Create a company Shared Contacts folder in Office 365

Many businesses require a shared contact list that is accessible by all users, for example a list of client email addresses and phone numbers.

In this article we will create a Shared Contact list in an Office 365 tenant that will be accessible by all staff members with an Office 365 mailbox.

This will be done using a public folder, which means it can be access from the Outlook application. Unfortunately public folders are not yet accessible from Mobile Devices or Outlook Web Access (OWA).

Creating a Public Folder Mailbox

You will need to create a Public Folder mailbox if you do not already have one. This is done in the Exchange Admin Center.

Exchange Admin Center
Exchange Admin Center

If you are using a Small Business Office 365 subscription, you can access the Exchange Admin Center using this workaround.

Now navigate to the Public Folders section on the left hand side to create your public folder mailbox.

Create Public Folder Mailbox
Create Public Folder Mailbox

Click the Plus button and create a new mailbox as shown.

New Public Folder Mailbox
New Public Folder Mailbox

Creating the Root Public Folder

Now that you have a Public Folder Mailbox it’s time to create the root public folder. This is also done in the Exchange Admin Center.

Click Public Folders at the top of the screen and click the plus button to create a new folder. We recommend you give the root folder a very generic name as shown below.

Create Public Folder
Create Public Folder

You now have to assign appropriate permissions to this root folder. We recommend that you allow Administrators to be an Owner of this folder and keep the rest as default. This will mean that normal users cannot create new public folders, it will have to be done by an administrator.

Firstly, click Manage under Folder Permissions.

Manage Public Folder Permissions
Manage Public Folder Permissions

Then add all your administrators in and give them Owner permissions.

Assign yourself Owner Permissions
Assign yourself Owner Permissions
Public Folder Permissions
Public Folder Permissions

Creating the Shared Contacts Public Folder

Now your public folder environment is correctly configured and you can start creating the Contacts folder using Microsoft Outlook.

Open up Outlook and navigate to the folders list.

View Folders in Outlook
View Folders in Outlook

You should see the Public Folders section. If you do not see the public folders section check that you have assigned the correct permissions above. If you have only just created the public folder mailbox and root public folder it may take a few hours for the public folders to appear here.

Expand out your Public Folders and All Public Folders until you see the root public folder you create earlier.

View All Folders in Outlook
View All Folders in Outlook

Right Click on this root public folder and click New Folder to create a Shared Contact folder as pictured.

Create Shared Calendar Public Folder in Outlook
Create Shared Calendar Public Folder in Outlook

Right Click on the newly created folder and click Properties. You can now set permissions as to who will have access to view and modify the contacts.

Anonymous refers to users outside your company. We recommend setting these permissions to None.
Default refers to authenticated users within your company. We recommend setting these permissions to Author, which will allow them to create new contacts and edit their own.

The different permissions are as follows:

WITH THIS PERMISSION LEVEL (OR ROLE) YOU CAN
Owner Create, read, modify, and delete all items and files, and create subfolders. As the folder owner, you can change the permission levels others have for the folder. (Does not apply to delegates.)
Publishing Editor Create, read, modify, and delete all items and files, and create subfolders. (Does not apply to delegates.)
Editor Create, read, modify, and delete all items and files.
Publishing Author Create and read items and files, create subfolders, and modify and delete items and files you create. (Does not apply to delegates.)
Author Create and read items and files, and modify and delete items and files you create.
Contributor Create items and files only. The contents of the folder do not appear. (Does not apply to delegates.)
Reviewer Read items and files only.
Custom Perform activities defined by the folder owner. (Does not apply to delegates.)
None You have no permission. You can’t open the folder.
Set Default Contacts Permissions
Set Default Contacts Permissions

Adding the Contacts folder to Outlook

Each user will now need to add this contacts folder to their Outlook favorites which will allow them to see the contacts list in Outlook.

To add the folder to their favorites each user will need to do the following.

Open up Outlook and navigate to the folders list.

View Folders in Outlook
View Folders in Outlook

If they do not see the public folders section check that you have assigned the correct permissions above. If you have only just created the public folder mailbox and root public folder it may take a few hours for the public folders to appear here.

Expand out your Public Folders and All Public Folders until you see the contacts public folder you create earlier.

Right click the contacts folder and click Add to Favorites.

Add folder to Favorites in Outlook
Add folder to Favorites in Outlook

Now that the folder is in your Favorites, expand the Favorites Public Folder, and right click the Contacts folder you just added and click Properties.

Now click on the Outlook Address Book tab and tick the Show this folder as an email Address Book box and click OK.

Add folder to Address Book
Add folder to Address Book

This will allow the user to view the Shared Contacts in their address book list when they create a new email messages.

Select Shared Contacts
Select Shared Contacts
View Shared Contacts in Address Book
View Shared Contacts in Address Book

They will also be able to autocomplete email addresses found in the Shared Contact list.

Auto Complete Contacts
Auto Complete Contacts

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39 thoughts on “Create a company Shared Contacts folder in Office 365

  1. We recently did a computer repair where the contact data was lost because the client kept the contacts locally. When they switched to Office 365 we were told that there was not way to do the shared contacts, ever since we have been looking for a way to have shared contacts and this looks like it is exactly what we need. Thanks!

  2. The interesting thing is that there is still no one way of getting this to work properly.

    If you use the GAL method, you need employees to be admin members, to ideally add the contacts as external contacts via the Office365 Exchange admin.

    If you create what I think is the better method (yours) then you aren’t able to access those contacts on OWA.

    If you want to be able to access both via OWA and fat client, what do you think is the best method, without giving people the exchange admin role.

    Thanks,

    G.

  3. Thanks for this clear document. Unfortunately, the last step does not work for us. We have Office 365 E3 and Outlook 2013.
    The shared contact folder is created, appears on the list of folders, but does not appear in the address book.
    Under Properties, the Show this folder as an email address book box is grey, with no tick mark and no way to select it. Adding the folder to favorites did not make it appear in the address book.
    Thanks

  4. I’ve setup the public folder only for a shared calendar but on mobile devices the shared calendar is not visible… previously on the server they were using an app call Add2Exchange to sync Public folder calendar to local calendar, thats how they were able to view the calendar on their iPhones.

    But after moving them to Office 365 I am unable to set this up now & I cannot find any solution for it.Any Help in this matter?

  5. Hi Guys,
    It seems I missed a step in the instructions above (They’re now fixed)
    Once you’ve added the folder to your Favorites, expand the Favorites Public Folder and right click the Contacts folder you just added and click Properties.
    Now click on the Outlook Address Book tab and tick the Show this folder as an email Address Book box and click OK.
    Sorry for the inconvenience,
    Alan

  6. Hi Guys,
    Is there a way to recover deleted contact or contact group from public folder? I found that email and post can be recovered from “Recover Deleted Items”.

      1. Hi Alan,

        Thanks for your reply. That’s what I thought as well but deleted contacts don’t end up in “Recover Deleted items” and Exchange e-Discovery cannot be used with public folder. :(

        1. Hi Ted,

          Are you right clicking on the Public Folder in Outlook and then selecting Recover Deleted Items? You need to check there rather than right clicking on the Deleted Items folder.

          I’ve just tested it on my Office 365 Shared Contacts public folder and it works for me.

          Hope this helps.

          Alan

  7. I stumbled upon this thread looking for a way to make the contacts show up in Outlook when you choose People(2013)/Contacts(2010) the same way a users shared contacts would show up. Am I missing something basic here?

  8. Thanks for this well written tutorial.
    Helped me – and works a treat. Great to see an up-to-date version of O365 help

    Cheers

    Andy

  9. Any idea when this addressbook will be avaiable in OWA ?
    I just installed the update pack number 1 for exchange 2013 server, now i can add a public folder in the owa but the public folder i will add can be onlya mail folder (no addressfolder)

    Thank you

  10. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for the info here. I wish there was an easy solution to this – maybe MS will figure it out one day!
    I tried your solution however I can’t set the favourits folder to an Outlook Address book, I don’t get this tab when I view the properties on the new folder. Does this solution work with Outlook 2010 (I can see the new public folder no problem)?
    Thanks & Cheers,
    Simon

      1. Thanks for trying Alan. I can add the folder, no problem. It is in my favourites. The issue is that I don’t get the option to make it an ’email address book’, which then doesn’t allow me to import contacts. When I right click, go to properties, there isn’t a tab that says “Outlook Address Book” :-(, I only have the other 4 tabs.
        Cheers,
        Simon

  11. This worked brilliantly for me, very clear instructions! When using MS Lync in conjunction with Outlook, the telephone number is recognised from the users contacts and used to display related contact info on the toast notification. Unfortunately, this only recognises contacts stored in the users main contact folder, it doesnt appear to be possible to have Lync lookup contacts from within the Public Folder. Do you know if there is away to use the public folder contacts in this way? Thanks again

  12. Thanks for the detailed procedure, it works like a charm.
    For those who are having some issues with the “Outlook Address Book” tab not showing in the contact public folder properties, I run into the same issues at first as I was testing it from a secondary account in my own outlook profile. The account you are using with Office 365 has to be the default email account for the outlook profile.

    Cheers,

    Florian

  13. Hi. Just wondering will this work when assigning categories to contacts. Will the categories show on all clients?
    Thanks for your help

  14. And if this all goes awry after you have set it up and it’s been working. Recreate your Profile. I was pulling my hair out with a user. I’d reset permissions, added same permissions via O365 Exchange admin GUI, repaired the mailbox, etc, etc. And still the public folder was unavaialbe to this ‘publishing author’ user.
    New profile was the thing that cleared it up.

  15. Everything works great until I try to have the shared contacts folder show up in my main favorites display. It appears in the Favorites sub folder of “All Public Folders”. Any way of getting it to appear in the main Favorites?
    Thanks for a well written article.

  16. Hi all.
    Unfortunately I had the same problem as many ones in the last steps of this guide : I could not assign the “Contact Shared Folder” to an Outlook Address Book.
    I found my mistake and I guess it can help you : you’ve got to be very careful when you create your “Shared Contact Folder” !
    By default, when you create the folder and give it a name, Outlook selects the content of this folder as “Mail Content”. You’ve got to drop down the content list and select “Contact Content”.
    After that, everything goes well : assign this folder to your favorites and then, right-click Properties to make it an Outlook Address Book.
    I hope the translations of all these terms are understandable because I’m doing it of French versions of Outlook / Office 365.
    MANY THANKS to the author for this wonderful guide !

  17. Great tutorial. I learned a great deal about one of the most wanted use of Exchange in the context of Office 365. I did know about sharing /delegating about anything or accounts on Exchange but sharing contatcts has always been highly puzzling and moreover the Public folder was a very obscure concept, Now I know more about it and it’s purpose. Thank you so much !

  18. This document was a great help! Thank You. One additional workaround I did was to have each user go to their desktop Outlook Address Book, select the Shared Contacts folder, highlight all contacts, right click and then select Add to Contacts.

    This COPIES all share contacts to the users contacts which then adds them to OWA contacts and therefore will appear in a connected iPhone/Android phone contact list.

    Note that the user is making a COPY of the shared contact and will have to re-copy and sync the contacts from time to time depending on how active the updates are for the shared contacts. When you re-copy from the Outlook Address Book changes will be highlighted and the user can decide what to change in their contact list.

    Not the best but may be manageable for small organizations. Hopefully Microsoft will come up with a better solution soon.

  19. For those having a problem with the ‘Outlook Address Book’ tab not displaying. This is because of a corrupt profile in Outlook. The only fix I found for this issue was to create a new Profile and then add the account again.

  20. You really think MS would have designed this in from the off. Git bisecting the Linux kernel is less convoluted than this.

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