How-To Geek

Recover Files with Shadow Copies on Any Version of Windows Vista

This article was written by our very own whs, one of the most helpful forum members.

The “Previous Versions” feature in Windows Vista is a major step forward for users, since it provides some built-in protection against losing important files. The problem is that the home versions of Vista don’t give you an interface to access them, even though it’s enabled by default!

Enter ShadowExplorer, a utility that runs on all versions of Vista and will let you access your “Shadow Copies”, which are the internal backup copies of files that Vista stores every so often.

Recovering Files with Shadow Explorer

First launch ShadowExplorer as administrator by right-clicking on the entry in the start menu and choosing Run as Administrator. (Update:It should launch as administrator by default otherwise, but if it doesn’t then use the right-click method)


The initial screen will show you a drop-down menu with the shadow copies of all partitions and disks you have.

Click on the last shadow (see the date) from THE DAY BEFORE the unfortunate event happened – make sure you get the right partition (most likely C: for your own files)


Since most of your files are in your User folder, double click C:\ then in the left pane choose “Users”.


Then in the right pane double click the folder with YOUR NAME ( probably the last folder before desktop.ini). There you will find all your folders (and some more)


Now you can right-click on the folder or file you want to recover and EXPORT it to wherever you like on your system.


After clicking on Export, you’ll be prompted for the directory you’d like to save the recovered files into.


Note that the Shadow Copies / Previous Versions feature is not a substitute for a proper backup solution, but can greatly help in a pinch.

Download ShadowExplorer from

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/25/08

Comments (72)

  1. mysticgeek

    Nice Article!

  2. whs

    I would like to thank the Geek for putting some “meat” around my skimpy input. I would also like to thank jd2066. He found the ShadowExplorer program on the web. He is a much better Googler than I.

  3. Bob

    What if I don’t have Shadow Explorer on my Start menu.

    I use the classic start menu.

    What’s the command line for it?

  4. Bob

    ok, stupid question.


  5. Ren

    Thanks for this… Time and time again I manage to mess up something that requires me restoring it from memory… MY OWN MEMORY. This is a good tool to try to fix some of those mistakes I’ve made at 3 am in the morning… Thanks!

  6. Doug Woodall

    Works nice, thanks alot. It will come in handy one day Im sure.

  7. Grant

    There is no entry called “Shadow Explorer” or anything similar in my Start Menu. So Bob’s question wasn’t stupid. How can I access Shadow Explorer?

  8. The Geek


    Did you already install the application? Once you install it, it should show up in the start menu.

  9. Ibrahim

    Nice! Any idea how much space shadow copies take up on your hard drive though?

  10. Ibrahim

    Also, I submitted this to digg since it’s so awesome. Please digg it up if you have an account, and don’t let the stupid lifehacker version of the story hit the frontpage like they always do with How-To-Geek stories.

  11. whs

    @Ibrahim, Each shadow is +/- 1GB and about 15% of your disk spaces are reserved for shadowcopies. If you want to look at them, open Command Prompt (in accsessories) as Administrator and type VSSADMIN LIST SHADOWS and press ENTER. And if you want to know the size (used, allocated) of your shadowstorage type VSSADMIN LIST SHADOWSTORAGE and press ENTER. Shadowstorage is allocated on every disk (logical or physical, internal or external).

  12. The Geek


    Thanks for the support, I definitely appreciate the sentiment.

    In fact, this site has grown dramatically because of great readers like you, not because of Digg. It’s been 9 months since we got on the front page there, and I’m just not worried about it at all… I’d rather build our own community. =)

  13. Alex

    How can I turn shadow on for all my partitions? Shadowexplorer only shows my C drive.


  14. Alex

    I found the answer: Systemrestore needs to be turned on for all the partitions

  15. Em

    This was extremely helpful however what if the date you need doesn’t show up in the drop down menu. I get the dates from before the event took place. I guess I have to take it to an IT person huh?

  16. Em

    Oh sorry I meant I get the dates after the event, not before it.

  17. anant

    I had by mistake restored the factory setting of my windoes vista. I did not take a backup. How do I restore my previous files

  18. rick

    Ikm sur that is going to do well for me,,,but for now, I’m stock at

    ((First launch ShadowExplorer as administrator by right-clicking on the entry in the start menu and choosing Run as Administrator. (Update:It should launch as administrator by default otherwise, but if it doesn’t then use the right-click method),))

    ShadowExplorer is not in in the start menu..were do I go from now.

  19. Matt

    Great article! thanks, i have a small problem though, i only have dates from a few mins ago in the drop down menue, does this mean that i wasnt getting backups before i got Shadow Explorer?
    Someone Please Help.


    it isnt on my copy of vista home premium sadly – very important document lost :(

  21. Shannon

    Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!! I had tried everything to recpver a video folder I lost and was finally able to retrive it with this Shadow Explorer and the awesome easy to follow guide. These were videos of one my kids first steps etc….
    What an awesome tool Im going to back up the videos now though!!

  22. Kari

    Thankyou for telling us about Shadow Explorer. I lost my temper when my daughter nearly destroyed my PC so I deleted her user account and out of spite, deleted all her files with it. Hundreds of poems she wrote herself, emails form her dad, pictures. I feel bad about it and thanks to Shadow Explorer, I’ve got it all back. God Bless you.

  23. Monica

    OMG!!! My FILES!! My sweet sweet precious files! Thank you sooo very much. I lost everything (thank you spybot).

    I promise and swear to back up everything from now on forever and ever.

    Thank you…If I could hug you I would.

  24. ione

    Great article. However, I have the same question as EM. I get the dates after the event. How do I look for previous dates? I lost my file on September 25th. But the drop-down menu only shows September 26??? Please help. It’s urgent.

  25. Eek


    When I run the program as administrator, UAC pops up, and i hit allow.
    Then I nothing shows up in my program…i switch between drives in the drop down box, but there’s nothing?

    I really need to retrieve some music that I lost…please help?

    And yes! this site is amazing and has helped me with everything that I have ever been through (computer wise:D ).

    thanks in advance!

  26. andrewmack

    Dear God – THANK YOU – this was JUST what I needed.

  27. kris


    I think I had the same problem as “Eek”, using ShadowExplorer on my copy of Vista Home Premium, and I tracked it down a little. I hope this helps in some way.

    I’m using TrueCrypt for encrypting my system partition and an additional data partition on my harddrive. Both partitions are mounted as internal drives, read/write mode.
    When the data partition is mounted in TrueCrypt, ShadowExplorer shows *nothing*. No files, no dates, nothing in the drop down box, everything is just empty white space.
    As soon as I unmount that partition and restart ShadowExplorer, I can acces the system partition just fine. Not the other partition, though.

    This is very unfortunate, since I intended to restore a file on said data partition. Guess ShadowExplorer won’t work for me, at least at the moment.


  28. Amanda

    THANK YOU! This information was sooooooooooooooo helpful. Really!

  29. kris

    Amanda, that piece of information will probably help someone trace the bug in ShadowExlorer, so it can finally be corrected. It’s a shame that you don’t get that. Yes, my observation won’t help everyone – more than your misplaced sarcasm will, though.

  30. GEnocide

    My thingy is also showing dates from after i lost those files grrrr failure yet again

  31. Chris

    Shadow Explorer just completely saved my arse. I had a 50 page document which completely disappeared after I shut my pc down this morning. At 11.53 am I printed off the document and shut down the computer. Logged back in about an hour ago and no document. It wasn’t where it should be, or in the recycle bin and it hadn’t been moved or renamed and no searches could find it anywhere. if someone came to me wioth this scenario I’d tell them it was impossible. It likely has something to do with a print problem as I had a corrupt print service on another printer when I logged back in, but how this might have destroyed the document i have no idea. Anyway, Shadow explorer got me a copy from about 7pm yesterday and only a few small edits lost.

  32. CameraMan

    Hah this is a life saver. For whatever reason, my computer put two different entries for a folder.

    As I work a lot with video, I had approx 100gig’s worth in this particular folder, so having two copies? I was thinking “I am going to save myself a lot of space here”. Windows: “This is too big for the recycle bin, permanently delete?” , clicked ok, afterall, it was just a copy of my folder right?


    For whatever reason, the two folders were different, but at the same time, the same. As I deleted my work, it completely went, and with a project this week end, I was rather “Oh shi-”

    So thanks for this guide and programme to bail me out!

  33. Elena

    PLEASE HELP! I need to retrieve internet history after it was deleted. I do have the dates I need and I can see COMPONENT folder but it seems to be epmty. When I hit export the ShadowExplorer does nothing and there are no files in the folder I am trying to save it in..PLease help!

  34. Manny

    Thanks – this has been a life-saver. I combed various programs for hours to get my deleted Documents folder back. Shadow Copy saved my life. Great Work !!

  35. Steve Doughton

    This program is a lifesaver. We lost 43.1GB of data in 670 files when they were somehow accidentaly deleted. They were not in the Recycle Bin and we don’t really know how it happened – but ShadowExplorer got almost all of them back – the only files that could not be recovered had really deeply nested folders. Be warned, it takes HOURS to recover this much data – just be patient and trust ShadowExplorer to get on with it.
    Fantastic program and great How-to. Paid £45 to a local PC maintenance tech to try ( and fail ) to recover these files. I sorted it for free with this programme and recovered data that had taken volunteers days to scan in. Thinks its worth a donation…

  36. JM

    THANK-YOU!!!!!!!! I thought all hope was lost – I would like to kiss the feet of the people who made this program!!!!!!

  37. Michelle

    ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou!!!!!!…..Thank you SOOOOOO much…because of your write up on shadow explorer I was able to recover some VERY important documents that had been deleted!!!! You are my heroes!!!

  38. Melanie


    This is a great program! However, I have a question. I deleted some files on accident yesterday (May 30th), completely even out of my recycle bin. I downloaded Shadow Explorer today, and was not able to see the files I accidentally deleted. I also deleted some files today, after I downloaded Shadow Explorer, to see if they would show up, and they did not. I did, however, saw files deleted from the day before yesterday, but not the ones from yesterday. Does it take a couple days for deleted files to show up??


  39. Ivailo

    Damn! A life-saver! Thanks a bunch, man! I was going to commit a suicide heh

  40. Edu

    my pc will not allow me to download the program says somthing bout needing frame network 3.5 ow do i get that or what is it i need to do???
    thank you….. -Edu-

  41. Soleil

    This thread save my life!!

  42. Jubu

    Lifesafer. Great program and it really got me out the sh1t after someone deleted files off my system and I had emptied recycle bin. Thank-you, thank-you, THANK-YOU!

  43. Nathalie

    You can also use TimeTraveler from Bears on the Loose. It lets you access Previous Versions on all editions of the Vista and Windows 7. It presents the shadow copies on a timeline that it adds to Windows Explorer. You simply move a time cursor on the timeline to access your files at prior time. The advantage is that you get the rich feature set of Explorer on the shadow copies: drag and drop, search etc. TimeTraveler allows you to compare different versions of your files and it comes with GUI to configure and schedule shadow copies.

    If you have a file to recover immediately try TimeTraveler. It is free for 10 days and then it is really not expensive.

  44. Gabor

    With this little article you just saved my behind and thousands and thousands of dollars for my employer.
    Thanks a million!

  45. Ted Marshall

    Thank you very much for providing help for me with a corrupt file by directing me to Shadow Explorer. Of course Microsoft Help was useless. Thanks again.

  46. jstrul

    i cant find the shadow explorer. any ideas?

  47. Nanung Agus Fitriyanto

    This program is really increadible. Thanks for helping me to recover about 11GB of my data which accidentally deleted. You saved my life.

  48. Sébastien

    Thank you so much !! A third-party application damaged one of my System32 files, and I could get it back thanks to Shadow Explorer !
    Amazing program ! Thank you !
    (However, I must admit it is scary, because it means you can always retrieve what you deleted on your computer :) )

  49. JP

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This article just saved me some serious heartache. What a bunch of as*holes the people at Microsoft are for not including this service with their regular versions of Vista. Really, really helpful of you guys to post this. Thanks a million.

  50. Marko

    This programe saved my life,i managed to recover 12 GB – pictures and documents (3 last years),
    after loosing my memory-card.

    I tried with few other programes, This was my last chance, and it worked;)

  51. Tor

    Hmmm, it sounds like Roxio GoBack file restorer. I have to try it.
    Who know Roxio Norton GoBack ?

    Do you think that shadowstorages are created without indexed locations in the pc ? Once i’ve installed Win 7 in October 2009 on a separated raid volume and i’ve created so far some restore points, (1) i boot Windows Vista installed on the Samsung volume and i’ve accessed the Windows 7 volume in order to save big files; (2) then i started Windows 7 again (by selecting the other volume Maxtor boot option from BIOS) and i didn’t find my old restore points (shadowstorages) anymore, though System Restore is still active on that volume. Maybe they were overwritted by Vista or me, because maybe they’re not stored in a BIN file or other known format.
    What happened to shadowstorages in the other device ??

  52. alex

    This program saved my life too. Nothing more to say.


  53. Chris

    OMG, this kicks ass! Thank god for shadow copies!

  54. dean

    What if my files that i need the shadow is in drive d?

  55. Dee

    OMG THANK YOU SO MUCH ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, This article is awesome information TY TY TY


  56. Tommy O

    Can’t even find where to view Word documents w/shadowexplorer–what am I missing?

  57. Dal

    How do I use it to find shadow copies of word docs (ms word 2007)

    Is there a way to search just for .doc or .docx extensions? Or for the name of the file itself??

    I used a program called “Folder Lock” and it has encrypted (and possibly lost) a couple of very important word docs, I have been on compy all day trying to recover them somehow???


  58. Liz

    Wow… I was in tears half an hour ago and now I can breathe a massive sigh of relief as my old document is back. What a kind person it is that designed this free download!!

  59. Huma

    thanx a bunch!!! really helpful!

  60. chris

    Thanks for the info on a class piece of kit , only thing is , if the system has done a new install will that show your old stuff or is it just from the new install . The reason i`m asking is my system rebooted last night and i must have had a senior moment and just clicked reinstall and my system is right back to square one , so i`ve lost all my documents , pictures , videos the lot .!!! Any other ideas will be greatly received.


  61. yonie

    Thanks God for such programs… I really shouldn’t play with shift+delete while I don’t really check what I delete…

  62. Shakela

    Thank you, you saved my biology grade!

  63. Paula

    Muchas Muchas Muchas Gracias!
    Thank you so much. I thought I´ve lost my info but thanks to you it was all there waiting for me.

  64. Tania

    I did everything… when I went to look for the folder i accidentally deleted… its not even in there I looked inside the folder where the deleted folder was and its not there how can I get them??? I only see the existing files but i don’t see any deleted files at all please help me!!! or my mom will kill me no joke!! I deleted 154 files between pictures and videos. I transferred this files from a memory card, I created a folder inside another folder, than I paste all the files… later on I hit Ctrl+Z and it said “are you sure you want to delete 154 files” or something and I accidentally clicked “yes” and they all got deleted, I went to the Recycle Bin and there not in there, I tried going back to the folder and click “undo delete” but it doesn’t even give me the option… what can I do??? where can they be??? PLEASE I NEED HELP!! PLEASEEE!!! ANYONE!!! =(

  65. Mike

    run recovery software on your memory card. DIYdatarecovery.

  66. J

    Thank you! AT&T failed me, then iTunes let me down, then my HP backup Software dissapointed, and finally Microsoft vista was little help. Then Google, you and Shadowexplorer came in at the last second and saved 2 years of iphone app content! I donated $10, far more than I pay for most Apps but since it saved the content created with the apps it’s a good deal!

  67. Julie

    Thank you so much! I’ve been bookmarking things for years, and then suddenly Google Chrome deletes them all. But thanks to you I’ve gotten them all back :)

  68. Steve


    when picking the date, there is no option to go back far enough for when i accidently deleted the files…it was two weeks ago…its only showing up o 9 days ago….


  69. Jerrett

    This indeed finds all my files, but for some reason I can’t restore them. When I hit the export option it simply says it already exist in that location, and when I create a new folder it puts it in as a shadow copy as well. My previous restore dates aren’t showing either so how can I get this back out of the shadow world????

  70. therapist

    So helpful! I thought I had completely lost a document that I had built over the last 9 months.
    I was devastated to think that I would have to re-do everything.

    Thank you so much!

  71. Fahad

    This program is a life saver. It helped me recover a lot of my lost data. Plus it is working awesomely for me and I am going to recommend it to some of my friends too! I would like to congratulate the creators of this program and would like to buy them a cold beverage for their effort and I know they deserve more then just a beer! LOL

    you guys rock!

  72. Marina

    Thanks so much!Helped me recover the overwritten power point that I need to use to teach tomorrow. MANY MANY THANKS!!

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