File History is a simple way to restore deleted files and folders without spending hours trawling through backups. It works by storing snapshots to an external storage drive and, as you’ll see, it’s a powerful tool.
What’s more, as it’s an integral part of Microsoft Windows (Home and Professional) it’s also free and 100% safe.
However, File History isn’t turned on by default, so follow this easy setup guide to put an extra layer of reassurance between yourself and data loss. We’re also giving you a quick guided tour of how File History works and a few examples of how you can undelete files within Windows.
Here’s a great tip: File History requires the use of external storage, so it’s an easy addition to any Windows desktop setup. Simply insert a capacious USB drive and leave it plugged into a free rear port as a dedicated File History drive. This is a little more cumbersome with laptops, but File History will work with network storage such as NAS drives.
How to set up File History
Type File History into your Windows Search box and select Restore your files with File History. You can also select File History from the Windows Control Panel.
The File History window has a few configuration options but we’ll begin with Select Drive. This allows you to choose the destination for your File History to be stored. For this guide, we’ve used a standard USB flash drive.
You can also use this option to use File History with a NAS drive.
File History keeps snapshots of the usual Windows user folders so it’s worth using the Exclude Folder option to remove the ones that you don’t want File History to include. In our example, we’ve excluded Camera Roll.
Choose Advanced Settings to fine-tune how you want File History to behave. You can select how often copies of your files are made.
The real power of File History is that, given enough storage, it can keep versions of your files and folders forever. This is extremely useful when trying to recover a file that you accidentally deleted six months ago.
If space on your storage drive is a concern, then use the File History Clean-Up tool to delete versions older than a certain age.
When you’ve made your choices, click Turn On and File History will begin. Depending on how much data you have and where it is being stored, this can take a little time.
You can always reconfigure File History later if you wish.
How to use File History to recover Files
Let’s look at File History in action. Here is our list of random files stored in the Document folder.
You’ll notice that ‘The Big Tech Question 3’ has been accidentally deleted. We’re going to use File History to restore the missing file. Right-click in the folder window, select Properties and then Previous Versions.
This window shows a list of the versioned snapshots that File History as stored (two in this example). We’ll select the first one. Towards the bottom of the Window are two drop-down menus, Open and Restore. In this example, we’re going to choose Open in File History.
File History opens the latest snapshot of this folder and thankfully, our missing The Big Tech Question 3 is there. I can select it and press the Green reverse circle icon and the missing file is restored. If the file isn’t contained within this snapshot, I can select another and try again.
How to use File History to recover folders
File History will also restore entire folders.
In this example, our Music folder is blank but a snapshot is listed under Previous Versions. I could use the Open menu to examine this snapshot, but I already know that it contains the missing data (it was accidentally deleted the day before). Select Restore to utilise File History’s one-click function and after a few seconds, the music has been recovered.
If you wanted to restore the snapshot to an alternative location, then select Restore To…
How to use File History to recover selected files
File History takes file-by-file snapshots of your data, which means you can be selective about what you restore. For example, if we don’t wish to restore the entire music folder then we can select a few tracks. From the Previous History menu, select Open in File History.
Select the tracks that you want and then click the Green reverse circle icon to begin the restoration process.
With a few seconds, the selected tracks, and nothing else, are restored.
File History is a useful tool which is buried away within Microsoft Windows.
It isn’t a substitute for a full backup solution but a complementary feature that we really do advise you to set up and use.
We all delete files from time to time so implementing File History is the ideal way to protect your data. It takes a few moments to setup but could save you hours of time and stress in the future.