SharePoint Site Mailbox integration with Outlook – A new way to get email into SharePoint

What are SharePoint Site Mailboxes?

The SharePoint Site Mailbox concept is aimed at bringing Exchange emails and SharePoint documents together. So how does it do this?

The SharePoint Interface

A site mailbox can be created at a site level (maximum of 1 mailbox per site). From a navigation point of view the mailbox appears just as though it is another list or library in the SharePoint site.

sharepoint-site-mailbox-quick-launch

When you click on the Mailbox link things aren’t as nice and integrated as you would hope. Instead of showing the content of the mailbox within the SharePoint site, as you would the content from a Document Library or List, rather the link simply opens the Site Mailbox in Outlook Web Access. You are taken away from SharePoint to see the content of the Site Mailbox.

sharepoint-sitemailboxes-exchange-owa-view

 

This now starts to give you an understanding of what’s happening under the covers. When you add a Site Mailbox to a SharePoint site, you are effectively creating a mailbox on the Exchange server and then your site gets a link placed on it.

What is nice, is that the security of the mailbox is tied to the security permissions of your SharePoint site. So if you add or remove a user from your SharePoint site, the appropriate permissions are granted/revoked from the mailbox in Exchange as well.

Unfortunately this is about the extent of the integration of email and documents that you get through the SharePoint user interface, fortunately things will get a lot nicer when we look at things from the Outlook client…

The Outlook Interface

Outlook 2013 has been enhanced to support SharePoint Site Mailboxes. A really nice integration point is the automated rollout of Site Mailboxes directly to your Outlook profile based on your permissions to the SharePoint site. What this means is that if you are an owner or member of a SharePoint site and a Site Mailbox is created, that Site Mailbox will automatically get added to Outlook (even while Outlook is running). If your membership to the site is removed then the mailbox is automatically removed from Outlook as well. The Site Mailbox is represented in Outlook as a new store per site. All this talk of Site Mailboxes is a bit misleading though, because what you are actually getting in Outlook is the Document Libraries from the SharePoint site, not just the mailbox. What do I mean? lets have a look graphically at what you are getting:

outlook-2013-interface-sharepoint-site-mailboxes

When viewing the content of a Site Mailbox, the view presented is the same format and appearance as any other mail folder as shown below:

content-of-sharepoint-site-mailbox-in-outlook-2013

When viewing SharePoint Document Libraries you see an Outlook view of all the items in the document library as shown below:

outlook-2013-viewing-sharepoint-document-library-content

This is pretty cool. Exchange and SharePoint perform a synchronization to make this possible and stubs (not the actual file content) is stored in Exchange to make this view possible. Clicking on these items in the Outlook view to open them up then communicates directly to SharePoint to download and open the file.

Subfolders, both within the mailbox and within document libraries are supported.

Read more about what Microsoft has to say on SharePoint Site Mailboxes.

 

Pros and Cons

So now you have a basic grounding in what this integration looks like, what are the benefits and limitations of Site Mailboxes.

Pros

  • Site Mailboxes provide a consolidated view of site content stored within SharePoint and Exchange from within Microsoft Outlook
  • Minimal change with a familiar drag & drop process to the left navigation of Outlook. Allowing the capture of emails or email attachments into SharePoint and Exchange
  • Convenient access to SharePoint content from within Microsoft Outlook using a familiar metaphor of folders on the left navigation of Outlook.
  • Ability to include a Site Mailbox as an email recipient (e.g. cc’d) for saving emails into a Site Mailbox – Inbox
  • Ability to ‘Forward’ a link to a document within a Site Mailbox or drag/drop multiple documents into an email message.
  • Lifecycle Retention policies can be applied at a Site Mailbox level behind the scenes
    Management and Compliance: Site Mailboxes can be part of eDiscovery Search Scopes.
  • Minimal change for the end users and therefore greater user adoption and promotion of enterprise content management best practices
  • Less reliance on the IT Department once the SharePoint and Exchange environment have been configured for Site Mailboxes
  • More efficient means to support the business with records management initiatives
  • Streamlined provisioning and deployment of Site Mailboxes to end users based on security permissions within a SharePoint Site
  • Email content is retained within Microsoft Exchange while documents are retained within SharePoint

Cons

  • Setting up the environment to support Site Mailboxes involves installing and configuring software on both the Exchange and SharePoint servers and setting up trust relationships and having all communication over SSL.
  • Probably the biggest drawback is that you are not actually getting email into SharePoint. The email is stored in Exchange. This means you can’t treat it as a SharePoint object and include it as part of a business process. E.g. include it a part of a workflow, add metadata columns to email and build a SharePoint business process around it. I will add quickly that you can drag/drop email directly to a Document Library and this will get the email into SharePoint as an msg file.
  • You must be running SharePoint 2013, Exchange 2013 and Outlook 2013 to get access to Site Mailbox functionality
  • Very limited features on drag/drop of attachments to SharePoint document libraries – basically no support for metadata of any kind (no content type selection, no columns to complete, no validation of mandatory column, can’t rename files on upload, no support for versioning)
  • Viewing of SharePoint content is very limited. You are provided more with a file type view of content rather than a SharePoint view. You can’t show SharePoint columns in the Outlook view, you just get the filename, last modified, size, and checkout status.
  • Maximum of 10 Site Mailboxes can be added to Outlook

 

Further Reading

For a more in-depth look at SharePoint Site Mailboxes, and how to overcome some of the limitations I suggest reading the article White Paper – SharePoint 2013 Site Mailboxes

 

Site Mailboxes Aren’t for You – Need a Different Option?

For alternate methods of getting email into SharePoint please refer to my article (written based on SharePoint 2010 options) Five out-of-the-box ways to get Email into SharePoint.

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About Cameron Dwyer

Architect and developer of @OnePlaceMail. Passionate about delivering compelling solutions on the SharePoint platform. Addicted to coffee.

Posted on February 13, 2013, in Office, Office 365, Outlook, SharePoint and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Excellent Website, Keep up the excellent job. Thanks!

  2. Francois H. Pienaar

    Reblogged this on Francois Pienaar and commented:
    Thanks for all the detail on this topic. I love where Microsoft have gone with these features as the incoming email via IIS just didn’t work properly.

  3. Francois H. Pienaar

    Love the solution, but think the two way trust will be a challenge for large organization with tons of red tape.

  4. Is this also possible with office 365 sharepoint 2013 online?

    • Thanks for the question Jan.

      Yes, Site Mailboxes are available if you are using Office 365. In fact, implementing SharePoint Site Mailboxes becomes a lot easier if you have an Office 365 (SharePoint online) subscription. With Office 365 (hosted email and SharePoint), the necessary infrastructure and setup is already done for you so you can be up and running with Site Mailboxes very quickly.

      In the current version of Exchange 2013 you don’t get access to the Site Mailboxes when accessing your mail through the web interface (Outlook Web Access), they are only available when accessing your mail using the Outlook 2013 client.

      The other thing to be aware of is that not all Office 365 plans include Site Mailbox support (most do), check out this link for more information on the plans and which support Site Mailboxes.

      http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/business/compare-office-365-for-business-plans-FX102918419.aspx

      I hope this info helps.

  5. Hi,

    I was looking at the list of Pros and Cons. Your article seems to be over a year old now, have there been any changes in these two lists since you wrote the article?

    Thanks in advance
    Stan

  6. Hi Cameron,

    we’re using a SharePoint Issue Tracker to keep track of helpdesk related tasks which often involve email conversations with customers. Is there a convenient way to include email messages (in the .msg format) in richt text fields rather than saving the email from Outlook and then uploading into the field? Is there a drag&drop way of doing this? Does a site mailbox help here in any way?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Marina. I’m not aware of an easy way to get the content of an email message inside a rich text field of a SharePoint item. There’s a few issues I can think of that will cause problem with trying to achieve this. One of the major ones is the images within emails. These would have to be extracted out of the email and either uploaded as attachments to the list item and then referenced as URLs within the rich text field or they would need to be stored in a document library in SharePoint and referenced from there. Either way this isn’t going to happen natively out-of-the-box with SharePoint. Under this design I imagine you will also run into issues when you have a follow up email related to the issue as you would then need to somehow append that email (and it’s pictures/attachments) into the existing issue item.

      I think a better design would be to use a document library (instead of a Issue List), and create a document set per issue. Setup your document set to contain the columns around the status of the issue, assignment etc. Then each email or file related to the issue simply goes inside the document set and they are all nicely contained within the issue document set.

      I’ve been wanting to write some blog posts around this for a while. Hopefully I’ll get to it soon, check back or follow this blog over the next couple of months and hopefully I’ll have something by then.

      Good luck.

  7. Can site mailbox contents be shown on site pages using WebParts or WebApps?

  8. ,

    hi,
    Does this enable me to create site mailbox in a sub site ? I was trying to create site mailbox on my web appln url and i failed to proviosion.

    below is the scenario :

    and i m executing this particular cmd…

    .\Configure-EnterprisePartnerApplication.ps1 -ApplicationType Sharepoint -AuthMEtadataURl ….

    i am getting the from the exchange server:

    may i know how to resolve this error:

    note : i have NOT added the sp 2013 farm’s managed account into the exchange server’s admin group.

  9. sorry! i am posting the error mesage here:
    “cannot acquire auth metadata document from http://server1/15/_layouts/metadata/json/1

  10. Hi Cameron – would just like to confirm my understanding of a couple of points.

    1. The drag and drop of attachments from email into a library displayed on the left hand navigation of outlook only works if using site mailboxes.

    2. You add the comment below which I would like to learn if the following is possible directly through Outlook.
    I will add quickly that you can drag/drop email directly to a Document Library and this will get the email into SharePoint as an msg file.

    Thanks

  11. Hi there. a bit confused by your last screenshot in the article.

    we have Office 365 and SP2013. when adding SMBs to Outlook (in itself a challenge as we are having issues with permissions which are preventing SMBs to be made accessible in outlook, Microsoft looking into it), we only get the email folders, not the site documents. In other words, under our Project A equivalent, we can see the Inbox, Deleted Items and Junk, but not Documents as you have in your last screenshot. any special setting that we are missing?

    Appreciate the help!

    • Assuming the sync and server trust between the SharePoint server and Exchange server is setup and working property then there are a couple of things that drive which Document libraries get shown in Outlook.

      Only libraries created from the Document library template. Libraries created from other templates and 3rd party libraried may not show.

      Only libraties added to the quick launch (left nav menu in SharePoint) get added to Outlook. By adding additional libraries to the nav in SharePoint you can get them all coming through to Outlook.

      I’m not 100% sure of permission requirements at the library level, but i wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t see libraries that you only have read permissions to.

      I hope this helps and good luck.

  12. Hi Cameron, thanks for your post. I see you are running this on premise, do you know if anyone has successfully done this with current 365 2013 i.e have quick launch folders appear in Outlook 2013 desktop? It does not appear to work.
    If you have a link to the low level MS setup detailing the Document Library Template requirements that would be very helpful. Many Thanks

    • Hi, you are correct that this article was written with both the Exchange server and SharePoint on-premise. I did a quick test yesterday with both email and SharePoint in Office 365 and it worked fine for me without any additional setup or configuration.

      Here’s my Office 365 SharePoint site with multiple document libraries added to the Quick Launch.
      Office 365 Document Libraries added to Quick Launch

      This is a screenshot of my desktop Outlook 2013 client displaying those SharePoint document libraries.
      Outlook displaying multiple SharePoint (Office 365) Document Libraries

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