Uh, oh. That incredibly critical file you were working on the other day is lost or won’t open. Are you in trouble? Not if you’ve been using Windows 10’s File History.
This feature, around since the Windows 8.0 days, automatically saves specific file folders to backup devices, thus allowing you to recover a prior version of a file should it go missing or become corrupted and unusable. Let’s see how it works.
First, make sure you have a viable external drive connected to your PC. This could be a USB stick, a full-fledged USB drive, or a network location on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive.
In Windows 10, click on the Start button > Settings. From the Settings window, click on the category for Update & security and then the setting for Backup. On the right pane of the window under the section named “Back up using File History,” click on the link to “Add a drive.”
Assuming you’ve connected a workable backup device, Windows displays a list of all such locales. Select the location you wish to use for your backups.
File History is now enabled though it’s not yet backing up any files. Click on the link for “More options.”
Scroll down the Backup options window. Review the list of default folders already included in the backup. Select any folder you don’t wish to back up and then click the Remove button.
Scroll back up to the top of the window. Click on the button to Add a folder. From File Explorer, select any folders not included in the backup that you wish to add.
At the top of the File History window, click on the drop-down menu for for “Back up my files” and choose how frequently you wish to back up your files, from every 10 minutes to daily. Then click on the drop-down menu for “Keep my backups” and select how long you want to retain your backed up files, anything from “until space is needed” to “forever.”
All set? Okay, click on the button at the top to “Back up now.” Windows now starts backing up the files included in your backup set.
After your backup has finished, Windows displays the total size and the date and time of the backup.
Okay, now it’s crunch time. That vitally important file you need is missing in action or has turned into a corrupted mess that you can’t open or read. Luckily, it was included in your File History backup. Let’s go find a prior version.
Scroll down to the bottom of the File History window until you see a link that says “Restore files from a current backup.” Click that link.
Windows displays all of the folders that have been backed up via File History page by page. So you may need to scroll to a previous page to find the file you seek. When you reach a page you think may contain the file you want, double-click on its folder. If you see the file, you can double-click on it to view it, assuming it’s a viewable file. If it’s the file you need, click on the green button with the white arrow at the bottom of the window to restore the file.
If the file still exists in its original location, Windows asks if you want to replace it, skip it, or compare both files.
If the original file is gone, Windows automatically restores it to its previous location.