How to use File History on Windows 10

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 5, 2016
Updated • Jul 5, 2017
Windows, Windows 10

File History is a security feature of the Windows operating system that backs up important files automatically when enabled so that they can be restored at a later point in time.

The feature, introduced in Windows 8 and also part of Windows 10, is not enabled by default on Microsoft's newest operating system.

It is unclear why that is the case, but the most likely explanation is that it requires a secondary drive or network location as the backed up data needs to be stored somewhere (actually, it is possible to use File History without a second drive).

File History is a useful feature if no other means of backup are used on the system. While it can be used to restore files, it cannot be used to restore the operating system itself if it stops working.

File History on Windows 10

File History is not enabled on Windows 10 by default, and the first thing that you need to do is set it up in the Settings application.

file history windows 10

To enable File History, do the following:

  1. Use the shortcut Windows-i to open the Settings application.
  2. Switch to Update & Security > Backup.
  3. There you find the "Back up using File History" option.
  4. Click on "add a drive" to add a local or network drive for use by the feature.
  5. Windows 10 scans all connected drives and displays them in list format on the screen. Select a drive that you want to use.
  6. You will notice that the feature is set to "on" afterwards automatically.

File History will create a FileHistory folder in the root location of the drive automatically and back up all files to it.

file history options

Click on the more options link to configure the feature. The default settings are the following:

  • Back up files every hour.
  • Keep backups forever.
  • Back up the following folders: Saved Games, Links, Downloads, Favorites, Contacts, OneDrive, Desktop, Searches, Music, Videos, Saved Pictures, Public Videos, Camera Roll, Public Music, Documents, Public Documents, Pictures, Public Pictures,  Workspace, and all folders under the current user account.

You may change the backup interval between "every 10 minutes" to "daily", and the backup storage time between "until space is needed" and forever.

All folders that files are backed up from by default can be removed, and you may add custom folders on top of that. It makes sense to go through the listing since it is very likely that you don't need files backed up in all selected folders, and that it is likely that some folders are not included that you want files backed up from regularly.

The removal process is slow, as the folder listing is updated every time you remove a single folder from the listing.

How to restore files manually

Windows offers several ways to restore files backed up the the file history feature. Probably the easiest of them all is to right-click on a file in File Explorer to select the "restore previous versions" option displayed in the context menu.

Switch to previous versions in the properties window that opens up, or, and that is another option to get to the menu, right-click on files and select properties manually instead to access the same menu.

file history restore

Windows lists all saved file versions in the interface, and the two main options to open a previous version of the file or restore it right away.

You may also click on the arrow icons next to the two buttons to "open the file in File History", or "restore it to a custom location".

Closing Words

File History is a file-based backup application that is built-in to new versions of the Windows operating system. While useful in itself, it should not be the only means of backing up data on the system as it won't help you restore Windows if it fails to boot or if you encounter other operating system related errors.

For files though it is useful as it adds file-versionining to the operating system provided that you add the right folders to the list of monitored directories.

Now you: Do you use file History or another backup solution?

How to use File History on Windows 10
Article Name
How to use File History on Windows 10
Find out how to use the file backup feature File History on devices running Microsoft's new operating system Windows 10.
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  1. Forrest P Wyman said on February 19, 2017 at 5:55 am

    That’s right venkat. Just imagine ALL your HD’s files backed up repeatedly, as frequently as every five minutes? Every user of FILE HISTORY gets a free chance to become a $$$ super-sponsor-donor to the “Billion Terrabyte Storage Club”

  2. Paul Wyman said on February 19, 2017 at 5:20 am

    This feature kills my business model (production scheduling) because we encrypt access based on an UNMODIFIED file name for the license file. Any modifications to the file name kill the user’s access to our application. Other developers who have the same need to keep file names never changed e.g. (one uses Art objects) are also getting screwed by this “File History” uninvited disaster. It rapidly fills up your backup device (costing you more $ storage esp if in cloud), and has no brains to NOT save unlimited IDENTICAL files into your backup storage. What File History points to a a server and you overflow your secondary storage target (HD or Cloud) over the weekend? I like Dwight’s idea to keep your application on a D: drive to avoid this mess, but it’s yet another case of Microsoft “killing you with kindness” over-reach philosophy yet once again.

  3. venkat said on May 11, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    It seems File history just copies all files even if there is no change. I saw multiple copied of all my pdf files which are not changed (I use pdf reader to access them). Is there any way to configure such that the file is copied / versioned ONLY if there is a change?

  4. PhoneyVirus said on January 12, 2016 at 2:37 am

    People interested in this tutorial may wanna checkout sadly its not compatible with Windows 10 yet something I really hope happens.

  5. Dwight Stegall said on January 7, 2016 at 7:39 am

    That only works on Drive C. I never keep personal files on Drive C to keep Windows running fast. The more files Windows has to keep track of the slower it will run. I have them on Drive D and archive them every few days with Bandizip on a flash drive.

  6. Tim said on January 5, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    In answer to your question “Do you use file History”, the answer is no.

    I generally prefer to use software built into the OS rather than third-party software if I can, but the reason I don’t use File History is that it messes with the filenames by adding a UTC Timestamp to them, which I don’t like. For example if the filename is 1995-12-25-IMG_1234.jpg, File History will change it to 1995-12-25-IMG_1234 (2016_01_05 21_59_07 UTC).jpg

    So, I stick with traditional file syncing software SyncBack for backing up files, as it keeps the integrity of the files and folders intact. I can then take that backup drive and plug it into any device with everything as is.

  7. RossN said on January 5, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Yes, I’ve been using File History since Windows 8.
    It is similar to Genie’s Timeline backup program, in that you can click back through versions of a file. The default restore overwrites the current file, but you can choose to restore elsewhere. It is fiddly to add individual folders to be backup up though.

    In my opinion, this is the best reason, for most people, to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7. Most people won’t have a backup program running that lets them revert a file to the version that existed as little as 5 minutes (most frequent option) ago.

  8. what said on January 5, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    or just use smartversion

  9. dan said on January 5, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    It would be really useful to have a feature that automatically backs up any app or system file (not just in the Windows directories, but AppData as well) before it gets deleted or overwritten in any way. That would allow for an easier recovery path from malware. It would also provide a log of sorts of any changes to those files at any time (by their appearance in the backup folder).

    In other words, allow an option for backups not by time interval, but by change (at any time).

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