Windows 11 File History: How to set it up and use it

Windows 11 File History: How to set it up and use it

The "File History" backup function allows automatic saving of previous versions of edited files, among other things: using this same function, you can quickly return a file after it has been deleted (even if it is not in the trash), which can sometimes be useful.

This tutorial details how to set up Windows 11 file history and then use it to restore previous versions of files after they have been modified or deleted. In a related topic: How to create a full backup of Windows 11.

Table of Contents

How to activate and configure Windows 11 file history

Unlike other backup features built into Windows 11, File History is easier to set up and use, but it does have a few quirks in how it works:

  • El file history it does not save files from all locations on your computer, but only from user folders such as Documents, Pictures, Music, Desktop, Video, ie all folders under C:\Nuser_name.
  • If you want to save other folders in the file history, you will have to add them to an existing library or create a new one (right click on the folder – Show advanced settings – Add to library).
  • File history can only be stored on a separate physical hard drive or SSD: either internal or external. It is acceptable to use a virtual hard drive.
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The following steps are required to enable file history:

  1. Go to Control Panel, here it may be useful: How to open the Windows 11 Control Panel.
  2. Open “File History” or “Back up files using File History”.
  3. By default, you will see the file history storage window with the drive already selected (if there is a suitable drive to store it on).
  4. If you want to change the disk, click "Change Disk" on the left panel and select the desired disk.
  5. If you want to exclude folders from being backed up, click 'Exclude Folders' in the left menu and add the folders you don't want to back up to the list - this would be wise for large folders on where the files are not editable and their deletion is not a problem.
  6. The Advanced Options item allows you to set how often files are backed up (only changed files will be saved), clear version history, and adjust how long files are backed up before to be removed from the file history.
  7. Once you've made all the settings, click "Turn On" to enable file history. The initial backup will start automatically and will be indicated with “File history saves copies of your files for the first time”.

The backup will run according to the settings made in step 6, but if necessary you can also run it manually by going to the “File History” window and clicking “Run”. This can be useful if you back up to an external hard drive or SSD that you later disconnect from your computer.

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The file history itself is stored in the FileHistory folder on the selected drive when the feature is activated. When FileHistory is disabled, the folder will not be deleted automatically, but can be done manually.

Restoring files using file history

Using file history to restore previous versions of modified files is very easy. The quickest way:

  1. Right-click the file whose previous version you want to restore, click “Show advanced options” (if you have the new Windows 11 context menu displayed), and then click “Restore previous version«. A second option to get to the correct window is to open the properties of the file and then click on the “Previous Versions” tab.
  2. Select the desired version of the file and click one of the buttons «Restore» (the file will be overwritten with the selected version, a prompt will appear to replace the file in the destination folder) or «Open» (the file of the selected version above will open in the application assigned to that file type).

The second method is suitable both for recovering a previous version of a file and for restoring it from file history after deletion:

  1. Open the “File History” option in the control panel or through a taskbar search.
  2. In the left panel, select "Restore Personal Files."
  3. A window like the one in the screenshot below will open. You can navigate to the before and after backups (arrows below).
  4. After selecting the date you want, simply navigate to the desired folder or file (displayed folders can be accessed, viewed, and their contents selected), select it, and click the green restore button. It is also possible to select multiple files or folders at once.
  5. This will restore the version of the selected files and folders saved by file history on the selected date to the same location where they were originally located.
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In short, File History is a useful and, above all, free backup feature that is already built into Windows 11 (and earlier versions of the system), and its use can be a perfectly sensible solution if the storage of previous versions of files with the ability to quickly revert to them is something you need from time to time.