Home » Computer Guides » Using Windows File History Backup

how to use windows file history backup.

Windows File History is an easy way to back up your files & stuff.

Originally designed to help businesses to save multiple copies of working documents, it turns out, that File History can deal with virtually any type of file, pictures, music, videos, etc.

Which is great news for us, since it's already built into Windows, we don't have to install any extra software, and it's free. All that's needed is to set it up.

To use Windows File History, you'll need an external drive of some sort. That could be an external hard drive, a USB drive, or even an SD card.

windows file history-at home computer

setting up windows file history.

File History saves copies of folders that you specify onto an external drive. So the first thing to do when setting it up is to plug in the drive you intend to use.

The backup drive could be an external hard drive, a USB stick, or an SD card.

Click the START button and then type

file history

Click BACKUP SETTINGS from the list.

type file history & click backup settings.

On the Backup Settings page, click the plus sign next to ADD A DRIVE.

click add a drive.

A small window will open.

Windows is searching for external drives attached to your computer.

As soon as it finds your external drive, left-click on it to select it.

Just in case your wondering, the answer is no.

Windows File History won't use a folder on your current hard drive. Yes, I know that'd be handy, but if your drive fails (and they do), then your backups have gone.

Which is why File History only works with a separate drive.

You could, however, use a second, internal drive. 

That's the backup drive set.

Now we'll have to tell File History which folders to backup, and how often to make those backups.

Click MORE OPTIONS.

click more options.

back-up options - file history.

On the Back-Up Options page of File History, we can set how often backups should be taken, and how long they should be kept for.

And crucially, we can also decide which folders are actually included in the backups.

back-up options page.

By default, File History will back up your files every hour.

But you change this setting by clicking the arrowhead to open the drop-down menu.

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From the menu that opens, click the timing for how often you'd like Windows File History to back up your folders.

You can change this setting anytime you want or need to.

We'll come back to this setting later.

The next setting is for how long the backups should be kept.

Again there's a drop-down menu accessed by clicking the arrowhead.

Keeping the backups forever is the default, and for now, we'll leave it at that.

But again, we'll come back to this setting.

choosing folders for windows file history backups.

Under the "Back-Up These Folders" section is where we can add or remove the folders to be backed up.

Windows File History will already have chosen a bunch of folders to backup by default.

For most of us, we won't need all of them.

To exclude a folder, left-click on it once.

Then left-click the REMOVE button that appears.

click remove to stop backing up.

To be clear here, the REMOVE button will only appear after you've clicked on the folder's name.

So to exclude a folder, left-click its name, and the REMOVE button will then appear.

Here I've whittled down the default list of folders to the ones I actually want backing up.

  • Desktop
  • Pictures
  • Documents
  • Videos
  • Music.

So that's all the main settings done. Now, all we need to do is to start the first backup.

starting file history backup.

Scroll up the page, and click the BACK UP NOW button.

Windows File History will start copying everything in the folders you've specified onto the external drive you've chosen.

It can take some time for the backup to complete. It all depends on how much data you're trying to save and how fast your external drive is.

When File History has finished backing up your folders, the BACK UP NOW button will re-appear.

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checking the backup.

Whenever we're dealing with backups, it's well worth taking a few minutes to check that your files and folders have actually been backed up.

It wouldn't be the first time a computer has fibbed.

To check the backup, scroll down to the bottom of the Back-Up options page.

At the bottom of the page, click "restore files from a current backup".

The File History Restore Files page will open.

Now you can see all the folders that have been backed up.

Open each folder in turn by double left clicking and check that all your files are there.

check the folders.

When your happy that everything is OK, close the window by clicking the X in the top right-hand corner.

how file history works.

Windows File History doesn't work like most back up software, so I think it's worth having a look at exactly how it does work.

We've made our first backup, so all the files inside the folders that we specified have been copied onto the external drive. So far, so good.

When a second backup is run, File History will look at the files it's already got backed up, and then at the files that are on your computer, to see if anything has changed.

Where there aren't any changes, it'll move on, but where a file has changed, it'll make another copy of it.

A complete new file. File History doesn't update the existing backed up file, it creates a whole new copy.

To demonstrate how this works, I'll create a folder called Backup test on my Desktop.

In the folder, I'll save a music track (an MP3 file) and a simple text file.

Then I'll run a File History back up.

The new folder, along with its contents, will be added to the backups.

an mp3 file & a text file.

You can clearly see that there are only two files saved in the folder on my Desktop.

And when I go to my USB drive to check that everything has been backed up, again you can see that there are only two files.

An MP3 file and a text file.

Which is exactly what you'd expect. No surprises here.

an mp3 file & a text file.

Now I'll go back to my Desktop and edit that text file. I'll make a couple of changes. Add a new paragraph.

Then I'll run Windows File History back up again.

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When I return to my USB drive and check the File History backups, I find that there are now 3 files.

The MP3 file and 2 text files.

What File History has done is to simply copy the edited text file as a new file and saved it into the backup.

So now I've got a revision.

I've got the original text file and then a revised version of it. The edited version.

3 files now.

In the folder on my Desktop, I still have only two files, The MP3 file, and the text.

Now let's say that the text file is work in progress.

I'm opening it, editing it, and saving my changes over several days. Just as you might do when working on a long essay or report.

Each time File History runs a backup, it'll create a whole new file every time I change that file.

You can see that the MP3 file, right at the top, isn't being recreated. That's because it isn't changing.

I can play it, I can listen to the song as often as I wish, but because I'm not editing it, it isn't changing, so File History ignores it.

But the text file is being edited constantly. And so File History is creating a revision of the file each time it runs.

You can tell which is the most recent revision because they're all date and time-stamped.

file history revisions can be a problem.

All of which brings us back to the settings at the top of the page, how often should File History run & how long should the backups be kept.

Having a dozen or more revisions of text files isn't usually going to be a problem.

That's because, generally, text files are small. They don't take up much space. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, etc are all usually small files.

But if you're working on, say, a video file, then things change.

Video files can be very large, and so having numerous revisions of the same video will quickly eat into the amount of space you've got available on your backup drive.

fine tuning file history settings.

Because File History doesn't update backed up files to reflect changes made to the original file, but simply creates a new revision of the file, space on the backup drive is a constant issue.

But by fine-tuning File History's settings, we can try to get a balance between protecting our files and the amount of space available.

So now we'll return to those settings we looked at right at the beginning of this article.

backup my files - every hour ( default).

Now that you know how File History is going to back up your files, you can make a better choice here.

I think that if you're mainly working on text type files, then hourly is a pretty good setting.

But if your working on large files, then maybe set this to Daily.

It all depends on the size of the files your backing up and the amount of space on your backup drive.

keep my backups - forever (default).

Ideally, we'd always keep every backup forever, never delete anything.

But often that's just not practicable, especially if we're dealing with larger file types.

It might be worth using the "Until Space is Needed" setting.

It all depends on what type of work you're doing, how critical it is, the size of the files, and the capacity of your external backup drives.

There's no perfect answer here, it's a kind of balancing act.

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including & excluding folders.

Within File History, you can include or exclude folders from the backup.

In my backup settings, I'm backing up my Documents folder. Now let's say that inside my Documents folder I've got another folder that I use to keep my videos that I'm editing.

The files in there are very large and I don't want File History to back them up. So I could Exclude that folder from the backup.

That would mean that everything in my Documents folder gets backed up, except my video editing folder.

To Exclude a folder, under the "Exclude these folders" section, click ADD A FOLDER.

Now simply navigate to the folder you'd like to exclude.

In my case, I'd click Documents.

Then select the folder to be excluded, and finally click the CHOOSE THIS FOLDER button

Now everything inside my Documents folder will be backed up, except this folder and it's contents.

To include a folder in the back-up, under the section "Back up these folders", click the ADD A FOLDER button.

Now simply navigate to the folder that you'd like to be included in the File History backups.

So for me, in my example, I'll click the C: drive of the computer, select the folder SAVE ME and then click the CHOOSE THIS FOLDER button.

The folder is added to the list of folders to be backed up by File History.

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restoring files from file history backups.

The whole point of using any sort of backup software is that if for some reason your files are lost, you can get them back again. You can restore them.

You can restore individual files or complete folders.

Restoring files or folders from File History is really quite easy to do.

Open File History by clicking the Start button and then typing

file history

Click "Backup Settings" at the top of the list.

In the "Back up using File History" section, click MORE OPTIONS.

On the Back-up options page, scroll right down to the bottom of the page.

Then click "Restore files from current backup".

File History will show the most recent backup.

To restore a complete folder, left-click the folder once to select it.

Then click the RESTORE TO ORIGINAL LOCATION button.

To restore individual files.

Open the folder where the file is located by double left-clicking it.

Then select the file by left-clicking it once and click the Restore Button.

finding previous revisions - file history.

Sometimes, you may find that the file or folder isn't in the most recent backup.

If that's the case, you can scroll through older revisions by clicking on the back button.

summary - file history.

Generally speaking, File History works well.

It lacks some of the finer detail settings and controls of dedicated third-party backup software, but on the whole, it does a good job.

And it is already installed on your PC. So there's no need to download & install extra software.

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