Restoring Previous Versions of Files and Folders

Need a time machine? With Previous Versions, you have it. This invaluable feature is a side benefit of the way the operating system now creates backup copies and restore points . With System Protection turned on (its default state), Windows creates a daily restore point that lets you roll your system back to an earlier state in the event that a new installation or some other event creates instability. (For more information, see "Fine-Tune System Protection Options" on page 75 .) Restore points are built from shadow copies, which are essentially change logs for files and folders . Shadow copies are also created by the Windows Backup program (for more details, see Chapter 11). If you perform regular periodic backups, you have the Backup program's shadow copies as well as those created by System Protection .

You can't open or manipulate shadow copies directly. However, you can access their contents indirectly via the Previous Versions tab of the properties dialog box for any file, folder, or drive icon, or you can use the Restore Previous Versions command on the File menu in Windows Explorer. Using Previous Versions, you can open, copy, or restore a document or folder as it existed at an earlier point in time. This feature is a lifesaver if you accidentally delete files from a folder or want to "roll back" to an earlier version of a document you've been working on for days or weeks; if you have a shadow copy from a time before you made the deletions or changes, you can recover the earlier version by restoring individual files or replacing the folder's contents with the earlier version . (As an alternative to restoring the earlier version, you can create a copy of the earlier version of the file or folder and then compare its contents to the current version .)

The Previous Versions feature is independent of the Recycle Bin . Purging the Recycle Bin (or declining to use it) has no bearing on the availability of shadow copies .

To see what previous versions are available for a file or folder, right-click the item in Windows Explorer and choose Restore Previous Versions . The Previous Versions tab of the object's properties dialog box (see Figure 10-3) will list the available shadow copies . Select the one you want, and then click Open (to view the file or folder), Copy (to create a copy of it without changing the original), or Restore (to overwrite the object in its current state with the selected copy).

Figure 10-3 The Previous Versions feature enables you to recover a file or folder from a shadow copy saved days or weeks earlier.


Previous versions are not available for system files or files in an offline cache. You can use the feature to restore earlier versions of uncached files on network shares, however. For more about offline caches, see the following section.

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