When you discover that you overwrote an important document, your first reaction is likely panic. But if you’re on a Mac, there are a few options you have for getting your earlier edits back.
We’ll look at a few of them here, and then share a few suggestions for avoiding the problem in the first place. Let’s start with the easiest one.
iWork: Revert to an Older Version
If you’re still using Microsoft Office on your Mac, it might be time to switch to iWork. It has a number of advantages, but the most notable one for the current discussion is built-in versioning. Every time you save changes to a document, iWork makes an archival copy that you can access.
To see the available previous versions, just open the document in Pages, Numbers, or Keynote and go to File > Revert To > Browse All Versions…
You’ll then see a screen that lets you browse through previous versions. Just use the arrows next to the document on the right.
When you find the version you want, click Restore and you’re done! This works in all of the iWork apps: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.
iWork for iCloud: Restore Previous Versions
If you store your iWork documents in iCloud Drive, you can also restore previous versions from there. Be sure to save your documents in the corresponding folder of the drive. You’ll see that there are Pages, Numbers, and Keynote folders, but that you can also save your documents in the top-level storage folder.
Though you can access previous versions from the top-level folder, Apple warns that the feature might be disabled. So it’s best to keep your documents in the corresponding app folders.
To look at previous versions, open iCloud in your browser at iCloud.com, go to the folder that contains your document, and select it. Then click the cog icon at the top of the screen.
Click on Browse All Versions… to see the previous versions that are available.
Then just choose the version you want, click Restore, and you can start working on it right in your browser or download it to use an iWork app.
You can even restore deleted files from iCloud! If you aren’t saving your documents there yet, it’s a good habit to get into.
Microsoft Office: Recover Unsaved Documents
If Word, Excel, or PowerPoint crashes, or if your computer unexpectedly turns off, you might lose some changes that you’ve made to your documents. Office can sometimes help you recover some of those changes.
The first step is to simply reopen the app you were using. In many cases, you’ll see the Document Recovery pane appear, and you can grab the last saved changes that Office was able to get:
If this doesn’t happen, though, you’ll have to dig into the AutoRecover folders. Open Terminal, and type or paste the following command:
For Microsoft Office 2016:
For Microsoft Office 2011:
open Library/Application\ Support/Microsoft/Office/Office\ 2011\ Autorecovery
For Microsoft Office 2008:
/Documents/Microsoft\ User\ Data/Office\ 2008\ AutoRecovery/
That will bring you to the AutoRecovery folder, where you may be able to find some autosaved versions of your documents:
Note that some files might be hidden. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to make hidden files visible. Just open up Finder and press Command + Shift + Period, and your hidden files will appear.
Microsoft Office: Recover Temporary Files
If the above doesn’t work, you can try to recover your document from temporary file storage. To start this process, fire up Terminal and enter the following command:
There, you’ll see a number of files with nonsense names:
Start opening those files until you find the one you’re looking for (or you run out of options). Because they’re TMP files, you won’t be able to open them with Office apps, so open them with a text editor. I’ve had the best luck with TextEdit.
Some Tips on Not Losing Files
With iWork, you have a really good chance of recovering files that you’ve saved over or lost due to a crash. Microsoft Office, however, makes it quite a bit more difficult. The first thing I’d recommend is to start using iWork and save your documents in iCloud.
If you insist on continuing with Microsoft Office, the first step to take is to make sure that your AutoRecovery options are set how you want them. This is a great feature of Office that many people aren’t aware of.
Go to File > Options > Save in Office 2016 (or Preferences > Save in Office 2011) and make sure that Office is saving an AutoRecover file every 5-10 minutes.
It’s also a good idea to have Office create a backup copy of your documents. Go to File > Options > Advanced in Office 2016 (or Preferences > Save in Office 2011) and make sure that Always create backup copy is checked.
Now, you’ll see a backup copy of your document in the folder where you saved the original.
And, of course, we always recommend using good backup software that supports versioning. You should be backing up your computer anyway, and being able to roll back documents to a previous version is just a bonus.
In a worst-case scenario, you can turn to data recovery software to recover lost files.