What are Retention Policies and Tags in Exchange Server

In this article, we are going to see the features of retention policies and its tag to manage our Exchange environment in a better way.


Retention policies are used to determine the life cycle of emails in the Exchange environment. Retention and Archiving are two different features, however they work hand-in-hand. Retention policy is also called as Message Records Management (MRM).


As the word denotes, it is used to retain emails based on the time frame. Retention process is done through policies. We can create several policies, but only one can be assigned to a mailbox. Retention Policies are comprised of multiple Individual Retention Tags. These Tags are the Granular settings, which defines the action item or action performed. There are three types of Tags available.

  1. Default Policy Tag
  2. Retention Policy Tag
  3. Personal Policy Tag

Below Image shows all the three tags.Three Types Of Tags

Configure The Retention Policy

The above Image displays how the Retention policy is configured. The below Image shows the built-in Retention Tags.The Built-in Retention Tags

To Understand the Retention tags, we should know about the folders in our mailbox. Certain folders are called as Default Folders. These are the set of folders that are created along with the mailbox. All the other folders are user created and called as personal folder. Root of the mailbox will be assigned with a Default Tag. Child Folders will start inheriting the policy from its parent folder. If a folder is explicitly applied with a tag, then its child folder will inherit. If we need deny inheritance, we should assign a different policy on that user mailbox, else those child folders will get the Default policy from the Root.

Default Policy Tag: As discussed previously, the tag is directly applied to Root of the Mailbox, and this will be inherited for all the folders that are unassigned with a tag. Below screenshot will show the various options available for a default tag.Various Options Available For A Default Tag

Retention Policy Tag: This tag applies to the set to default folders. We can create explicit tags for different default folders. Below snapshot will explain it.Retention Policy Tag Applies To A Default Folders

Below are list of Default folders for this tag can be applied.

  • Calendar
  • Conversation History
  • Deleted Items
  • Drafts
  • Inbox
  • Journal
  • Junk E-mail
  • Notes
  • Outbox
  • RSS Feeds
  • Recoverable Items
  • Sent Items
  • Sync Issues
  • Tasks

Personal Policy Tag: These are custom created tags, to apply for the personal folders in the mailbox. To use this feature we need to have Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) in place.Personal Policy Tag


MRM or Retention policy should be created first. Then all the required retention tags should be created. We need to go to Retention Policy and add all the required Tags. Now our Policy is ready to use.

How to apply a Policy to a Mailbox:

Once the Retention policy is created. We can apply it to the mailbox.

Navigate to Exchange Admin Center → Recipients → Mailbox → Open the Mailbox → Mailbox features → Retention Policy. Now you can select the desired policy.Select The Desired Policy

Retention Hold:

Retention Hold is to suspend the Retention Policy Actions on the folders. The policy will still be applied but it will not take effect on the mailbox. Hence no mail items will be deleted or moved. This is primarily used when a user takes a long leave or goes on a Vacation. Users can still login to the mailbox and continue to work. Retention hold can be performed only using powershell. Below is the command.

Set-Mailbox “Test Mailbox 1” -RetentionHoldEnabled $true

To remove the mailbox from retention hold

Set-Mailbox “Test Mailbox 1” -RetentionHoldEnabled $false.   


Retention is an integral part of messaging systems. Learning about this will give more control in managing the environment in a better way. Even if Outlook is configured in cached mode, once it get synchronized with the server then these retention policy will be applied. The relevant mails will be moved or removed based on the policy. If there are any issues in Exchange database then we can recover using the OST recovery option and import it back to the system.

Author Introduction:

Sophia Mao is a data recovery expert in DataNumen, Inc., which is the world leader in data recovery technologies, including repair pst mail and word recovery software products. For more information visit www.datanumen.com

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