Electronic Discovery – Lotus Notes Files

In litigation support, when we learn of a new matter, one of the first questions we ask is whether the e-mail that will be collected is in Outlook format. The reason we ask this question is because the second most popular e-mail format is Lotus Notes. Some companies are still using Lotus Notes for their business e-mail or they may have legacy e-mail data in Lotus Notes format.

Lotus Notes databases have an NSF file extension. However, an NSF file could be a regular Lotus Notes database or it could be an e-mail mailbox. They have slightly different database structures. Regular Lotus Notes databases might contain a document library of some sort.

When collecting Lotus Notes e-mail, one of the most important things you should attempt to do is to also collect the “Notes IDs” for each custodian. Lotus Notes databases typically have security enabled. It is role based security stored in what is referred to as the “Access Control List”. Each user is assigned a user.id file and it is used during the login process. Depending on the level of security enabled on the database, it may be more difficult to open a Lotus Notes database without the corresponding user.id file. The default level of access is “No Access”. It is possible for a Lotus Notes administrator to remove the security prior to sending the database to us and if that happens, the user.id file won't be as important.

If the user.id file is not provided with the Lotus Notes database, I usually try to open the database in Lotus Notes and cross my fingers that it works.  If not, I will reach out to the company's IT contact so that they can hopefully provide the corresponding user.id file or create a new user.id file that will allow me to open the database.

I have had a few instances where the user.id file was not provided and it was impossible to get a user.id file from the company. These are usually instances where a lot of time has passed since the e-mail or the user.id file was created. I have been able to find vendors that figured out a way to gain access to the Lotus Notes database.



  1. Awesome post. I didn’t even think about possibly needing Lotus Notes if we get files in that format. Do you know of any other tools to open a .nsf file for review/searching or will it need to be done in Lotus Notes? Thanks!

    1. Thanks Chris. In each litigation support position I’ve had, I have always made sure to have at least one license of the Lotus Notes client software so I can be self-sufficient. One of the firms I worked in had a Lotus Notes development environment within our IT department, so I was covered there.
      I like to see the contents of an NSF file or a PST file before I send it out for processing if at all possible. However, almost all of the vendors can access Lotus Notes databases these days so we do have the option to ask our favorite vendor to access the NSF file and provide us with some basic file counts.

    2. Chris – As a follow-up, I was curious to see if anything has changed with regarding to reading Lotus Notes NSF files, so I googled it and I found this site. It does encourage the downloading of a trial version of Lotus Notes and I remember having to do that before. Perhaps that could be a workaround in your firm. You’ll have to copy and paste the entire link since it has spaces in it.
      http://nsf-files.com/#Lotus Notes Reader

  2. Great read.   I would be interested in finding out who cracks NSF files.  By design Notes is one of the most secure platforms and normally selected for it’s security features.

    1. Hey James – It’s been a while for me; I don’t remember which service provider helped me in the past and I believe it was only once. Hopefully if someone else has any more info, they will chime in.

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