This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this. Know more.

How to Track Inactive Distribution Lists by Last Email Received Time

Ever felt overwhelmed by a growing number of distribution lists in your Microsoft 365 environment? If these lists are left unused, they can create clutter, impact efficiency, and pose security risks in your organization. This guide provides a strategic approach to identify and manage inactive distribution lists, empowering you to optimize your email system for clarity, security, and flexibility.

Native Solution

Microsoft 365 Permission Required


Global Admin or Exchange Admin.

Option 1 Using Exchange Online Admin Center

  • Login to the Exchange Online admin center.
  • Navigate to Mail Flow»Message Trace.
  • Start a new message trace by giving the desired distribution list address in recipient field and wait for the search results to check the required data.
Using Exchange Online Admin Center

Option 2 Using Windows PowerShell

  • Connect to Exchange Online PowerShell using the below cmdlet.
  • Windows PowerShell Windows PowerShell
     Connect-ExchangeOnline -UserPrincipalName 
  • Run the below cmdlet to get a list of distribution groups in your Microsoft 365 environment.
  • Windows PowerShell Windows PowerShell
  • From the results, pick the required DL and then run the below cmdlet to check the emails received by that distribution group during the specified time.
  • Windows PowerShell Windows PowerShell
     Get-MessageTrace -RecipientAddress <EnterYourDL_EmailAddress> -StartDate "01/01/2024" -EndDate "01/31/2024"  
Using Windows PowerShell
  • As there is no direct PowerShell cmdlet for retrieving the inactivity of distribution list by last email received time, you can make use of the above workaround.
AdminDroid Solution
More than 150 reports are under free edition.

AdminDroid Permission Required

Any user with report access assigned by Super Admin.

StepsUsing AdminDroid

  • Login to the AdminDroid Office 365 reporter.
  • Navigate to Inactive Distribution Group Mailboxes by Last Email Received report under Analytics»Email Analytics»Inactive Distribution Groups.
Using AdminDroid

Remove inactive distribution list mailboxes in Microsoft 365 by determining the date of last email sent to a distribution list.


Effortlessly audit inactive distribution lists in Exchange Online!

Manage Exchange Online inactive distribution lists and optimize your emails usage in real-time with AdminDroid Exchange Online reports

Witness the report in action using the

Important Tips

Retrieve the distribution groups and their members in your Entra ID environment to ensure balanced team memberships, preventing user overload with excessive group memberships.

Monitor distribution group changes diligently to maintain security and data integrity. Address unauthorized alterations promptly, ensuring alignment with organizational policies.

Find overall group mailbox email traffic to ensure that the distribution lists remain up-to-date and useful for communication needs.

Exchange OnlineMonitor and Remove Stale Distribution Lists in Microsoft 365

Showing 1 of 4

How to create a distribution list in Microsoft 365 admin center?

Distribution groups are essential for facilitating smooth email communication, encouraging collaboration, and simplifying interactions within organizations. Understanding their purpose empowers productive utilization. Creating a distribution list in your Microsoft 365 admin center is very simple.

Create a distribution group using Microsoft 365 admin center:

  • Open your Microsoft 365 admin center and navigate to Teams & groups.
  • Click on the 'Active teams and groups'.
  • Click on 'Distribution list' tab and add a distribution list to your tenant.

Create a distribution group using PowerShell:

Connect to Exchange Online using your administrative credentials.

To create a new distribution list, run the below cmdlet.

New-DistributionGroup -Name <YourDistributionGroupName> -Type 'Distribution'

Stay informed with AdminDroid's 'Distribution Groups' report, providing effortless visibility into all created distribution lists within your Office 365 environment.


How to find and manage inactive distribution groups?

Inactive distribution lists can clutter systems and hinder message delivery. So, it is necessary to identify and remove them by tracking their last usage in your Microsoft 365 environment.

It will streamline communication, save resources, and enhance organizational adaptability. Also, there are several strategies that can help to find inactive distribution groups in Exchange Online.

Spotting stale distribution groups with message trace analysis:

  • Using Native Tools With Microsoft 365 message trace results, you can analyze email activity within a specific distribution list for up to 90 days. It will help you to identify the unused distribution lists that have not received any email in recent days and remove them if required..
  • Using Third-party Microsoft 365 Tools You can make use of a third-party Exchange Online email monitoring tool to easily export inactive distribution lists and take immediate action.

Picking inactive Distribution lists by analysing the Membership Dynamics:

  • Using Native Tools By examining Microsoft 365 membership trends, you will get static lists with no changes, suggesting inactivity, whereas dynamic lists may require further assessment despite low email volume.
  • Using Third-party Microsoft 365 Tools You can make use of a third-party Exchange Online email management tool to review the distribution groups' membership changes in your organization.

AdminDroid eases finding out the inactive distribution list by tracking the last email received time.

While M365 may not offer a direct solution, AdminDroid steps in to provide a seamless report to uncover and monitor exchange inactive distribution groups, ensuring streamlined and resource-efficient communication.


With this approach, you can effectively assess the usage activity and find the last time a distribution mailbox received email and subsequently determine appropriate actions to be taken.

Why should groups be used over distribution lists (DLs)?

For collaborative teamwork, Microsoft 365 Groups offer a superior solution compared to distribution lists. Groups go beyond just sending emails, providing a central workspace with features that empower your team:

  • Shared Everything: Facilitate seamless collaboration with a shared mailbox, calendar, and document storage (OneDrive) for your entire group.
  • Real-time Teamwork: Foster dynamic collaboration through a shared OneNote notebook where team members can work simultaneously on documents, ideas, and notes.
  • Streamlined Communication: Maintain organized and centralized group communication through the dedicated shared mailbox.

Groups create a collaborative hub, enhancing communication, information sharing, and project management within your team.

While Groups Excel, Distribution lists Still Have a Place:

Even though Groups offer a more comprehensive collaboration experience, distribution lists remain a valuable tool for specific scenarios:

  • Simple Email Broadcasts: Distribution lists provide a straightforward and efficient method for sending announcements, newsletters, or alerts to a large group, ensuring effective communication with a broad audience.
  • Quick Setup and Use: DLs are easy to create and manage, even for users with basic email functionality, making them a readily accessible communication tool.
  • One-Way Communication: For scenarios where you only need to send information (e.g., company updates, IT advisories), DLs excel due to their streamlined, one-way communication focus.

How to find the owner of a distribution list?

Knowing the owner of a Microsoft 365 distribution list is crucial for managing access, updating membership, and resolving issues. Follow the steps to find out the owner(s) of a distribution list in Exchange Online.

  • Login to the Exchange Online admin center.
  • Navigate to Recipients»Groups.
  • Click on the Distribution list tab and select the desired list.
  • In the "Members" section, you can see the owner of a distribution list.

Clear ownership empowers individuals to actively maintain access, membership, and overall functionality of the distribution list.

  • With AdminDroid, you can view the distribution group owners using dedicated Group Owners report .
  • It provides details, such as owner email, group name, department, membership type, email address, job title, etc. You can filter out the group type to view the data related to the distribution groups.

With this approach, you can prevent the inactivity of distribution lists by currently maintaining the workflow of that list.


AdminDroid Exchange Online ReportingIdentify & manage inactive distribution lists for better efficiency!

AdminDroid Exchange Online auditing tool provides an all-encompassing solution for Microsoft 365 admins, by simplifying the identification and management of Exchange distribution lists. Say goodbye to long line PowerShell scripts!

Leverage AdminDroid's standout capabilities to identify inactive distribution lists in Microsoft 365

The Inactive Distribution Group Mailboxes by Last Email Received report under Analytics»Email Analytics»Inactive Distribution Groups section will reduce the need of multiple PowerShell commands and provide you with required solution directly in a single report.

A Quick Summary

Real-Time Alerting on Distribution List Modifications

Get immediately alerted for an audit event like distribution group member changes and take action if required.

Export Distribution Groups at a Click

Export your distribution group lists easily with a single click. Choose to send via email or download directly to your device.

Visualize Group Storage Trend

With the help of AdminDroid's charts and graphs, get hold of the group usage storage trend for the required groups in the desired time interval.

Monitor Group Permissions Like a Pro

Assess all the Microsoft 365 groups' permission changes that is happening in your Exchange environment and act accordingly.

Schedule Weekly DL Email Stats Automatically

View your distribution lists’ email traffic with the scheduling capability. You shall schedule the report to periodically analyze the email traffic of the distribution lists.

Streamline DLs with Granular Delegation

With the granular delegation functionality in place, you can provide access to distribution group owners or Exchange admins to use and manage reports and information related to desired DL alone using AdminDroid.

Easily eliminate the inactive distribution lists by seamlessly tracking and making use of the advanced Exchange Online monitoring reports available in AdminDroid.

Kickstart Your Journey with AdminDroid

Your Microsoft 365 Companion with Enormous Reporting Capabilities!

Common Errors and Resolution Steps while getting started with the distribution lists

The following are the possible errors and troubleshooting hints while dealing with Microsoft 365 distribution lists.

Error: Invalid StartDate value. The StartDate can't be older than 10 days from today.

This error occurs when attempting to set a StartDate value that is older than 10 days from the current date in PowerShell. Exchange Online imposes this restriction to ensure data accuracy and consistency.

Troubleshooting hint :To resolve this issue, ensure that the StartDate value specified is within the permitted timeframe. If necessary, adjust the StartDate parameter to a date within the past 10 days. (You can use the report Overall Group Email Traffic as AdminDroid stores all the data indefinitely and you can view it anytime).

Error: The operation couldn't be performed because object 'Distribution List GUID' couldn't be found.

Indicates an error due to an incorrect Exchange GUID for the distribution list.

Troubleshooting hint :Use Get-DistributionGroup to retrieve the correct GUID for the distribution list before performing operations.

Error: Set-DistributionGroup : The group <Distribution Group Name> does not exist in the organization.

Occurs when trying to modify a non-existent distribution group.

Troubleshooting hint :Verify the accurate group name and ensure its existence before attempting modifications.

Error: Cannot disable the distribution group because it is the primary group for one or more users.

The distribution group cannot be disabled as it serves as the primary group for one or more mailboxes.

Troubleshooting hint :To resolve this issue, assign a different primary group to the affected mailboxes before attempting to disable the distribution group.

Error: The distribution group membership cannot be modified.

This error occurs when attempting to add or remove members from a distribution group that has been configured with restricted membership settings.

Troubleshooting hint :Check the group membership settings and verify if the group is configured to accept members from specific senders or if membership approval is required.