How to Use File History in Windows 10

Windows 10 blue logo

© Microsoft

Nobody likes to think about it too much, but backing up your data is an essential part of owning any Windows computer. Since Windows 7, Microsoft has offered a relatively easy backup solution called File History that grabs a copy of any recently modified files every hour (or more frequently if you’d like) and stores them on an external drive connected to your PC. It’s an easy way to make sure your essential documents are backed up.

Then if you ever need to recover a file or set of files File History gives you quick access to them. You can even use File History to gain access to a file as it looked at a specific point in time such as two weeks or a month earlier.

What File History Doesn't Do

Backup computer to external drive


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File History doesn’t do a complete backup of your PC including system files. Instead, it watches the data in your user accounts, such as your documents, photos, and video folders. Nevertheless, if you have a Windows 10 PC and aren’t backing up yet, I’d highly recommend setting up File History.

First Steps

External hard drive connected to a laptop

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Before you do anything make sure you have an external hard drive connected to your PC. How big that external hard drive needs should be depends on how many files you have on your PC. With hard drive prices so cheap these days it’s easiest to use a drive with at least 500GB. That way you can keep several backups of your files and access multiple past versions of items that change frequently.

Activating File History

Adding a drive to use for File History


Click the Start menu, open the Settings app, and then click Update & Security. On the next screen in the left-hand navigation panel click Backup. Next, in the main viewing area of the Settings app click Add a drive under the heading “Backup using File History” as pictured here.

Click that and a panel will pop-up showing all the drives connected to your PC. Choose the one you want to use for File History and you’re done. Now under the File History heading you should see an activated slider button labeled Automatically back up my files.

It's That Easy

Expanding the options under the Back up using File History screen


If all you want to do is create a backup solution and never think about it again, then you’re done. Just keep your external drive connected to your PC, or plug it in every so often, and you’ll get a backup of all your personal files.
For those who want a little more control, however, click More options under the File History heading as pictured here.

Customizing File History

Choosing a backup folder in Windows Settings
You can customize which folders you backup with File History.


On the next screen, you’ll see your various backup options. At the top are options for how frequently (or not) you want File History to save a new copy of your files. The default is every hour, but you can set it to happen every 10 minutes or as infrequently as once a day.
There’s also an option for determining how long you want to keep your File History backups. The default setting is to keep them “Forever,” but if you want to save space in your external hard drive you can have your backups deleted every month, every two years, or when space is needed to make room for new backups.
Scroll down further, and you’ll see a list of all the folders File History backs up. If you want to remove any of these folders click once on them and then click Remove.

To add a folder click the Add a folder button just below the "Backup these folders" heading.

Lastly, there’s an option to exclude specific folders in case you want to be sure that File History never saves data from a specific folder on your PC.
Those are the basics for using File History. If you ever want to stop using File History scroll down to the very bottom of the backup options screen and under the heading “Backup to a different drive” click Stop using the drive.