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Restore Previous Versions of Files in Every Edition of Windows 7

Have you ever accidently deleted a file, or removed a crucial part of a document only to realize it no longer makes sense?  Windows 7 is smart enough to protect you from yourself, and here we’ll see how you can restore files in any edition of Windows 7.

How does this work?

The Previous Versions features is a part of the volume shadow copy service, which creates restore points to help roll back changes to your computer in the event of a problem.  It is also the backend for the surprisingly good image based backup in Windows 7.  By default, shadow copy will save a copy of your files once a day, or when activated explicitly such as when installing an update or new program.

The Previous Versions feature was actually a new feature in Windows Vista, but was not directly available in the Home editions of Vista.  However, the volume shadow copy service was still present, allowing even users of Home editions of Vista to access previous versions of their files.  The default method is much simpler, so thankfully it is now included in every edition of Windows 7.

How do I access Previous Versions?

It is simple to access previous versions of any file or folder on your Windows 7 computer.  Simply open any Explorer window, right-click on a file or folder you wish to restore, and select “Restore Previous Versions.”  For instance, if you accidently deleted a file from a folder in My Documents, browse to that folder and open previous versions from it.  Please note that this will only appear on files and folders, not drives or Libraries.

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This dialog shows all the previous copies of this folder that are available.  Here we see that there is a copy of my folder e-books from yesterday, 3 days earlier this week, and some from the week before that.  Click on the time you wish to restore from.

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You can choose to either Open, Copy, or Restore the folder.  If you click Restore, you can restore the full contents of the folder as it appeared at some time in the past.

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Choose copy to copy the entire contents of the folder as it appeared at that time to another location.  For instance, you could copy it to a flash drive for safe keeping.

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Or, choose Open to browse the contents of the folder as it appeared at that time.  You can open, copy, or do anything you choose with the file from here.  For instance, if I deleted the Audio Books folder accidently today, I could click copy, and then past it into my normal e-books folder in my Documents folder.

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When in this mode, you are directly browsing the shadow copy of your hard drive.  The path to the folder shows the date and time of the copy.

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And, the great thing is, this feature is available in all editions of Windows 7, including the low-cost Starter edition often preinstalled in netbooks.

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Change Shadow Copy Settings

By default, the shadow copies of your files will use up to 5% of your hard drive space.  You can change this by typing “Shadow Copy” into your Start Menu search.  Click the “Create a restore point” link.

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Here you can restore your system with a restore point, create a new restore point, or configure the settings.  Click Configure to manage Shadow Copy.

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You can choose to save both system settings and previous versions of files, only previous versions of files, or to turn this feature off entirely (which we do not recommend at all).  You can also choose how much space will be dedicated to these files.  The default is 5% of your hard drive, but you can choose more or less if you wish.  Finally, you can also remove all previous restore points, including the previous versions of all your files.

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Summary

The Previous Versions feature is definitely a lifesaver. You can actually retrieve deleted files using Shadow Copy in Server 2003.  It has saved us many times when we accidently deleted a file or removed important information from a document only to realize what we had done minutes later. For these and many other reasons, don’t panic and just check Previous Versions if you ever lose a file.

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 02/22/10

Comments (11)

  1. ihecker

    Hi, hey geeks, what software do you guys use to take the screen shots? It seems that the shadows at the back of each screenshoted window is created from Microsoft office 2007 or 2010. But I dont know the software that you guys use to take screenshots with mouse cursor. Thanks fellows.

  2. David Levine

    Excellent article! This feature has saved me when I have accidentally deleted files that were not available on a backup.

  3. Modernape

    All I get in the previous versions tab is “there are no previous versions available” yet I’ve got Win 7 HP.

  4. JonMCC33

    @Modernape
    You need to make sure that System Protection is enabled for your drive. It is enabled by default for C: but if you have additional drives/partitions you need to enable it for them manually.

  5. maggi wolfendale

    With my exam only 2 days away, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your help in recovering my revision files, especially as I am still unfamiliar with my new windows 7!

  6. Charles Ouellette

    I am running Windows 7 Professional and the “Restore Previous Versions” function of a file was working okay. Then I took a recommendation from a utility I was using, to disable “Administrative Shares.” From then on, with any file, when I right clicked and then left clicked on “Restore Previous Versions,” I got “No Previous Versions available.” I KNEW that there were previous versions available.

    I had to re-enable “Administrative Shares” to get a file’s “Restore Previous Versions” to work correctly.

  7. Yoonos

    Does anyone know how to restore previous version of a file in Vista Home Premium version? I know this option is available in higher versions of Vista but is there a tweak to activate this option in Home Premium version too? Thanks a buch!

  8. Kit

    Hi, thanks for the information above, but I’m using Windows Vista Home Premium 2007, and when I right click on the Explorer window, right-click on a file I am trying to retrieve an earlier version of, I don’t get the option to select “Restore Previous Versions.” The only options in the dropdown box are: “Explore, Open, Edit, New, Print, Open with…, Share, Scan with Virus Protection, Virus vault, Send to, Cut, Copy, Create shortcut, Delete, Rename, Properties”.

    If I click on the properties option the only tabs I get are “General, Security, Custom, Details”. “Previous versions” is not showing up at all.

    Do you know how I can locate this, as I have deleted saved over about 18 hours worth of work and am deparately trying to retrieve an earlier version of the document (of which there are 7 according to the Properties “Details” information.

    Thanks for any help anyone can offer.

  9. tgn

    This feature rocks. I accidentally deleted a folder from my desktop shared folder over my network. I was able to go to the desktop and restore the entire folder and it’s contents. I truly can say Windows 7 is awesome! (who new MS would get something right..hehe)

  10. stevey

    I restored a bunch of files the other day, and at that point it listed backups that were up to a week old. Now it is only showing yesterday, no matter the file. Is there any way to access those older restore versions, as I need to restore something that is more than 1 day old?

  11. HRW

    Yes, I have a similar problem to “stevey”…I need to be able to view files in a folder back to about June/July, because I must have overwritten a new file with an old file at some point back then, but I’ve only just realised now. When I tried to use Restore Previous Versions on my Windows 7 laptop last night, the furthest back I could go to restore that particular file or folder was mid-July of this year, and there were only a few dates available, even though it says that restore points are created each day, and I would have been modifying the file fairly frequently. Is there any way of accessing older restore points? Thanks.

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