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Windows 10 and File Recovery

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 in Technical Articles (Views: 2245)
There were a lot of features in Windows 10 that were "different" to previous versions, and some changes were cosmetic, some were more useful. Among one of the most useful features I found was something called "File History" in Windows 10. For the record, File History isn't exactly a new feature, it was in Windows 8.1. Since many enterprises skipped this (like Vista), most people didn't know the feature existed then, like many features brought to us in Windows 7 and later were introduced in Vista.

File History actually goes back a lot further than that, if anyone remembers Server 2003 had a feature called "Previous Versions", in which users on network shares could save a subset of the files they modified (thanks to the new creation at the time known as Volume Shadow Copy Service). It also required a client on the workstation. A moment of silence for the history. Done.

Going back to my previous blog on Word Troubleshooting, having good backups will keep the need for having to try extracting data out of Word files away. Believe me, it's a painful process.

File History is a great way to keep a running backup of your documents in a safe place on your local system. It's great for those "I can't believe I did that" moments where a document was changed and you can't remember what you did or you liked "yesterday's copy" better. This isn't quite the same as "Undo", as the snapshot has to occur for File History to work.

Another thing I find file history great for is my scripting and coding work. It almost keeps version control of files for me, and if I write something that I need to revert back to, I can simply restore the old version back in place.

The Hardware and Software
  • Surface Pro
  • MicroSD card for backups
  • Bitlocker
Yes, really it is that simple. Now, it is best practice to use an external drive for backups, although as of the time of this writing, Windows 10 1709 still supports backing up to network drives.

Note that there are little hacks out there where you can create a share on your local system and back up to that, if you have a single drive. I believe this still works, but not really fond of this idea. I also understand that can be a pain having a bulky USB drive hanging out of your laptop (it could crunch if you accidentally leave it in when you throw your laptop in a bag in a hurry). It also can be problematic if you have something like the Surface Pro that only offers one USB port. So, if you have a MicroSD slot (or something similar), this is a great use for it.

For safety, I recommend Bitlocker on both your system and the external disk, and auto-unlock on boot. This will insure that no matter what, your data will be protected if it's stolen. Of course, you won't have a backup, but they won't have your data either. Windows will warn you when you are setting up File History if your drive is not encrypted as well.

What does it do?

By default, File History will take copies of files (by default) in your well known folders, such as documents, pictures, etc. Now, what about a OneDrive account, or Google Drive or some other folder you want to back up, say C:\Temp? This can be added manually later.

The default settings seem extreme, but not so bad. Keep in mind it is only keeping copies of changed files, not a full backup every time.

By default, File History will take versions of changed files every hour and keep those backups until the end of time. This, of course is configurable. You can take backups as little as every 10 minutes up to once a day. Usually an hour is good for most people, but you can cut it by a half hour or so if you need to. It will also keep files forever, but you may want to change that to something more reasonable for you, maybe after a year, old copies may not matter. You can keep files as little as 1 month up to 2 years if you configure a time limit. If you prefer to not run out of space, you can just delete old copies of files when you need space.

How do you get into it?
Open the Settings app in Windows 10. From there, open Update & Security and then click Backup. This is where you may be asked to set up a drive for File History if you wish to enable it.

If it is set up already, click More options and this is where you can set your settings and see how much space you are using, the options for backing up files, and which folders you want to back up (or folders you may want to exclude).

How do you recover files?
Like I mentioned before, you had to have previously backed this file up and it needs to come in range of the actual backup. If it was an orginial file that was in your first history backup, you should have at least 1 other copy. If you just created this file, there may be nothing to recover.

To recover a file (or try to), go to the file system (Windows Explorer or Windows Key + E) and look for the file you are wanting to recover. Go to the properties of the file, and then click on Previous Versions. You should see older versions of the file here.

Now, you have options:
Open allows you to either open the file (and depending on the app or if one is associated), save the file to one with a new name.
Open in File History will open this file in a built in file history window. Not sure if all types are supported here. When in doubt, use Open.
Restore will allow you to overwrite the file in place. Of course, since it exists, you will be prompted for this. If you're sure you want to, then overwrite the file.
Restore To may be your best bet. This will give you an option to save this file to a different folder if you don't want to overwrite it.

One thing worth mentioning: If you delete/overwrite a file, you can expect history in Previous Versions to be wiped as well as this is technically a new file.

Overall, I find File History to be incredibly useful. The funny thing is you may only need it once or twice in your lifetime (some maybe more), but it will be a big rescue when you do need it. Crisis never checks your schedule, and when you have something you have to get out and done and something happens to a file, it is nice to have this handy to go back to. Moral of the story: Always be prepared.


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