Today I was wanting to set up a auto-reply for a group in Exchange. So, when someone sends a message to that group, all of the members of the group will receive the message, and the sender will receive an auto-response (so that they know I received the message).

Distribution groups aren’t actually email accounts, so rules and out of office messages can’t be configured for them. The best solution I found was to have a fake user account set up that receives the message, and then have that account forward the message to the appropriate distribution group.

Unfortunately, Exchange’s built-in “out of office” messages will only send a auto-reply once to each sender. In some scenarios (if its being used truly for someone being out of office), this behavior makes sense. In other situations though, it would be nice to send a auto-reply every time a message is received. So, instead, I had to create a rule that when send an automatic reply. This can’t be done with OWA. OWA doesn’t give you all of the rule options that the actual Outlook client does.

Still however, this wasn’t working for me. When I sent a message to the “fake” user account, I saw the mailtip in Outlook 2010 with the autoresponse message in it. However, I wasn’t actually receiving an auto-reply. I had forwarding turned on on the server. This was actually forwarding the message before the rules configured on the account saw the message. It worked as desired after changing the forwarding setting to deliver the message to the fake account’s mailbox as well as forward it on to the distribution group.

So, if you want to configure an auto-reply on a group (that always sends a reply for each message it receives):

  1. Create a fake user account with the email alias you want people to send the messages to

  2. Create a distribution group that contains the members who will receive messages sent to the fake user. If users from outside the Exchange organization will send messages to this group, make sure that non-authenticated users are allowed to send messages to this group.

  3. Under the recipient configuration in Exchange, set the fake user account to forward messages to the distribution group. This is configured under the “Delivery Option” properties on the “Mail Flow Settings” tab. Make sure to check the box that says “Deliver messages to both forwarding address and mailbox”.

  4. Log in to the fake user’s account with the full Outlook client. Create a rule that will apply to every message that is received. Choose “have server reply using a specific message” for the action.

One other thing to check if you’re having problems is to make sure that auto-replies are enabled for the Exchange organization. They may not be by default. In Exchange 2007 / 2010 this is configured under Organization Configuration -> Hub Transport -> Remote Domains. Right click on the * (default) remote domain and go to properties. The “Allow Automatic Replies” option in under the “Message Format” tab.