How to use File History in Windows 10 and 11 | #itsecurity | #infosec

When Windows 8 made its public debut in October 2012, one of the new features it introduced to users was called File History. Still available in both Windows 10 and 11, it can help you make sure you never lose an important file. 

Simply put, File History is a snapshot mechanism for all files that users store in the primary folders or directories associated with their user accounts. Formerly known as Libraries, these folders include Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop. Also included are offline files associated with the user’s OneDrive account.  

How File History works

You’ll see some references refer to File History as a backup and restore tool. To some extent, this description is justified. But it’s important to understand that File History backs up only certain files. It cannot, for example, back up entire drives. Nor can File History restore an entire Windows installation.  Such coverage comes from whole-system backup and restore tools; see “How to make a Windows 10 or 11 image backup” for details.

What File History does is take a snapshot of all files in the aforementioned folders and local OneDrive contents at regular intervals. It provides an interface to review and retrieve previous versions of files from such snapshots. In the sections that follow I explain how to: 

  • Turn File History on, and where to target its snapshots 
  • Exclude folders from the snapshot process 
  • Retrieve files from a snapshot 

To conclude, I’ll also explain differences in coverage and capability between Windows 10 and Windows 11 versions of File History. The good news here is that File History looks and behaves mostly the same across both versions. (For consistency, all screen captures here come from Windows 11, but their Windows 10 counterparts are nearly identical, saving rounded corners on display windows.) The bad news is that Windows 10 offers more snapshot coverage than Windows 11, as I’ll explain at the end of this piece. 

Read on for the important details involved in turning File History on, so you can put it to work. 

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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