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How to use File History in Windows 10 and 11

When Windows 8 debuted in October 2012, one of the new features it introduced to users was called File History. It’s still available in both Windows 10 and 11, and can help you ensure that you never lose an important file.

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

How does the history file work?

You will see some references to File History as a backup and restore tool. To some extent, this description is justified. But it is important to understand that file history only supports certain files. It cannot, for example, back up entire drives. And File History can’t restore a full Windows installation. This coverage comes from backup and restore tools for the entire system; See “How to back up a Windows 10 or 11 image” for details.

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

  • Turn on File History, and where to target their snapshots
  • Exclude folders from the snapshot process
  • Recover files from snapshot

In conclusion, I will also explain the differences in coverage and capacity between the 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 screenshots here come from Windows 11, but their Windows 10 counterparts are nearly identical, providing rounded corners over viewing windows.) The bad news is that Windows 10 offers more screenshot coverage than Windows 11, as I’ll explain at the end of this widget.

Read on for the important details involved in running File History, so you can get it working.

Turn on file history and target snapshots

By default, File History is turned off in both Windows 10 and 11. It can be accessed via the Control Panel or the Settings app. To set up and configure File History, use Control Panel; It’s best to reserve the settings entry point for snapshot file retrieval and that’s covered later.

Microsoft recommends, and I agree, that File History works best when it targets an external storage device (such as a USB drive, preferably an SSD or hard disk of 100GB or larger). It is best to attach the target drive before running File History for the first time.

Note that if BitLocker is enabled for your primary Windows drive (usually C :), you must also enable BitLocker To Go on external drives that you wish to capture encrypted library folders using file history. It’s best to do this before enabling File History as well. In Windows 10, right-click the target drive in File Explorer and click Turn on BitLocker; In Windows 11, right-click the target drive in File Explorer and choose More Options > Turn on BitLocker. If BitLocker is not running for your C: drive, you can skip this step.

To configure file history via Control Panel, type either control Board In Windows search and click on the item named history fileor simply type history file in Windows Search. The Control Panel item labeled “Keep your file history” appears, as shown in Figure 1.

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Figure 1: To turn on File History, click his job button at the bottom right.

In Figure 1, File History shows a warning for external drives that lack BitLocker protection, because drive C: is using BitLocker. Running BitLocker for the target drive removes the warning in File History.

The target engine is shown at the bottom. In this case, drive E: is a nominal 5TB external hard disk.

Once you click on a file his job In the lower-right part of the window, File History for the target drive will be launched. If you want to choose a different target drive, you can first click Choose drive The option is shown in the middle of the left in Figure 1, see a list of eligible target drives, as shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2: You can select any option that appears in the selection list as the target drive and file history.

Select the drive you want to use to backup your file history. Since the default selection is the largest available drive, I’d stick with that for my file history target.

Noticeable: If you want network drives to appear in the list shown in Figure 2, you must first assign them to Local System. You can click Add a website At the bottom right to add such a drive. If network drive mappings are already selected, click Show all network sites.

Back on the main File History screen, tap his job Enables file history for the target drive.

Tame the appetite for storing file history

Using File History’s advanced settings can have profound effects on the storage that File History consumes. In the main File History window (see Figure 1), click Advanced Settings in the left column. Figure 3 shows the default File History backup settings, which I routinely change when using this built-in Windows feature.

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Figure 3: By default, File History takes a snapshot every hour and keeps it forever.

As it turns out, the total contents of the folders that fall under the “snapshot coverage” of the file history on my computers range in size from 13.5GB to 40GB (lots of photos and music are included). If a shot is made every hour, that means 24 shots a day. In contrast, this means 324 GB on the low end, and 960 GB (roughly a terabyte) on the higher end. every day!

My first moves when changing the file history default settings are shown in Figure 4.

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Figure 4: To prevent rapid disk consumption, take a snapshot at 12-hour intervals while reducing space consumption.

By limiting snapshot frequency and instructing File History not to allow the drive to be used up completely, you can avoid potential future issues.

That’s it for setting up the file history. In the next section, I will describe how to exclude folders from the contents of your snapshot.

Exclude folders from snapshots

In addition to minimizing the frequency and duration of snapshots, you can limit the snapshot size by excluding specific volumes from the snapshot coverage. click Exclude folders In the left column of the main File History window (see Figure 1) to command this process.

The File Explorer interface pops up where you can select specific folders that you don’t want to include in your daily snapshots. Figure 5 shows the folders that I usually exclude. I discuss these options—and their implications—in a bulleted list after Figure 5.

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Figure 5: I exclude folders that I back up in other ways or I don’t care to capture them. You should do the same.

Here’s an explanation of the folders I’ve excluded, listed by name in the order they appear from top to bottom:

  • Downloads: It can (and often should) be downloaded from the source again anyway, to get the most current versions.
  • a musician: I have over 200GB of music total so I don’t want to pick it up. I backup all my music to a separate drive, and I can restore anything damaged or lost as needed.
  • Videos: Like music (shown twice in the screenshot due to file explorer structures).
  • Film imaging machine: The same music.
  • Temperature: I chose not to capture the temporary files (and I never needed to restore any of them either).
  • OneDrive: I have remote copies of everything in OneDrive in the cloud, so I don’t have to save my OneDrive files offline.

My trimming method reduces the size of each snapshot from over 300GB to a more manageable 1.5GB on the target disk. This leaves more space on the target drive for saving snapshots as well.

Restore items from a snapshot

If at some point a file (in one of the folders that is backed up for File History) got corrupted or lost, you can restore it via the Settings app. click Start > Settingsthen type history file In the “Settings” search box. From the options that appear, select Restore your files with File History.

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Figure 6: Clicking Restore Files Using File History is the first step to recovering your files. (Click on the image to enlarge it).

Figure 7 shows a snapshot of the file history from which folders or files can be recovered, which appears when a file is selected Restore your files… The element shown in the previous figure. This list of items is a snapshot after excluding the above folders.

Windows File History 07 Snapshot IDG

Figure 7: Select an element and click the green “circle background” arrow to restore it.

The folder-level recovery tool at the bottom of Figure 7 (green “circle back” arrow) is the key to restoring files and folders. If you select any item in the main pane, and then hover over the arrow, “Restore to the original location” will appear. Click the green arrow, and the selected item will be restored to your computer in the state it was in when the snapshot was made, overwriting the version of the item currently on your computer. (To highlight multiple items to restore, hold down the Ctrl key while clicking the items you want.)

This is the basic file history recovery technology. There are two types of wrinkles:

  1. You can navigate any of the icons shown above by double clicking. Then you can select a sub-item and restore it on the basis of a file or sub-folder.
  2. By default, the restore process starts with the latest snapshot. You can navigate the snapshots to reach a specific date/time by tapping the left or right arrows: left takes you back in time, right moves you forward. Figure 7 shows 4 of 4 in the top right because I chose the oldest available screenshot to make the screenshot.

It’s very simple really, as long as you are careful with what you pick and replace.

File history difference between Windows 10 and 11

There is one asterisk on the File History “Covered Folders” limitation: In Windows 10, you can copy other folders into the Covered folders that File History backs up, and they will also be backed up. ( has an excellent tutorial detailing how to do this.)

In Windows 11, even if you copy other folders into those containers, they will not be backed up. This turns the general purpose backup tool (for user folders, anyway) in Windows 10 into something more focused and specific in Windows 11.

File history: to use or not?

File history is available for those who want to use it in Windows 10 or 11. It can cover the contents of your user files, and is especially useful for capturing your Documents folder.

Personally, I tend to store my work files on a pair of separate drives where I keep all of my “work in progress”. This image backup also includes the D: and F: drives (where I keep my “work in progress” and key personal files). I also keep my music, videos, and photos on separate drives (and folders). Thus, I prefer making a daily image backup over using file history on my productivity PC (still running Windows 10, btw).

For those who use the default Windows Library files (documents, photos, videos, music, etc.) to store important things and work in progress, File History can be a useful and valuable source for backup snapshots. It’s up to you to decide if that makes sense or not, as long as you use it in conjunction with a full backup and restore software tool that can replace your Windows image as well as the files you use. As they say online, YMMV (your mileage may vary), but more protection is always better than less!

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