How to Restore the Previous Version of a File

Calm and courage. Get over it. Your son opened the work relationship you wrote yesterday, deleted its contents and filled it with so many meaningless letters. He's only three years old. What more did you expect? But it's a good thing that Windows and Mac have features that are designed to deal with situations like this, so you can restore the previous version of a file in just a few clicks. Alternatively, you can use special programs. Great, don't you think? If you are interested in this and would like to know more about it, please read on, and find out more about it below.

With this tutorial of mine today I would like to show you, in a simple but at the same time detailed way, how to use the functionality in question on your computer as well as any software useful for the purpose. In this way, you will be able to cope with accidental changes made to this or that file as well as those made with full knowledge of the facts but about which you then had second thoughts. In short, whatever your needs are, you'll see that you'll be able to solve them in an excellent way.

I know, maybe right now you're thinking that this is too complicated for you, not very experienced in computer science and new technologies, but I can assure you that the situation is not what it seems. Using the features in question is very easy, much more than you can imagine. If you don't believe me, read the instructions below and put them into practice, you'll see that in the end you'll be ready to agree with me. Well? Shall we begin? Yeah? Great. Let's cut the chatter and get to work. Good reading and... good "work."

Restore the previous version of a file on Windows

Are you using a Windows PC? Then read the instructions on how to restore the previous version of a file below. As mentioned at the beginning, this can be done either by using the built-in features of the system or by using third-party equipment. The choice is yours!

Standard" function

Starting from Vista, all the changes made to a file are saved by the system and it becomes therefore possible to recover the previous state in which it was at a precise moment. You can then recover your working relationship to the state it was in yesterday, when you finished writing it. The same goes for folders. Imagine you have deleted a file from a folder. Then by restoring the previous version of the folder where the file was before deletion, you can recover it, even if you deleted it.

To take advantage of this functionality, all you need to do is to go to the location where the item you want to restore is located, right-click on it and choose Properties from the context menu that opens. In the window that will then open on the desktop, select the Previous Versions tab, locate the version of the file you want to restore, select it, click on the Restore... button at the bottom and then on the OK button to confirm the operation.

If before restoring a given version of a file you want to preview it, after selecting it click on the Open/Preview button that you will always find at the bottom of the open window on your desktop.

Note: If you cannot see the Previous Versions tab on Windows 10 or Windows 8/8.x, you must first enable file history in Windows settings. To do so, type file history in the search field attached to the Start menu, click on the corresponding result and configure the service by following the on-screen instructions.


As an alternative to the above solution, you can recover the previous version of a given file or folder by using ShadowExplorer, a free third party software that runs on all versions of Windows and is very easy to use. It allows you to browse through the various shadow copies of the files that have been generated by the system to recover this or that item and thus undo the changes made to them. Let's see in more detail how to use it.

First, connect to the program's website and click on the ShadowExplorer 0.9 Installer link at the top, under Latest Version:, to download the program. At the end of the download, open the installation file you just obtained and click on Run, then on Yes and then on OK to confirm the language choice. Then click on Next, select I accept the terms of the license agreement and click on Next four times in a row, then click on Install and then click on Finish.

Once the main program window appears on your desktop, click on the drop-down menus at the top left and select the unit and a date and time before the "disaster". After doing so, using the left side of the ShadowExplorer window, browse the folders on your computer looking for the previous version of your document or file.

Once you have found it, right-click on it and select Export..... In the window that opens, select a folder on your computer where you want to save the previous version of the file and click the OK button to start the recovery process of the previous version of the selected item. You can also recover an entire folder in the same way.

Note: The program is also available in a portable version, which requires no installation. If you prefer it, click the Portable link under Latest Version: on the software download page. Then extract the ZIP archive obtained in any Windows location, start the executable file inside it and use ShadowExplorer as I indicated in the previous lines, skipping the installation steps that, in this case, do not need to be performed.

Restore the previous version of a file on Mac

Even if you are using a Mac, you may be able to restore the previous version of a file using the features already included in macOS or alternatively using third party tools. Either way, the steps are very simple and you don't need any special technical skills. Read on to learn more.

Standard" functions

If you want to restore the previous version of one or more files on a Mac, you can use Time Machine, a utility already installed on all Apple-branded computers that, as the name suggests, allows you to "time travel" so you can view older versions of files and restore or save them if necessary. Always with Time Machine, you can also recover all your personal data, settings and installed programs after formatting your Mac or replacing its hard drive, all in an extremely simple way.

To use it for your purpose, the utility must first be configured on your computer. For more details on this, you can refer to the instructions I have provided in my guide on the subject.

After the preliminary step above, in order to restore the previous version of a file or folder, you have to click on the icon of the program (the clock with the circular arrow around it) in the upper right part of the macOS menu bar and select the entry Enter Time Machine.

In the screen that you will later see, use the special Finder window to select the file or folder you are interested in and then choose the backup to restore using the time bar on the right side of the screen.

After choosing the version of the file to restore, right-click on it and choose Restore [name] on from the context menu that opens, taking care to indicate the folder to save to. Once the restore is done, you can exit Time Machine by clicking on the Cancel button below the Finder window

Disk Drill

You haven't configured Time Machine so you can't take advantage of its features? Do you need to restore the previous version of a file you deleted, and using the features already included in macOS you couldn't fix it? Then turn to Disk Drill and you'll see that you won't regret it.

It is in fact one of the best Apple computer data recovery software available on the market. It allows you to recover files of all kinds from hard drives, SSD drives, USB flash drives, SD memory card and other FAT, NTFS or HFS+ formatted drives. It is fee-based, it costs 79 Euros, but it is available in a trial version (the one I used to write this step) that allows you to find out which files can be recovered (showing a preview but not allowing you to export them).

To download the trial version of Disk Drill, connect to the program's website and press the Free Download button. When the download is complete, open the package in .dmg format that contains the application, copy the Disk Drill icon into the MacOS Applications folder and start the program by right-clicking on its icon and choosing Open twice in a row (this will circumvent Apple's restrictions on unauthorized developers).

In the window that will then appear on your desktop, click the Start button, type your user account password on macOS and hit Enter to access the main Disk Drill screen. Then locate the drive you want to act on and click on the Recover button next to its name.

Once the software has completed the analysis of your chosen drive, all you have to do is find the files to recover by expanding the folders listed in the Disk Drill window or using the search bar at the top. Then click on the eye icon next to the names of the various files to preview them and finally click on the Recover button to export them to a folder after purchasing the full version of the program.

Restore the computer to a previous state

If the files you need to restore to a previous state are particularly numerous, instead of acting on each of them individually, you could also consider acting on the whole system. On Windows you can use the System Restore feature to do this, while on Mac you can always use the Time Machine utility mentioned above.

If you are interested in this and would like to find out how to proceed in one case or another, you can refer to my guide on how to restore the PC through which I have provided you with details. Please take a look at it at least. Again, don't worry, it's quite easy to do, although it may seem the opposite.

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