Use Windows File History to Back Up Your Data

File History is a built-in tool that was first introduced in Windows 8 and it allows you to recover files you might have accidentally deleted, or restore a modified document to an earlier version.

Windows 10 offers an improved version of the File History tool. Here’s a rundown of how it works, configuration tips, and a walk-through of the new features.

How it works

File History will back up all the files and folders you choose. Once the initial backup operation is complete, File History will go into a stealth monitoring mode, where it looks for changes to files. When a file is changed, File History records those changes while keeping track of the original version of the file.  It’s essentially like Apple’s Time Machine in OS X but for Windows.

Before you start

Before you start using File History to back up your files, you need to first select where your backups are saved. You can select an externally connected drive, such as a USB drive, or you can save to a drive on a network. There are other choices, but these two provide the best options to help protect your files against a crash or other PC problems.

Important to note File History only backs up copies of files that are in the Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop folders and the OneDrive files available offline on your PC.

If you have files or folders elsewhere that you want backed up, you can add them to one of these folders.

Getting started

To get started using The Windows 10 version of File History, first connect an external hard drive to your computer. Next, open the Settings app from your Start menu. Navigate to Update & Security > Backup. If you’re still on Windows 8 open the Control Panel and navigate to System and Security > File History.

Then click or tap the “Add a drive” option under Back up using File History to add an external drive that File History will back up to.

After you select that drive, File History is turned on and ready to back up your files automatically whenever your drive is connected to your computer.

Configuring File History

To configure File History, click the More options link to display the Backup Options page.

By default, File History will check the change journal every hour and back up any files that have been altered. However, the Back up my files drop down menu allows you to change that frequency.

By default, Windows 10’s File History will back up all the folders in your User folder. To add other folders to File History, or to remove some, click on More options under the on/off slider and scroll down to “Back up these folders.” You can check the full list of folders in this window, and add more folders. Select “Add a folder” and you’ll be able to choose any folder on your computer to back up.

You’ll also find an “Exclude these folders” section that allows you to exclude specific sub folders from being backed up. For example, you could have Windows automatically back up every folder in your Documents folder, but ignore one particular folder.

How to Restore Files from Your Backup

To restore files from your external drive, open the Settings, select “Update & security” select “Backup” select “More options” scroll down to the bottom of the window, and select “Restore files from a current backup”.

This interface will allow you to view your backups and restore files. Browse the available files and select one or more files or folders. You can preview them by right-clicking them or select them and click the green button to restore them to your computer.

Click the Restore button to save it in its original location. You can save it to a different location by right-clicking on the file then selecting “Restore to” and choosing a new location.

Restore Files From Within File Explorer

You can also quickly restore a previous version of a file from File Explorer. Open File Explorer, right-click the file you want to revert, and click “Restore previous versions.” You can also click “Properties” and then select the “Previous Versions” tab.

Any available previous versions of the file from File History will be available here.