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Backing Up Your Files with File History

Creating a robust system isn't just about creating a backup image of Windows 10. Your PC would be pretty useless if all your files were lost, so having a reliable file backup routine is essential. Fortunately, Windows 10 comes with a file backup and versioning tool that will be instantly familiar to anyone who's used Time Machine on a Mac. It's possible, as with a few other features in Windows 10, however that File History could be deprecated and removed from the OS over time, as the company pushes more and more people to use its OneDrive file backup and sync cloud service, but for now it's sticking around.

File History can be found in the Control Panel but is perhaps more easily controlled from the Settings app. Open Update & Security and then Backup, and you'll be prompted to add a [backup] drive, which can also include local network locations.

You can use spare hard disks and partitions in your PC, USB-connected hard disks, or network drives to store your File History backup. Setting it up is a simple matter of selecting a drive on which a FileHistory folder will be created. By default, File History will include all your Shell User Folder locations (Documents, Music, Pictures, Video) your OneDrive folder (if you're using it) and anything else in your C:\Users folder.

A new version of a file is kept each time a change is made to that file. This includes the file being opened, when its last accessed date will be changed. If you have files you open on a regular basis that do not change, such as music or videos, you can prevent your File History drive from filling up with multiple copies of these files by excluding their containing folders from the backup. You should always make sure you do keep a backup copy of the files somewhere else, however.

You can manage the settings for File History, though, once it is set up by clicking the More options link that will appear in the Backup Settings. This will allow you to control the frequency with which backups are made, how long old versions of files are kept for (this does not include files for which there is only one version), and which folders and included and excluded from the backup.

Almost everything you need to do with File History can be done through the Settings app, but the Control Panel offers a couple of additional features.

Perhaps the most useful of these is seeing how much free space is left on your File History drive. If you find the drive is filling up, you can click the Advanced options link on the left of the window and then the Clean up versions link. Here you can choose to delete all versions of files older than a specific age or, if you're comfortable that you don't need to restore anything, all but the latest one.

Restoring Deleted and Previous Versions of Files

You can restore deleted and older versions of files in File History by clicking the Restore personal files link either in the File History, in Control Panel applet, or in any File Explorer window by clicking the History button in the ribbon.

This will open File History at the current drive and folder point, though you can still navigate anywhere within your backup from there. The File History restore window has navigation (back, forward, and up) buttons in its top left and an address bar showing the current folder.

At the bottom of the window are back and forward (by date and time) buttons, with a big green Restore button between them. Once you have navigated to the folder you want to restore deleted or modified file(s) from, use the time buttons to find the correct day and time the backup copy was made, select the file(s) or folder(s) you wish to restore, and hit the big green button.

File History does not encrypt your files' backup, so you might want to ensure that Bitlocker or Bitlocker To Go is activated on your File History drive.

File History is excellent at picking up where it left off after a Windows reset or reinstall, though you will need to activate the feature again. If you really want to dig into the store location for File History, however, all the files are stored in plain, easily accessible format, just as any other file on a hard disk would be. The only difference is that the date and time the backup was made are appended to the end of the file name.