How to Recover OneDrive Files Using Version History

Ben Stegner 26-10-2017

Microsoft’s OneDrive is a lot more than a simple cloud storage solution. It’s evolved over time These Windows 10 Features Are Constantly Changing Windows 10 will never stop changing. Microsoft is constantly experimenting. Here are some Windows features that continue to improve with every Windows update. Read More 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 How To Best Use Your 15GB Of Free OneDrive Storage OneDrive gives you a healthy dose of cloud storage for free. Let's take a look at what you can do with that. Read More . 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 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More . 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 How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word This guide examines the elements of a professional report and reviews the structuring, styling, and finalizing of your document in Microsoft Word. Read More . You place it in OneDrive for safekeeping. The day before it’s due (you did complete your work ahead of time, right? Stop Procrastination in Its Tracks With 5 Proven Brain Rules Procrastination comes in all forms. Believe it or not, there are several principles in psychology research that can help you stop procrastination in its tracks! Read More ) 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.

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 How to Recover Any Unsaved or Overwritten Microsoft Excel Files You don't have to start over when you accidentally lose an Excel file. If your computer crashed or you closed the document without saving, chances are you can recover your work. Read More . 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 The Pros and Cons of Using a Microsoft Account with Windows A single Microsoft Account allows you to log into a wide range of Microsoft services and apps. We show you the pros and cons of using a Microsoft Account with Windows. Read More to use it.

You can find your OneDrive folder in the left sidebar of your File Explorer if you haven’t removed it How to Disable & Replace OneDrive in Windows 10 OneDrive is deeply integrated in Windows 10 and Microsoft might tell you that removing it is not possible. Well, not unless you're willing to dig deep. We show you how to extract OneDrive from Windows... Read More . 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.


onedrive file history version feature

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.


onedrive file history version feature

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 Things You Should Know About Redundancy and Backups Redundancy is frequently confused with backups. Indeed, the concepts are relatively similar, albeit with some important differences. Read More . 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 The Ultimate Windows 10 Data Backup Guide We've summarized every backup, restore, recovery, and repair option we could find on Windows 10. Use our simple tips and never despair over lost data again! Read More or opt for a third-party backup solution The Best Backup Software for Windows Your data is fragile – it only takes one small accident to lose everything. The more backups you make, the better. Here we present the best free backup software for Windows. Read More , 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 How to Back Up Your Windows Computer to the Cloud Cloud storage is convenient for data backups. But should you use Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or Crash Plan? We'll help you decide. Read More while also backing up to an external drive or a cloud backup service CrashPlan for Home Shuts Down: What Now for Online Data Backups? CrashPlan is a popular cloud based backup provider. Their recent announcement to close the Home solution has left users in the cold. But here's what you can do next to safeguard your data. Read More 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 7 Things to Know When Buying a Data Drive for Backups Thinking about buying a data drive for storing file backups? Here's what you need to know if you want to make an informed decision. Read More 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 7 Windows Maintenance Mistakes You Should Never Make If you want to keep your Windows PC running smoothly, you need to avoid making these big mistakes. They could shorten your computer's lifespan and make your experience frustrating. Read More — 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!

Related topics: Data Backup, Data Recovery, File Management, Microsoft OneDrive.

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  1. Yoda
    January 1, 2019 at 9:56 am

    You say above that "Each time you make a change to a file that’s in OneDrive and save it, the newest version uploads to OneDrive" but it doesn't - OneDrive now refuses to upload a new version of a file with the same name - which it did before. Makes it useless as a backup solution as far as I'm concerned - why do they insist on breaking things that are working well?