File History

By Martin Edwards

Last updated February 2018

Windows 10 has a built-in backup system called File History. It keeps a copy of your documents, photos and other data so they’re not lost if your computer fails. It also keeps historic versions of files that you edit or delete, so you can change your mind or recover from mistakes, even months later. All you need is a flash drive (memory stick) or external hard drive with sufficient capacity.

Note: As standard, backups include the Desktop, Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos folders. Unless you’ve gone out of your way to do otherwise, or you use certain specialist applications, all your important data should be in these folders. If you’re not sure, ask me for help.

Turn on File History

Attach a flash drive or external hard drive to your computer, then do the following:

  1. Click Start
  2. Click Settings (the cog icon)
  3. Click Update & Security
  4. On the left, click Backup
  5. Click Add a drive
  6. Click the name of the drive you attached

Notice that the toggle switch gets set to ‘on’, meaning your files will be automatically backed up on an hourly schedule.

The first backup may take hours to complete. To check its progress, click More options. Subsequent backups will take less time because they only need to copy those files that have changed.

Tip: If you want to perform a backup immediately, rather than wait for the schedule, click More options and then Back up now.

Check that File History is working

Like a smoke alarm, it’s a good idea to test your backup once in a while. To confirm that File History is working:

  1. Click Start
  2. Click Settings (the cog icon)
  3. Click Update & Security
  4. On the left, click Backup
  5. Confirm that the toggle switch is set to ‘on’
  6. Click More options
  7. Confirm that the date of the last backup is recent, e.g. the last day or two

Leaving the drive connected

There are benefits and drawbacks of leaving your backup drive connected to the computer all the time, as opposed to connecting it, say, every Sunday and doing a backup then:

It is up to each of us to make a reasoned decision here. It might help you to know that I deal with many more cases of people losing data because they weren’t backing up regularly, than I do of them losing data to malware or theft.

For extra protection, you might also consider an online backup solution like Backblaze, and/or syncing your documents and pictures to OneDrive.

Further reading

I’ve also written a more general introduction to backup.

Need help?

I’m a computer technician and tutor serving North Oxford, Kidlington, Woodstock and the surrounding villages. Visit my home page to find out more and get in touch.