Just like regular desktop email programs, Windows Live Hotmail includes a feature it calls "Email Rules", which you may of under the alternate name of "Mail Filters": both are exactly the same thing, and consist in creating special cases and triggers that will allow Hotmail to automatically take an action on messages that match the rules you set out. Moreover, as you'll learn in this tutorial, Hotmail even allows you to go beyond the simple automatic sorting of emails moved inside a predetermined folder: you can automatically move or delete emails, send mobile alerts when certain messages arrive, forward emails matching certain criteria, and even flag emails on-the-fly!
On this page: Create a rule | Edit a rule | Delete a rule
Once you are signed in to your Hotmail account, go to your inbox (or other email folder), and you'll see the "Options" button near the top right corner of the page; click on it, and choose "More options". In the Hotmail Options screen that loads next, click on the "Rules for sorting new messages" link under "Customizing Hotmail":
If you or another authorized user has already created email rules for this particular Hotmail account, you will see them listed on the next screen - otherwise, you'll see a couple of buttons (we'll show you later in this tutorial how to edit mail filters after the fact). Click on the "New" button to add and create a rule from scratch.
The mail rule editor on the next page is quite intuitive, and consists of two steps:
The second step is even easier, and Hotmail gives you six choices for your rule's action. Simply check the radio button on the left of the filtering result you want to apply to the email messages matched by the criteria you just defined. • "Move to [inbox / email folder]" - this will move the matched message to a folder of your choice; click on the down arrow button, and Hotmail will display a listing of the five standard folders (Inbox, Junk, Drafts, Sent, and Deleted), as well as any custom folders you have created in your account.
• "Move to a new folder" - This is simply a variant of the option above, but Windows Live Hotmail allows you to create the new folder in question right from there: select this option and type the name you want for the new folder in which matched emails will be automatically placed.
• "Delete these messages" - This email rule is for email senders who can't take a hint! Keep in mind that this very powerful mail filter will delete anything that matches its rule, so ensure that the matching rule is as specific as it can be, to avoid deleting legitimate messages (which could still be recovered and restored from the trash if you think to look for them). Same as "Move to [Deleted]".
• "Mobile alert" - A later tutorial will explain how to sign up for Hotmail Mobile Alerts; once you have associated your cell phone number with your Windows Live profile, you can receive automatic text notifications when new emails arrive.
• "Flag" - A quick way to attract your attention to an email in your inbox, whether it is Read or Unread, is to flag it. You do that manually by clicking on the flag icon, but choosing this option for your mail filter will automatically flag messages matching the criteria you specified!
• "Forward to" - Finally, your email rule can be set to automatically forward the matched messages to an alternate email address of your choice. Just select this option and enter it in the corresponding text box. Double-check for typos, otherwise you'll never get these forwarded messages!
This concludes the last step of the email rule creation process; click on the "Save" button: Hotmail brings you back to the previous screen, where you'll see your new rule. Unlike some email clients, Hotmail automatically makes up a descriptive name for all your rules (e.g., Move messages to Important if subject contains "invoice").
Tip for Windows Live Mail users: Hotmail processes email rules "on the server" - this means that the mail filter will be applied, and the appropriate action taken, before your messages are even downloaded to your email program - no need to create duplicate rules in Windows Live Mail, in other words (but you can have additional, more sophisticated filters in that email program too if you like!)
To tweak the filtering criteria or action of an existing rule, just go to "Options > More options", and select the "Rules for sorting new messages" link on the next page. Then, click on the "Edit" link next to the rule in question, change its parameters, and click "Save"! The new setting will take effect immediately.
If you no longer need a particular email rule, Hotmail lets you delete it for good: Once on the Options page, click "Rules for sorting new messages": tick the checkbox (or checkboxes, to delete multiple filters at the same time), and click on the "Delete" button at the top, and Hotmail will permanently remove these rules from your account.