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How to back up your files in Windows 10 and 11 with File History

File History will automatically back up critical folders and files in Windows and help you restore them.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
A signpost with signs saying Backup and Restore
Lance Whitney

Backing up your documents and other files in Windows is always advisable in case the originals ever get lost or corrupted. That's especially true for files that are important, sensitive, or irreplaceable. But ideally, you want a seamless and automated way to back up your files so that you don't have to keep doing it manually. Though you can turn to a variety of third-party backup programs, a tool built into Windows is worth trying, namely, File History.

Available in Windows 10 and 11, File History will automatically back up files from specific folders on your PC to an external source, such as a USB drive or network location. Your backups run in the background based on the interval you set. And if you ever need to restore a file, just open and browse through your previous backups to find the right version.

By default, File History will back up specific folders under your User account, such as Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop. You can remove and add folders to make sure that all the files you choose are backed up no matter where they reside.

One downside of using File History is that its days may be numbered. I've heard rumors that Microsoft plans to deprecate the feature at some point, forcing users to turn to other backup methods, such as OneDrive.

One clue to File History's future lies in the way it works in Windows 11 versus Windows 10. In Windows 10, the feature is easy to set up and use as you run it from the Settings app. But in Windows 11, Microsoft removed File History from Settings; your only option is to run it from Control Panel, which is clumsy and seems like a clear step backward.

Regardless of Microsoft's plans for File History, the tool remains accessible in both Windows 10 and Windows 11 and functions as a capable backup method. As long as it's still around, it's still worth using. Here's how to take advantage of it in both Windows 10 and 11.

Windows 10 File History Backup

In Windows 10, go to Settings > Update & Security > Backup. Connect the drive or device that you want to use as the backup location. Click the button for "Add a drive," and select the drive you wish to use. This turns on File History (Figure 1).

Choosing backup destination

Figure 1

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

Click the link for "More options." At the Backup options screen, click the dropdown menu for Back up my files and set the backup interval, anywhere from every 10 minutes to daily. Next, click the menu for Keep my backups and decide how long you wish to retain each backup, anywhere from "Until space is needed" to Forever (Figure 2).

Choose backup interval

Figure 2

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

Next, you can set which folders to include and exclude in the backup. Review the folders that are already tagged for File History. If any folders that you want backed up are not listed, click the Add a folder button and select that folder (Figure 3).

Add a folder

Figure 3

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

If the list displays any folder that you don't want backed up, select it and then click the Remove button (Figure 4).

Remove a folder

Figure 4

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

To exclude any folder not displayed in the list, such as a subfolder, click the Add a Folder button in the section for Exclude these folders and select that folder (Figure 5).

Exclude a folder

Figure 5

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

Depending on the backup schedule you chose, the File History backup may have already started by itself. If not, scroll to the top of the screen and click the Back up now button (Figure 6).

Selecting Back up now

Figure 6

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

The backup will kick off in the background, both now and repeating at the interval you set. You can go about your work as the backup runs. After it's completed, the overview section indicates the date and time of the last backup.

Windows 10 File History Restore

Now let's say one or more of the files backed up through File History goes missing, gets corrupted, or is otherwise unreadable and unusable, and you want to restore that file from the backup. Scroll to the bottom of the File History screen in Settings and click the link for "Restore files from a current backup" (Figure 7).

Restore files

Figure 7

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

Up pops a File History window showing the last backup. If you need a file from a previous backup, click the left arrow icon at the bottom of the screen. Keep clicking the icon to go back in time to each prior backup. Click the right arrow to move ahead. When you find the backup you need, open the folder that contains the file or files you want to restore, select those files, and then click the Restore button at the bottom. The files are restored to their original location (Figure 8).

Select files to restore

Figure 8

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

Windows 11 File History Backup

To use File History in Windows 11, make sure the drive you want to use as the backup location is connected. Open Control Panel in icon view and select the File History icon (or click the Search icon, type File History, and select the result). The File History window should point to the backup destination under "Copy files to:" (Figure 9).

Set up File History

Figure 9

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

If more than one backup drive is connected, click the link on the left for Select drive. Select the drive you wish to use and click OK (Figure 10).

Select backup destination

Figure 10

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Next, you can add other folders to the backup beyond the default ones, though the process here is kludgy. By default, File History in Windows 10 backs up all the folders listed under Libraries. To add another folder to the backup, open File Explorer, right-click on the folder and select "Show more options." From the full context menu, select Include in library and then add it to an existing folder or create it as a new library. That folder will then be included in File History (Figure 11).

Add folder to library

Figure 11

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

To exclude a folder, click the link for Exclude folders. Click the Add button and then select the folder you wish to exclude from the backup (Figure 12).

Exclude folder

Figure 12

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

Return to the main File History Control Panel window and click the link for Advanced settings. Click the dropdown menu for Save copies of files and set the backup interval. Click the dropdown menu for Keep saved version and set how long File History backups should be retained. When done, click "Save changes" (Figure 13).

Set backup interval

Figure 13

Lance Whitney/Screenshot

Windows 11 File History Restore

The backup should have already started at this point. If not, click the "Run now" link. If you need to restore a file at some point in the future, return to the File History screen in Control Panel and click the link for "Restore personal files." Search your backups and open the folder that contains the file you wish to restore. Select the file and click the button for "Restore to original location." Your file will be restored to its original spot (Figure 14).

Restore file

Figure 14

Lance Whitney/Screenshot
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