Microsoft’s OneDrive is a lot more than a simple cloud storage solution. It’s evolved over time to feature a great web app, photo backup, remote file access, and allow collaborative work on Office files.
OneDrive’s newest feature is just another reason you should take advantage of it. It’s called File History, and it lets you revert any file to a previous version. Let’s take a look at it and how it can fit into your backup plan.
What’s File History?
File History is one way of providing a backup of your data. It allows you to roll back to a prior version of your file after making unwanted or accidental changes.
Let’s take an example. Say you have a 10-page research paper saved as a Microsoft Word document. You place it in OneDrive for safekeeping. The day before it’s due (you did complete your work ahead of time, right?) you mistakenly open the document, paste a bunch of gibberish over it, and save. Substitute a friend playing a prank here if that seems more realistic.
A year ago I overwrote my finished 5k word paper with a blank document 2 days before it was due. A year ago I learned to back up everything.
— Chocobuny (@Chocobuny) August 8, 2016
Oh, no! Those changes sync to OneDrive and now instead of your completed work, you’ve got ten pages of nonsense that you can’t turn in. That’s where File History comes to the rescue. OneDrive now keeps older versions of your files for 30 days, so you can roll back to a previous version in case of a catastrophic loss like this.
OneDrive’s File History previously only worked on Microsoft Office files. Now it works on everything. And it’s a breeze to use.
Rolling Back a File
To restore an older version of a file, you must have it saved in OneDrive. On Windows 10, OneDrive is already installed by default, though you must sign in with a Microsoft account to use it.
You can find your OneDrive folder in the left sidebar of your File Explorer if you haven’t removed it. Make sure to keep files you may want to roll back in this folder, and give them some time to sync once you add them here. If you need to reinstall OneDrive, visit the OneDrive download page.
When you want to roll back a file, you’ll need to visit OneDrive’s web portal. Sign in with your Microsoft account if prompted. Then, browse to the file you want to restore. Right-click it, and choose Version History. You’ll see a sidebar appear on the right detailing the previous versions.
Each time you make a change to a file that’s in OneDrive and save it, the newest version uploads to OneDrive. But you can find all the old versions in this Version History list.
Every entry includes a modification date and time, name of the person who made the change, and the file size. To view an older version, click the three dots that appear (or right-click the entry) and select Open File.
OneDrive will then let you download the file to your PC for review. To replace the current version with an older one, choose Restore. This will add a new entry to the top of the list, so you don’t lose the current version.
If you’re using this feature for your personal OneDrive, you’ll only see your own changes. But this is also useful if you’re sharing a file in OneDrive among multiple people. If someone makes an unwanted or accidental change, you can easily reverse it.
As Part of a Full Backup Solution
OneDrive’s File History feature really is that simple. As long as you remember to keep your files in your cloud storage, you’ll have this level of protection from accidental or unwanted changes.
But it’s important to note that this feature alone is not a sufficient backup solution. For one, OneDrive only holds previous versions of files for 30 days. This is great for catching quick mistakes, but it could result in lost information in a worse case. If you don’t realize that you made an erroneous change to a file until it’s too late, OneDrive can’t help you reverse it.
In addition, cloud storage isn’t a true backup. Services like OneDrive sync files you place in them to all your devices. So if you delete a file in your OneDrive from your desktop, it gets deleted everywhere. OneDrive has a recycle bin, but automatically deletes files in the bin after 30 days.
A proper backup solution doesn’t have any of these issues. Whether you use Windows 10’s built-in backup tools or opt for a third-party backup solution, backing up with these tools is fundamentally different from using OneDrive. They incrementally back up new files to an external drive or the cloud and keep them there forever.
If you back up some pictures to Backblaze, delete them off your computer, and want to look at them years later, all you have to do is restore them. There’s no time limit, and you don’t have to worry about accidental changes ruining your original file.
Ideally, you should keep your files in several locations. Using OneDrive for your most important files while also backing up to an external drive or a cloud backup service is a great idea. That way, you still take advantage of OneDrive’s speed and File History features. But you have your main backup in case of complete data loss.
Windows 10 File History
One last important point is that Windows 10 has its own File History feature. Similar to OneDrive’s new tool, this lets you back up previous versions of your files to another drive and restore them in case of an issue. To use it, open the Settings app, then browse to Update & security > Backup.
Turn on the Automatically back up my files slider. You can click More options to change how often Windows backs up your files, how long it keeps backups, and what folders get included in the backup.
Note that you must have a secondary drive to use this, so you may want to purchase an external hard drive if you don’t already have one. It’s an expense, but it will pay for itself in an instant when your hard drive dies.
Will File History Save Your Bacon?
Now you know about this useful and life-saving feature of OneDrive. It’s a great reason to keep some of your most important files in OneDrive, and it can save you hours of lost time. Just know that it’s best used as one part of a complete backup solution, and don’t count on it alone.
Failing to back up is just one of many Windows maintenance mistakes you should never make — check those out for more info.
Have you ever used File History to get yourself out of a jam? Please share your data loss horror stories with us in the comments section!