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Some mail servers - like MS Exchange - have a "message recall" feature - if a set of conditions is met an already sent message can be recalled as if it has never been sent.

In movies it usually takes a qualified person who will break into the recipient's mail server and delete the message. But really is there a universal way to recall an already sent e-mail message?

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When it comes to computers, don't believe anything you see in the movies. –  pavium Jan 13 '10 at 10:28
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Break in? I'll make a GUI in visual basic! –  Phoshi Jan 13 '10 at 11:32

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is not a universal way to recall a sent e-mail message. As you stated any features like this are specific to using certain mail servers and clients e.g Exchange/Outlook. I think Lotus Domino and Notes also have a similar feature.

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As you mentioned, Exchange servers have some functionality in this regard. You can enable the feature for use with Outlook. It's not a 100% guarantee your message will be recalled though. This Microsoft site explains in detail more on this:

Will my recall be successful? The success or failure of a recall depends on the settings the recipient has in Outlook. If you requested an e-mail to tell you if the recall suceeds or fails, there is no way to know how long it might take for this e-mail message to arrive as there are many variables in this process. Following are four scenarios that explain what happens in various situations, and an additional scenario that covers the recall of a message sent to a Microsoft Exchange Server public folder.

Your best bet however is to use preventative measures to keep the message from leaving your outbox by using delayed sending. It has personally saved me many times.

Here is an easy-to-follow video that covers scheduled sending in Outlook.
Here is a guide to apply delayed delivery to all messages in Outlook.
And how to use the undo feature in gmail.

This is as close as you can get but good preventative settings should keep email mishaps from becoming a problem.

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