What is the difference between a group and distribution list in Office 365?

Office 365 and Active Directory offer several different types of groups which have different purpose and functionality. The most commonly used are distribution lists (also called distribution groups, or e-mail groups), and Office 365 groups (sometime called just groups).

A distribution list is a grouping of two or more people that exist in University of Windsor Active Directory (i.e. Global Address List). People who are not listed in this directory, cannot be added to distribution lists. Each distribution list has a dedicated e-mail address assigned to it. When an e-mail message is sent to a distribution list, using either list's name or e-mail address, a copy of it gets delivered to each member of the list. Distribution lists replaced mailing groups that we had in our Lotus Notes and Domino directory.

Users can also create their own e-mail distribution lists called Contact Groups in Outlook. These can include members selected from the Global Address List as well as local Outlook Contacts.

An Office 365 group is a more persistent entity than an e-mail distribution list because while you can use a group like a regular distribution list, it also stores previously distributed e-mails as discussion threads for new members to discover when they join. In some ways, Office 365 group behaves like traditional e-mail distribution list in that you can send a message to it and have it delivered to all the group members. But the problem with distribution lists is that if you’re not a member, you don’t get the information. And when you join, you don’t gain access to previously distributed information.

In a way, an Office 365 group is a cross between the traditional distribution list and a shared mailbox. In addition to a dedicated group e-mail address, and members list, each group also has storage assigned to it on OneDrive and a web interface that members of the group can use to access group's contents on OneDrive.

Office 365 groups are also used as a replacement for Lotus Notes TemRooms, which are no longer supported. If you would like to request a new Office 365 group for your department, team, or project, please click here for more information and to submit your request on-line.

A Summary of Features


Distribution List


Contact Group


Office 365 Group


Send a copy of an e-mail message to all members. Yes Yes Yes
Store copy of each past message sent to the group in shared mailbox. No No Yes
Expand groups' name into members in Outlook. Yes Yes No
Dedicated e-mail address. Yes No Yes
OneDrive storage for files. No No Yes
Dedicated Calendar. No No Yes
Dedicated OneNote Notebook. No No Yes
Planer, Site, Connectors. No No Yes
Web interface. No No Yes


For more information on Office 365 Groups feature, please see:


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