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Last Updated: November 24th, 2013

In the haze of excitement over getting the latest and greatest from Android, sometimes we forget that some people actually depend on their phones and tablets for work. Within the professional world, mobile access to email tends to be vital. For better or worse, an overwhelming number of businesses and organizations rely on servers running Microsoft Exchange (or other software implementing the protocol) to handle their email and calendar needs. Unfortunately, a minefield of bugs in KitKat's Exchange support are leaving many stranded without access to their employer's servers.

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Symptoms

Unlike a typical Bug Watch, documenting a single bug is nearly impossible. Too many similar symptoms have been reported, and many are obviously related, but they are all varied enough to indicate multiple issues are at play.

Our list of issues starts off with several people simply unable to set up a connection to their Exchange account, despite having no complications with versions of Android prior to KitKat. Usually these people are presented an unhelpful error message reading "Can't connect to server." No particular theme exists among those suffering this problem, but it turns out that some people could resolve it by using the domainusername syntax instead of entering an email address.

If you're able to get past the initial account setup and download your email, you might find it a bit disconcerting that new messages never seem to arrive. Not only are you being left out of the loop, this is likely to also produce a continuously repeating sync error, resulting in rapid battery drain. This problem can be very sneaky because it doesn't always present immediately, but can take a few hours or even days before the sync errors start to occur. Several people have suggested toggling sync off and back on, minor changes to settings, and re-entering certificates, but most of these fixes only appear to refresh the connection for a short period of time before it begins to fail again.

In reality, the variations in complaints probably stem directly from the differences in how each server is configured and what versions of software they are running. Between corporate policies, firewalls, certificates, and numerous other details, there are just too many variables affecting the complaints made by most users.

So far, these symptoms seem to occur regardless of CA certs, even if absolutely none are used. However, a new nag screen is turning up for some users, and it was added intentionally by Google. If you install a private CA certificate for use with VPNs or other privately encrypted networks, you're likely to be greeted by a warning message stating "network may be monitored." This wouldn't be so bad, except that each subsequent reboot displays another message to say "network may be monitored by an unknown third party." An engineer has already stepped in and declared this is intentional, but others are making a case for why they believe this is bad behavior. The discussion can be found here.

Possible Contributing Factor

A few users have noticed that their problems occurred due to corporate policies enforcing SD Card Encryption. In a strange turn of events, even full-disk encrypted Nexus devices might still be reporting that SD Card Encryption is not supported. If you've got a little pull with your IT department, you might be able to convince them to bend the rules a little bit and create a slightly relaxed policy like another user did.

Causes

The source of this trouble seems to be tied into the way KitKat's Exchange apk produces or stores certificates and credentials. Most people upgrading from Jelly Bean are saying that existing certificates continue to work without a problem, but newly created connections are experiencing issues. Unfortunately, using the old apks to initialize the account on Android 4.4 hasn't been a particularly successful strategy for most people, but it may stand a chance of working.

Another sign that Android's built-in Exchange support is at fault becomes more obvious when some users have tried various 3rd-party apps. Those with custom implementations of the Exchange protocol are working as expected, while those that call out to Google's implementation are suffering the same complications as described above.

Workarounds

Sadly, nobody has discovered a proper fix for most of these issues. I've described a couple of solutions to specific cases above, but they aren't really the core problems here. Fortunately, there are still some workarounds that might work for a few users, at least until the real issue is resolved. The easiest option is to simply switch from Push to Pull with a reasonable interval. This will have your phone polling the server for updates, which is more processor and data intensive, but it should be more reliable. Even though this consumes more power, it certainly won't run your battery down as quickly as the sync error loop. Take note, some people are saying this still isn't reliable for them, so pay close attention if you're going this route.

The next fastest alternative is to switch to using the IMAP protocol. Plenty of corporate servers support this as an alternative to Exchange. You'll be losing calendar support and a few email features, so this definitely isn't for everybody, but it is an option. Assuming this option is available to you, it's still free and the trouble to set it up is minimal.

Finally, I have to mention - no, recommend - an option that won't be very popular. As I said earlier, some people are using 3rd-party apps with custom Exchange support. They aren't cheap as Android apps go, but they work and give you a lot more than the stock Mail app is ever likely to provide. This is one of the advantages of Android, you can usually replace the pieces that aren't working for you. I haven't personally used either of these apps, but a few people in the forums have mentioned them, so I'm including links to NitroDesk, Inc. and Emtrace Technologies, Inc. Both vendors offer trial versions of their apps and currently charge $20 for an unlock key that works across their respective product lines. If you want to run KitKat and it's absolutely vital that you have working Exchange support for your job, it might just be worth the investment. Even if you only run the trials for a bit, you can probably make it until Google gets its own code fixed.

Wrap-Up

The issue tracker for these bugs is assigned to Paul Westbrook, a regular submitter to both the Email and Exchange apks. While there haven't been any updates from Google engineers, the assignment means that these Exchange bugs will get some attention if they aren't already fixed internally. With the number of reports generated by users, it's obvious there are widespread issues, so an update probably isn't too far away.

Update: About 45 minutes after this post went live, the AOSP Issue Tracker for this bug was updated to 'FutureRelease' status, meaning a fix should exist and will be released in an upcoming version of Android. Given the short timespan, it's likely that the issue was already handled internally, but the public-facing website just hadn't been changed to represent this information. It's great to see Google is on top of it. Of course, since there is no specific timeframe for an OTA, business users might still have to wait for a bit to see this issue ironed out. Until then, everybody can fall back to the workarounds listed above.

Thanks, Kevin Bulebush, Kanishk Singh, and Mohit Jivani.

Sources: AOSP Issue Tracker, XDA, Google Product Forum

Cody Toombs
Cody is a Software Engineer and Writer with a mildly overwhelming obsession with smartphones and the mobile world. If he’s been pulled away from the computer for any length of time, you might find him talking about cocktails and movies, sometimes resulting in the consumption of both.

  • Chester

    Stock N5 here: I was able to add my account with no problems, but it does not sync mail randomly at times without any notification that it failed. It is also happening to several of my coworkers who also have Nexus 5s. We are running on Office365. After reading some inbox logs, whenever there is a non-sync, it provides a 503 error in the XML instead of syncing successfully. Please Google, get this fixed, need work email to be reliable on my device!

  • lucke1310

    This is just so strange to me, since my N5 is syncing normally. This issue is affecting my coworker's N5 with the stock email app though. A few of my friends with N5's are also not seeing this issue. There just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to which phones are affected and which are not. Strange... I hope Google fixes it though.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      Any chance your account might have a different set of policies applied to it? Very few people brought this up in the complaints, but if you consider the ubiquity of the affected devices (basically just Nexus hardware running 4.4, which is a pretty limited family) and the wide variation in the issues, the only likely explanation is how the servers are configured.

      • lucke1310

        Yes, we have different Exchange policies applied (as the Exchange admin, I chose to have my device bypass our PIN security lock... I created a duplicate policy that mirrors our default, except for the security for the lock screen), but I can't see that as the problem.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

          Huh, I wouldn't think so either. Is there a chance the copy isn't truly identical? Is there some chance that removing that requirement might have other side effects?

          I'm a bit out of my element with Exchange. I've used it plenty, but I haven't personally set up an account in nearly 10 years. Forgive me if those questions are crazy :)

          • lucke1310

            Nope, no chance they're not identical (other than the "require a PIN/Password to unlock the device" setting).

  • Dennis Ulijn

    thought i was the only one. I'm not even using Exchange Services, but I get a notification that Exchange Services have stopped when just opening Facebook or Settings. Very weird, but nothing more than a minor nuisance for me.

  • cabbiebot

    Touchdown exchange mail app working here on my google play N5 on sprint.

  • Bart Tiemersma

    My (Android 4.4) mail app started crashing today, after which it restarts and crashes again. By examining the stack trace, I found out the problem was exchange related. The name of the mail account contained a '/', which caused the app to crash (has never been an issue before). After renaming the account the problem is fixed.

  • Ivan Martinez

    Thanks for reporting on this, AP team! This has been a huge issue for me, as I get several emails a day that require immediate attention. Hopefully this gains enough traction that Google will put priority on this and fix it quickly.

  • Simon Belmont

    Cody, it's not just exchange. I've got issues with the stock email client with my POP3 account, too.

    First of all, it WON'T DOWNLOAD any attachments. It says it is, but you never get the "Downloading" toast that usually pops up. So, for example, a bunch of pictures someone emailed me, never get put in the gallery. I've looked everywhere using a file explorer and nothing shows up. Second of all, for some reason I can't attach more than 5MB of stuff anymore. That's literally only 2 pictures. I go to the stock email client on my stock Android 4.3 running Galaxy Nexus and I can attach 20 pictures, no problem, AND I can download my attachments. Please fix this stuff, Google, because I really love your stock email client's new interface otherwise.

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    • Sunshine Permaculture

      I am still having this exact issue. I can't attch even 2 photos consistently, and this is VERY annoying. PLEASE FIX IT!!!!

  • Bojan Gutic

    I've had several issues with exchange on two Nexus 4s and a Galaxy Nexus on a custom ROM. They were all caused during the upgrade from 4.3 to 4.4. Deleting the exchange account, wiping data under app settings, and setting it back up fixed it.

  • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

    I haven't had this issue at all, but I have had the issues that notifications from the stock Email app regularly refresh themselves, causing my Pebble to alert me to the same email over and over again, anywhere from every few minutes, to several times a second.

  • modplan

    No issues on Nexus 5

  • Stefan

    Funny detail about the certificate warning is that in reality, the NSA will actually have a harder job of they ever wanted to read your traffic, since when you have created the CA with your own private key, they can't just demand the PK from the certificate issuer.

  • Woodrowe Bones

    Hmmm I have been running 4.4 for weeks now and havent had a single issue with my Exchange account. I always set mine up using DOMAINUsername instead of email address. I also set the protocol to SSL/TLS (No certificate requirement) instead of the basic SSL/TLS. Everything went exactly as it had on all previous versions and it works the same as well (can download attachments, etc.). I also know of 3 others here on Exchange and none of them have seen any bugs either

  • springyman
    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Great news. Now the question is when the next update will arrive.

      • Michael Pahl

        all you have to do is change from user@domain.com to DOMAINusername and itll work no problem.

        • Rob

          yeah tried this. it works while i am in the office on the wireless LAN. but as soon as I move into mobile data networks then it can no longer find the server (yes I have checked mobile data syncing and restricted background options)

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      Hmm, about 45 minutes after the article was posted. This gives me faith those guys in Mountain View know what they're doing. :)

      Now we'll just wait for 4.4.1 or a build release to roll out.

      • Matthew Fry

        They definitely know who to please. There's a lot of people with business phones.

      • Alvin Brinson

        Thing is, most little bugs could be fixed in a similar amount of time if they would just dedicate a small staff to NOTHING but BUG FIXING.... Instead bugs sit around and wait... and wait.. and get argued about... and get marked as duplicate ... and get marked as "not verified in this version"... and re-opened... and re-closed... and re-opened... and argued about some more. And, eventually, a developer working on a project will happen to step into the dusty corner of the code containing the bug - and he will notice it is still there and fix it.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

          I doubt somebody suddenly rushed in and fixed everything. I'm pretty sure it was already fixed, but whoever did the fix forgot to change status on the public issue tracker. I'm a developer, too, so I know it's rare that you can magically find and fix multiple (i think) bugs in a few minutes.

          • springyman

            Agree with you here. It is all about finding what bugs are critical and what bugs has work around. Because this one is pretty critical it is good they fix it within 2 weeks. Just need the update now, however I don't get this issue with sync on Kitkat. I did earlier, but then I manually set up my exchange mail and it works.

          • Pierre Gardin

            "find and fix"

            and build, and deploy, and test.

      • springyman

        I hope it isn't a point release to fix this. Hope they put out an update on 4.4 and name it r2 or put the apk on the play store

    • Björn Lundén

      I'd be interested to see how their fix differs from the fix in CM 11. :)

    • thesafesurfer

      Hasn't been resolved at all. I'm sitting here looking at my Nexus7 failing to sync anything for two days since I went from Jelly Bean 4.3 to Kit Kat 4.4

      Total hogwash that it is resolved or working.

      • springyman

        It has been resolved by Google but an update to the app has not been issued yet. It is just fixed internally.

        • thesafesurfer

          Exchange email isn't an app. It is part of the android operating system. You don't download exchange email from google play. it is native to Jelly Bean 4.3 and Kit Kat 4.4
          What are you talking about?
          Know it isn't fixed. My Nexus has synced email once in the last 24 hours. I'm still looking at sent from Nov 23. Nothing sent from my laptop showed up on my Nexus7 in the last 24 hours so no it isn't working and hasn't been fixed.

          • Crapflinger

            the native email functionality in android is in fact an app...it's an app that's bundled with the OS, but that doesn't make it not an app...that's like suggesting that internet explorer isn't an app simply because it comes preinstalled with windows.

          • thesafesurfer

            No, and it still doesn't work. Keep digging your hole deeper. It's your credibility on display.

      • Michael Pahl

        all you have to do is change from user@domain.com to DOMAINusername and itll work no problem.

        • thesafesurfer

          You have no idea what you are talking about. It took google two weeks to fix it on "their" end. I didn't change on thing and it finally started working again. The problem is I picked up a cheap windows tablet during the interim. Android lost me because they couldn't handle exchange server without glitches, and I can't afford two week glitches in my business.
          Try to post on something your are familiar with next time.

          • Michael Pahl

            I have three devices right here in front of me. A 2012 Nexus 7, and two 2013 Nexus 7's. 2012 Nexus 7 is on 4.4. the other two 2013 Nexus 7s are on 4.4.1 and 4.4.2 respectively.
            They all failed to work with my works exchange email.

            They were all remedied with the solution I gave.

            Go back to your M$ paper weight.

          • thesafesurfer

            I have my Nexus 7 right in front of me, and it didn't work for two weeks because of the error discussed in this article. I didn't change on thing and Google finally fixed the error in their update. I didn't have to change anything.
            I don't need to go back to my Microsoft paperweight. I never left it after this problem with the Google update. You may be able to afford glitches with your MS exchange but I can't.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

            Respectfully, this is not accurate. Take a look at the complaint threads I linked to and you'll see a few people making the same claim, but several others responded to say that they had tried it without success. This is the reason I predicted the issues had to do with different configurations and software on the server-side; some people are getting away with this fix (and a few others), but so many couldn't get it working regardless of how many fixes they tried. It's great if it works for you, and I mentioned it in the post because it could help some people, but it just wouldn't work for everybody.

          • Michael Pahl

            Understood.
            While this might not be "the" fix, for my particular situation it was, and if that post even helps out one other person then it was worth posting.

        • sc0rch3d

          I'm glad it's working for you, but not for me. I would bet it's something to do with the way my company has it setup. In fact, I had to remove my account and re-add just to try this quick-fix. However, I get the middle finger "Can't connect to server" error now.

          I tried using TouchDown as well, but I can't connect to my account. This is really frustrating as it is the one thing I NEED to work on my smartphone if all else fails. :(

  • Name

    Just got off the phone with Google. This is happening to a lot of people. I can no longer connect to an Exchange server from a Nexus 4 with KitKat. Google has no answers, no timeframe for an answer. They recommended 3rd party app too. I tried Touchdown and so far it can't connect either. This phone is worthless without business email. Is there anyone who can revert it back? I don't want to try that myself.

  • ageedoy

    I noticed the battery drain part. I've reverted to using Enhanced Email for now until this is resolved.

  • sweenish

    I've always used other apps for exchange. Maildroid served me well. I currently don't need exchange, which is lucky for me. Hopefully those affected aren't left hanging for long.

  • Alvin Brinson

    Exchange working fine for me on my N4 KitKat, along with Push which was rumored to not be in KitKat... of course, my employer is a large school district, so the monkeys that push buttons on the Exchange server probably have no clue that they haven't actually enforced security, so I haven't hit that bug ;) .. Seriously... it asks for permission to control lockscreen and a few other things..... .... and then it doesn't.

  • Darklordxnew

    No issues here on a Nexus 5 and office 365...

    Both of the other Sys Engineers for my company are either using a N5 or Kitkat & not having issues...

  • TheLastAngel

    We have some old Novell GroupWise solution and I had nothing but problems. Only one month worth of mail would ever sync and from then on receiving and sending also broke permanently. As I don't really depend on it, I just gave up on it for the time being.

  • mma173

    Lots of people buy Iphones just because of the poor attention that Google is giving to the business features. Exchange in Android has never been OK.

    BTW, why it's part of the system?

  • deltatux

    No problems here, I rely on Microsoft Exchange (sadly) a lot and they all work fine. I use it for my Outlook.com account and my college emails. Could be specific policies that may be causing this? Both Outlook.com and my college email system don't have any encryption policies for devices, so this may be the cause?

  • Kia

    I had the same problem when I updated my Nexus7 2013. I defined The 'server setting' manually rather than automatically and the issue was solved. No problem anymore.

  • Joe

    I had this problem with the IMAP this morning. But it automatically solved after I retried to connect to server.

  • Efi

    Thanks for the report, this is a very big problem for users in my organization. Symptoms are exactly as described with no mails received and huga battery drain. Hope to see an update from Google soon

  • Piotr Ludczak

    After update Nexus 4 to kitkat 4.4 can not switch bandwidth of 3G to 2G, the only choice I have 3G. I tried sim card Tesco UK and O2 UK sim card. Only I can do that in the service mode"*#*#7378423#*#* " I tried sim card Orange PL and appeared 2G mode selection. Any suggestions? Please answer a technician from gogle....When will the fix for this problem?

  • John Pendleton

    As soon as I let my Nexus 7 V.2 update to Kit Kat the general email app (as opposed to gmail) started deleting email from my account's server permanently when the email was deleted from my inbox. This was caught before any really important messages were lost but it's still unacceptable. I use my Nexus 7 to monitor email when I'm away from my desktop, not the other way around, and it can't be allowed to control my account's master inbox. Hopefully they'll fix this, too.

  • Makoute

    started working for me again, this afternoon.

  • IfSlashWhen

    Complete nonsense, I connected to my companies exchange server with encryption and the whole kaboodle with KitKat from my Nexus 5 in less than 10 minutes.

  • ConcernedUser

    Another problem is while replying. All the spaces are ommited between the lines and a counted as a single space..

  • jmmarton

    It's important to note that Novell released a patch for its ActiveSync Solution, known as Data Synchronizer, nearly two weeks ago which allows KitKit / Android 4.4 users who are GroupWise customers to continue syncing e-mail properly. Multiple customers have since installed the patch and reported that it works perfectly.

  • Crapflinger

    not sure what changed, but I was able to recreate my exchange account this morning and it seems to be syncing. I also connect to my Hotmail/outlook.com account via exchange because I prefer the way it works and recreating it worked. the only thing I did between finding out that kit-kat broke exchange yesterday, and recreating the accounts today was that I installed a few of the 3rd party apps like k-9, maildroid, and touchdown to see how they worked. perhaps one of them installed something that modified the default exchange stack in the phone? I don't know, but whatever the case, this morning the exchange accounts seem to be working

  • 30YearExpat

    Prior to upgrade to 4.4, my Nexus 7 handled email flawlessly, including exchange mail. Now only gmail is being pushed. I have to turn off/turn on Nexus 7 to get email to load. Further, I don't like the new inbox, and with exchange I am not allowed to select the folder I want. I heavily rely on my Nexus 7 in the office for exchange mail, as office servers are controlled by our client, with even more problems and restrictions (Saudi Arabia). Given my heavy reliance on email, I think this upgrade falls into the same category of Obamacare's website, premature and not fully tested. Shame on Google. Still waiting for a fix.

  • 30 YearExpat

    Just a PS to earlier comment, the widget for exchange mail never updates unread mail since upgrade, regardless if new unread mail received or unread email read, short of turning Nexus 7 off/on.

  • 30YearExpat

    It just gets better. Today, corporate exchange mail will not load at all, no matter what I try. Well, I'll give the experts a few more weeks to fix, then I'll he home for the holidays, where I will toss my Nexus 7 into the garbage, thanks to Kit Kat 4.4, and buy an iPad which I know works properly.

  • Olli

    *Possible work around*

    Nexus 4, error "cannot connect to server"

    I switched syncing off from Push to Never (to prevent power drain). Emails started popping in. Currently works as usual. Unless Google issued a some kind of silent non reflected in UI update you might want to try this one.

    • Olli

      Ah, resolved. Goodie.

    • Felix

      I tried switching syncing off and reconnecting the Email account, it works!

  • 30YearExpat

    For the last 20 hours or so, exchange mail is pushing as it should, without my changing settings back and forth or turning Nexus 7 off/on to get new mail. Don't know why it's now working; just hope it stays working. Maybe a 'stealth' fix was issued?

  • Chris Wasser

    For me, I was able to successfully connect during initial setup and pull mail. I don't use client certificates. None of the workarounds suggested worked for me (toggle sync, etc). I ended up with sync loops.

    Worked fine in 4.3 but not 4.4. I was able however to work around the issue by using the 4.3 Email.apk and Exchange2.apk as a system app (replace existing). Of course you need to be rooted for this. From there, Exchange bliss.

    • Barry Mahon

      This worked for me too. I know its not a true fix but I used the jelly bean email.apk and exchange2.apk to replace the current ones on my nexus 5. Works a treat.

  • Chris Wasser

    See my post above for workaround, replace with 4.3 apks, it works without a hitch. Seems related to WindowSize(ing). Someone above mentioned Novell fixing this first. See this link, pester your custom ROM maintainer to make source fix: https://bugzilla.zimbra.com/show_bug.cgi?id=85070

  • Ven

    This is fixed in 4.4.1!

  • Michael Pahl

    THE FIX FOR THIS IS AS FOLLOWS

    all you have to do is change from user@domain.com to DOMAINusername and itll work no problem.

    • Bredo2102

      what does it mean to change from "user@domain.com to DOMAINusername"

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

        Instead of entering something like bredo2102@microsoft.com into the user field, you would enter MICROSOFTbredo2102. Reach out to the admin of your Exchange server and they should be able to tell you exactly what to enter.

        It's worth noting, this is still just a solution that worked for some people. It's definitely not going to work for everybody.

  • Donald Ostertag

    I am having the same problem on 4.3 with a tablet that I bought a few days ago. My Nexus 4 running kk works as expected with exchange and native email app. Go figure.

  • Maurice Gonlag

    Here same issue on nexus 5 with exchange 2010 and autodiscover.
    What is the full solution for this?
    Thx

  • Matthew F

    Resolved but still not working in 4.4.2 or 4.4.3 for me..

  • Barry Smith

    I had the same problems. I .....eventually changed my Google password and it was instantly working again.

  • cuvi

    I don't even have the option of adding corporate email in my setting at all. All I have was adding a new google account.
    Anyone experienced the same issue as I have?
    Any fix for this weir issue?
    Tia.

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