Scott Hanselman

Windows 8, Step 0 - Turn on continuous backups via File History

November 11, 2012 Comment on this post [52] Posted in Win8
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So you've installed Windows 8. I'm going to do a small series of posts called "Windows 8, Step 0" with tips on what to be sure to do after you've installed Windows.

Here's an important TODO for you. Do it NOW. Do it all your machines, especially Non Technical Family Member's machine. Take that giant external USB drive you've got lying around and plug it in.

From within the Windows 8 Start Screen, type "File History" then click "Settings"

File History in Settings

Click it. Turn on File History and point it to your giant external drive, or some large network share that you have available.

File History is ON

This is kind of like Time Machine on a Mac. It will keep a constant shadow of your files backed up to this other drive. It runs automatically and you don't think about it until you lose something. It will automatically backup anything and everything in your Libraries (including Documents, Photos, Videos, Music) and everything on your Desktop.

If you want to backup more specific stuff, add whatever files you want to your Windows Libraries. I've added photos from another drive, for example as well as Documents from my DropBox folder.


You can click Advanced Settings there on the left to control how long the files are kept, how much disk space is used and how often it happens.

My File History runs hourly and uses 5% of the drive

I've also checked the box under HomeGroup to automatically recommend this large drive to the rest of the house! This is awesome for a few reasons. Other machines in the HomeGroup will automatically see this drive and can use it just by clicking "Turn on."

In the screenshot below you can see the File History dialog from my laptop with the 3TB drive from my other machine called HEXPOWER7 being recommended as a good drive for File History. One click, now my files are backed up on this machine.

File History from another computer recommends the main HomeGroup machine

HomeGroups are groups of computers at home that you trust and want to share files and devices with. You can make a HomeGroup in less than a minute. From the Start Screen, type "HomeGroup" then Click "Settings." Follow the instructions.

If you want, you can click Select Drive and pick any drive on your machine or add a network location. I have a 5TB Synology NAS so I could use that also. Any Windows-compatible SMB/Samba NAS will do.

File History to a NAS

Now I'm backing up to the Network Attached Storage (NAS).

File History on my NAS

Restoring from File History

Once you've been running File History for a while, you can go back to the Start Screen and type "Restore Your Files" and click "Settings" to get this dialog:

Restore File History with my files in a scrolling calendar

There's folder I want from my Desktop but it's not there as I've deleted it before. I will click the back button (you can hold it down to go back in time fast) until I get to a day when that file existed. I can also search my entire File History for previous versions of files.

I've backed up to November 6th and there's the file on my Desktop.

An old file from the past

Just click the green back-in-time Restore button and it's put back where it was. I can also restore it to a specific new place if I want to.

I hope this helps you. It's helped me!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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November 11, 2012 10:13
Nice post...

In Advanced settings, what is the meaning of
"size of offline cache"
what it does?

November 11, 2012 10:16
It is a setting to say "how much of this drive to you want to use up?"
November 11, 2012 11:17
Nice tip, definitely going to try this.

Just wondering though, in what form is the data saved? Is it some only-readable-by-win8 format? E.g. Can I reach the backup if I'm on some older Win os?
November 11, 2012 11:19
Thanks For the info. Great post!!!
November 11, 2012 11:25
Tim - No, that's the best part. It appears to just be files on the disk in folders.
November 11, 2012 11:30
Very timely tip :) Was looking for a similar option but didn't want the full backup functionality of the windows backup tool.

Thank you.
November 11, 2012 12:00

When you use File History, you have to setup a backup drive (maybe a USB disk) or backup network share location as a backup target. When your backup target become temporary unavailable, File History will backup changed files into a local disk as a "offline cache". When your backup target become online, File History will copy these "offline cache" files into your backup target, then clear out the offline cache. So that the "size of offline cache" means "How much disk space will you used for these kind of offline cache?"

Hope that help! :)

- Will
November 11, 2012 12:03
So, do you have to add SQL Server databases, virtual machines, Subversion/Sourcesafe repositories, intranet WWW folders, and the like to the Libraries to have them backed up? That would be a pain, as it is nice to have them out of sight and out of mind.

Can the new backup even handle these services?

On a brighter note, I recently discovered that Windows 7 backup does not clog up PC performance if Diskeeper Intelliwrite is not enabled. Should have noticed way earlier, but so many things on my plate as it is and running overnight was a practical solution to the problem. Having lots of virtual machines (huge files), etc, would not help.
November 11, 2012 12:07
BTW I like the plain files on disk approach - no need for recovery programs in an emergency and no losing all files when a backup goes corrupt. Also, letting NTFS and Windows take care of encryption or compression makes perfect sense.
November 11, 2012 15:53
Two things to be aware of with this tool:

1) It does NOT do a full system backup, it only does your libraries. It isn't advertised as such so this isn't a criticism, but still... don't rely on this if you tinker with your system (fortunately Windows 7 Backup, which does do system backups, is still included in Windows 8 so you can use that instead).

2) If, like me, you add network folders from your NAS to your libraries for quick access it will back them up too! So if these network folders are huge, either don't add them to your libraries or don't use this tool.

November 11, 2012 17:51
Does it behave like Time Machine in that you can take your laptop off your network, and it won't freak out, but resume when you return?
November 11, 2012 18:51
I've had this switched on for a while on my laptop, and it seems to be taking a lot of (unnecessary) space on the backup drive.

The File History repository(on my NAS) takes up >600GB, my laptop only has a 300GB disk, of which my libraries take up about 100GB. I do have a Skydrive mapped in a library but that's no more than 25GB.

When looking in the Data\$OF folder (which seems to have the older versions) I see multiple versions of files that have not changed at all (ripped music eg).

Anyone else seeing this?
November 11, 2012 19:23
Sounds like this is very "Time Machine"-like, so backups are not "smart" with differential/incremental so it will use a ton of disk space.
November 11, 2012 20:19
According to the Building Windows 8 blog post on File History it won't back up your Metro apps by default, apparently due to MS' belief in the mythical omni-present internet.

To back up you Metro app data you need to add your AppData directory to a Library so that File History is aware of it and backs it up.
November 12, 2012 2:34
Scott, I know you've been a fan of SyncBack SE to do your backups. Does File History replace SyncBack SE in you backup strategy?

November 12, 2012 3:49
Given that most people don't do backups at all, anything is a good start. But if you're doing backups for the first time I *strongly* recommend you go with an online service like Crashplan, Mozy, etc. rather than a local solution.
November 12, 2012 4:45
Matt - I agree and have advocated for that in the past and will continue to. A good backup plan is multi-pronged.

Tim - Yes, except for backing up my website.

Jeff - Yes, it will backup to a cache.
November 12, 2012 5:40
Scott - Does File History backup files that are open? My wife wants to have her email stores backed up incrementally, and SyncBack SE handles this when they're in use.

Also, have you migrated everyone in your home to Win8? If not, how are you bringing in your Win7 clients?

November 12, 2012 14:34
Seems you can do a lot of stuff in Win8 if you know the magic search command. Feels very unixy. Now if I only could pipe searches together.. =)
November 15, 2012 18:36
What about the traditional backup? Do you still use it? Or even recommend using it?
Because on Windows 8 I can see something like "Windows 7 backup"
I actually have both ON.
Thanks for the tip!
November 15, 2012 18:53
If you have a normal external HDD attached to your pc and hooked it up to this continuous file backup system isn't the HDD going to wear out a lot sooner because it will spin the disk up every hour(or whatever time period you use)? Anyway still a very nice windows 8 feature.
November 16, 2012 0:36
Tim - HDs are *supposed* to be able to spin continuously for 3 to 5 years. I say, let them work.

Thiago - Sure, you can't backup too much!

Tim - Yes, I believe so as it's Volume Shadow Service under the covers.
November 16, 2012 13:18
Scott thanks for clearing up that (probably common) misconception I had about HD's. A second step is having to work on getting a redundancy disk containing only the absolutely necessary files to put my mind at ease.
November 18, 2012 18:14
Again are there any options for ENCRYPTION?
Probably still OK for me: I will use SSD/HDD encryption in hardware in future and probably still will continue to use my system of Truecrypted containers on top of this and they will of course reside encrypted in the File History align with my encrypted full backups (as encrypted drive clones)...
Acronis had a similar continuous backup tool but it was flakey and I wouldn't trust this either but it provides intermediate coverage between backups/clones when things go wrong...
November 19, 2012 2:28
mattjs - Of course! Sou can either use NTFS encryption, or but the File History destinations on a TrueCrypt drive volume.

Tim - Exactly.
November 25, 2012 6:58
Question re: back up storage space... Does File History compress files? The size of my backup seems considerably smaller than the size of the source files.
December 01, 2012 15:08
File History totally fails silently on files with path > MAX_PATH (long names, nested folders)

silently == yeah there is an entry in the event log but from the user point of view nothing warns you files aren't backed up
December 02, 2012 18:00
This tool is IMHO useless for pc with SSD+HD.
these systems needs full system backup, which disappeared in win8, and manage the versions like this:
1) capable of differential/incremental
2) manage series of "complete + incr/diff" (auto delete, etc...)

I will still use acronis true image to backup ssd to hdd.

In case of disaster I will be operational in 30 minutes. That is the only thing that counts.
Re-install = productivity fail. Expecially if it's rom the cloud.
January 13, 2013 0:51

I hate to see the term "backup" used interchangeably with "file history". To me, they are two very different things. Using a backup, I can recover an entire computer including user files, operating system and all apps. Using file history, I can browse through historical versions of user files and restore them if I choose. I can not recover a computer using file history.
January 17, 2013 12:04
Online services for backup? Ridiculous. A waste of time, because you'll be reading their terms of service every day to make sure that you still own your own information.
January 27, 2013 15:24
I was quite happy to see file history and immediatley moved my private backup strategies towards this feature.
Today I realized that a couple of GB just weren't copied and after some searches I found the reason:

File History silently ingnores files with long file names!

Well, ok, thers a bug, or call it feature, whatever, but not telling me (theres a nice message about disconnected drives from the actions center) that there is a problem and silently risking data loss is sure somehting to be concerned about.
I'd expect at leat the Action Center to pop up and alert me, also posts like this one should clearly outline the limitations and risks.

January 27, 2013 15:38
File History Event-Log, a must look at, roughly 1000 files not backed up:

File was not backed up due to an error: [...] Windows will not attempt to back up the file again, unless it is modified.

Nice, which standard user looks into that event log?
February 01, 2013 0:23
Hi Scott,

thanks for all the information.
I´m using file history from my first day with WIN 8. But whats with the public folder in own libraries?
I have two user accounts with their own documents, they share the public folders. But on my external drive the publich folder is backuped twice > for each user.

February 12, 2013 22:32
Under advanced settings I see a setting for how long to keep history. There is an option there for Forever (Default) and another option for "until space is needed". I am wondering what the difference is between these options. I understand "Forever" means "Forever", but what will happen when the disk fills up?
February 12, 2013 23:15
I found an answer for my question. If you leave the default forever then you will get notifications when the drive is almost full and it will stop working when the drive is full. Microsoft says that at that point you could put another drive in or free up space.
February 27, 2013 6:35
@Paul Coddington

I've only just setup File History so not yet tested the restore. My solution is to create a For File History library and include the folders that are not covered by other folders.


You can exclude folders from File History.
March 04, 2013 11:09
Thanks as Always for a well written post!

I've been using FileHistory for a long time, I have my file history stored on a Linux box.

This weekend I installed a Windows Server 2012. I added a backup share and gave myself full access to this share.

But whenever I try to add this location as a netowkr location for FileHistory I get this message:

"We can't add your location"

I have done some Quick searches for FileHistory ACL Windows Server but have not found anything useful.

Do you have any suggestiosn for how the share should be setup on a Windows Server 2012 in order to make it work?

What is really frustrating is that this works directly with a Samba share off a Linux box but not with a Windows share :-(

My Windows Server 2012 is a standalone server, not a domain member. Same goes for the PC client.

March 20, 2013 10:51
Thanks, Scott! Your article was very helpful to teach me how to make Windows8 File History backup non-standard locations. Lovely! CHEERS!
March 26, 2013 6:37
I just got the Synology DS412+, and noticed they have a Time Backup package that does the same (they claim even better).

Anything funny about Synology's Time Backup made you choose the OOB Windows 8 implementation instead? Just curious, maybe I'm missing something.

Thanks for the good journalism. Cheers!

May 09, 2013 8:48
HOW DO I TURN FILE HISTORY OFF!!!!!!!???????????Win8 shows off, but it keeps running! Seriously help!!!
May 18, 2013 20:59
JohnG. I had the same problem. I got some errors when it tried to run. When I turned it off it turned itself on after a few minutes. Until I realized that my Windows Server 2012 Essentials had this also set as part of the regular backup. I assume this is the case for Windows Home Server as well. It controls the clients File History backups I guess. Once I turned it off on the Server it stayed off.
hope that helps
May 23, 2013 0:30
Hi, I have a question, when I use file history, it copy all files except those which are encrypted. Is it possible to resolve this, that file history can copy encrypted files to the backup place?

July 08, 2013 11:07
In our company, we set up notebooks unattended via System Center Configuration Manager. Hence we needed a way of configuring the File Version History automatically as well during setup.

We developed an enhanced version of the c++ sample code available on MSDN to control the File Version History to match our needs.

Is anyone else interested in this utility? If so, drop me mail.

August 05, 2013 23:41

Time Machine does differential backups. It only does this on the file system level so you don't see it. Look up "hard links" in the OS X documentation (or any UNIX file system documentation.
August 08, 2013 16:12
Hello Scott,

Thank you for this post.

I didn't know what was happening on my computer and why I keep finding duplicate files in every folder (EVERY FOLDER) on my hard drive and in my SkyDrive.

Literally every file from local backed up copies of the sub elements (CSS files, js files, etc) of even saved local copies of WordPress plugins--are copied with (YYYY... UTC) in the copy file name.

I searched and found 131,405 files on my D drive alone.

I have an SSD C drive as the OS and all my files are on the HDD D drive.

I thought there was some virus going rampant copying these files and I've been rooting them out and deleting them everywhere because they're consuming my SkyDrive and HDD.

Can you help me understand how to turn this off, or to at least tell Windows how to selectively do this?

Thank you,


August 08, 2013 16:23
Hello again,

I followed your steps at the top and found out how to exclude folders.

That is really a nightmare! I have hundreds of folders and their subfolders which I need to exclude.

It's a shame the Win-gineers didn't think to offer an option to select to INCLUDE folders so that a few folders could be selected easily and quickly.

And while I've been reading and looking at this I've been waiting for the Properties window to appear for the 131,405 files mentioned above. I selected them all and then chose to view properties (I'm just glad Windows didn't decide to open of a properties window for each file )... the window finally appeared and the UTC files are using 46.8 GB of HDD.

So I reset the file history to save on the external drive as you mentioned.

I hope I didn't jack things up by deleting so many files before looking for this post.

September 16, 2013 15:19
Just for clarity: FH in Win81 does not support NTFS Encryption. FH silently skips EFS encrypted files. The event log shows the following "funny" error:
"...If you want it to be protected, remove encryption ..."

This is worsened with Windows 7 Backup being removed from Win81.
September 24, 2013 8:55

Can I take backup of Open Files, which are currently open? For example PST files when the backup scheduled to NAS box? Especially Netgear ReadyNAS..

Mohamed Ibrahim
September 25, 2013 18:50

We have SAMBA DC and somehow with local computer user File History works ok, but when i try to start it with any domain user or root it doesn't even start. Nothing happens.

Any idea why?
October 11, 2013 5:46
Hi Scott,

Nice post. I have been using FH for backup and restore, and was just wondering about how does it handle any locked files (files open by applications) when it is taking the backups?

Do we miss the files which are open with exclusive locks, while backup copies them to local cache, or does the backup scheduler waits the file to be released, if it was not available at the time of backup (to local cache)?
November 08, 2013 13:11
i have two questions
1- how can i use local drive to backup data because i dont want to use network drive for my source file of my apps?
2- is it possible just to make unique backup files?
November 20, 2013 18:17
One question I haven't been able to find an answer on:

Can you selectively delete files from the history? I have some big files (disk images, etc.) that were on my desktop temporarily, but I don't need anymore and deleted, but they are still taking place in the back up. Can I delete them without affecting the integrity of the history archive?

Anyone know? I just did it, it any case. :)

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.