Using Volume Shadow Copy to Revert to Previous Versions of Files and Folders

Let’s imagine a scenario. You need a file that you last edited about 6 months ago. You search for it. No results. Lo! Suddenly you remember that about a week ago you deleted that file. Now what? You wish for a time machine, in which you could sit and travel back in time to retrieve that file. And Volume Shadow Copy Service does the same thing. Well, not exactly a “time machine”.

BackupWhen properly configured, Volume Shadow Copy, a.k.a “System Protection”, periodically takes snapshots of your hard drive, usually during software installs and an internal schedule. These snapshots are stored is a special location in your hard drive, and acts as a sort of file backup. Using this data, you can easily reconstruct the structure of your drive at that point of time. You can view and revert to previous versions of individual files and directories to any point in the past. By default, Volume Shadow Copy is enabled only for the system drive, i.e., you already have several snapshots of your “My Documents” folder. Now let’s see how to configure Volume Shadow Copy for all drives.

Enabling Volume Shadow Copy for All Drives:
  1. In the left pane, click System protection.  If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  2. Click the drive, and then click Configure.
  3. Do one of the following:
    1. To turn on the ability to restore system settings and previous version of files, click “Restore system settings and previous versions of files”.
    2. To turn on the ability to restore previous version of files, click “Only restore previous versions of files”.
  4. Click OK.

Volume Shadow Copy is configured to take snapshots at a scheduled time. However, you can easily take a snapshot at any point of time. This is accomplished by the familiar “System Restore”. In fact, “System Restore” acts on the top of Volume Shadow Copy. Create a new Restore point to take a snapshot in Volume Shadow Copy.

Create a Volume Shadow Copy Snapshot Manually be creating a “Restore Point”:
  1. Under “System Properties”, Click “Create…” to create a new restore point. This takes a snapshot of all the disks on which Volume Shadow Copy is enabled and stores them.

Volume Shadow Copy Data is made visible under “Previous Versions” in corresponding file or folder “Properties”. Here you can view and revert to various available snapshots.

Viewing and reverting to previous versions:
  1. Right-click the file or folder, and then click “Restore previous versions”. You’ll see a list of available previous versions of the file or folder.
  2. Before restoring a previous version of a file or folder, select the previous version, and then click “Open” to view it to make sure it’s the version you want.
  3. To restore a previous version, select the previous version, and then click “Restore”.

Usually Volume Shadow Copy takes up about 10% of the space of the respective volume. When out of space, older snapshots get overwritten with newer ones. And usually this is sufficient for storing snapshots up to about a year. However, the specific duration depends heavily on your disk usage patterns, file sizes and many other factors. If necessary you can also change the maximum space allotted to Volume Shadow Copy.

Volume Shadow Copy provides a first level protection against accidental edits or deletion. However, it is ineffective against catastrophic system failures. You shall lose all your Volume Shadow Copy data if you ever reinstall windows. Volume Shadow Copy doesn’t provide an effective back-up solution. For back-up purposes, you can use the “Windows Back-up Utility” or other dedicated back-up tools to backup data onto removable disks or the cloud.

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