Windows Secrets Newsletter: How to Get a Deleted File Back?

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By Fred Langa/Windows Secrets Newsletter

You deleted a file yesterday; now you really need it back. Your Windows recycle bin is empty — what now?

Your next-best option is the Restore Previous Versions tool — a truly great, automatic data-protection feature buried in Win7.

I say “buried” advisedly; most people have never even heard of it. You’ve heard of it, of course — you read Windows Secrets! But I’ll still bet you rarely, if ever, use it. And if you have used it, I’ll bet your initial explorations were probably like mine — a click here, a poke there, some head-scratching, and then mostly ignoring it.

But it’s a mistake to ignore or underuse this feature, because it really is a hidden gem.

What is Restore Previous Versions, exactly?

Introduced in Vista and now present in all editions of Windows 7, previous versions are local backups of every data file and folder that changes on your system. The backups are created automatically and are instantly accessible. Previous versions do for your standard documents (text files, spreadsheets, photos, whatever) what Windows System Restore does for system files.

The function that creates previous versions is enabled by default and is probably working right now on your PC, whether you’ve ever used the previous-versions feature or not.

As Microsoft’s FAQ puts it:

  • “You can use previous versions to restore files and folders that you accidentally modified or deleted, or that were damaged. Depending on the type of file or folder, you can open, save to a different location, or restore a previous version.”

In the next section, I’ll walk you through the Restore previous versions command, using my PC as an example. Follow along on yours — it’s quite safe; no files will be changed unless you specifically command it — and it’ll only take a few minutes.

If you don’t know about Restore previous versions — and maybe even if you think you do know — you just might find it eye-opening.

Exploring your previous-version files

By default, Vista and Win7 make copies of changed folders and files at least once a day. But you can adjust the schedule at will. (I’ll discuss previous-version scheduling options later.)

Because this backup system stores only files that have changed, the best place to see it in action is in a folder that you use a lot — one where you frequently alter the folder’s contents. The My Documents folder is usually a good example, so that’s what I’ll use in this demo.

To start, open Windows Explorer, right-click My Documents, and select Restore previous versions, as shown in Figure 1.

W20110616 TS RestorePrev RPV: Win7s least known data protection system
Figure 1. Restore previous versions is enabled by default in all editions of Win7. It lets you recover recently lost or altered documents, spreadsheets, pictures, etc.

A dialog box similar to the one shown in Figure 2 will open, revealing the available previous versions. (Of course, your list will differ from mine.)

W20110616 TS PrevVers RPV: Win7s least known data protection system
Figure 2. On my test system, the Previous Versions tab had six backups of my Documents folder available for restoration.

Article continued here.

This post is excerpted with permission from Windows Secrets.

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4 thoughts on “Windows Secrets Newsletter: How to Get a Deleted File Back?”

  1. Why does this option not appear in properties drop down list for documents file or any other file on my computer? I have windows 7 home.

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