailboxAndForward ($false/$true)

This command would correspond to the following setting in the user mailbox in the ECP:

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If you want to redirect the mailbox in addition to the out of office reply you have to do this separately

If you want to redirect the mailbox in addition to the out of office reply you have to do this separately

The disadvantage of such a separate redirection is that the user himself cannot switch off the mail forwarding, so you, as the administrator, have to keep it in mind.

1 Comment
  1. Avatar
    ralf 1 year ago

    Thank you very much for the great article. But where do I have to save the $EmailBody on the exchange server and in which format? Best regards, Ralf

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