Browse and Restore Shadow Copies in Windows Vista

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 26, 2008
Updated • Nov 10, 2017

Shadow Copies have been introduced in the first Windows XP service pack and improved when Microsoft released Windows Vista. They are used in Windows Vista for the System Restore feature and backup, and also used in newer versions of Windows (Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10).

System Restore is a new feature that creates a snapshot of core system files before changes - like updates or software installations - are made to the system.

Shadow copies resolve one of the issues that many Windows users have likely experienced several times in the past. Some file operations are blocked if files are in use. This includes for example moving or deleting files, and attempts to do so while a file is in use will block the operation. Shadow Copies can be used to copy or delete these files even if they are in used, which is very handy for backup purposes or for installing updates on the system.

Shadow Explorer

Shadow Explorer is an application for Windows Vista (and newer versions of Windows) that lets you browse and restore files that have been saved previously. The application displays all available copies sorted by snapshot date and the actual file structure and files that were saved at a particular date.

You can browse the files, and restore versions of files or folders that were saved in a snapshot. This means that you may use it to restore a previous version of a file, and even restore files that are not longer available on the system.

It mainly serves the purpose of providing users of Windows Vista Home with the ability to browse those files which is already possible in other editions of Windows Vista (Business, Enterprise and Ultimate). It can be extremely helpful if you want to restore a previous version of a file that has been saved.

Users who use Windows Vista but not the Home Edition can access this feature by right-clicking a file and selecting Restore previous versions from the menu.

The software has been improved with every version of Windows that came out after Vista. It currently supports Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10 as well, so that users of those operating systems can run the program on their system to access previous versions of files using it.

The program shows all available point in time copies of a file at the top, and displays the folders and files of that snapshot at the bottom. From here it is possible to restore previous versions of files directly.

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  1. Dante said on February 27, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Nice tip. I have Vista Ultimate and hadn’t bothered learning about Shadow Copy until now. Great thing to have.

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