Recovering old versions of files

Destroyed files
Photo by Editor B

There is only one thing more annoying than deleting a file accidentally, and that is overwriting it – for example, accidentally deleting the content and then saving. At least, with deleting, the Recycle Bin saves us sometimes.

Well, with windows Vista there are copies of every file saved every time you boot the machine, so at least you can go back to yesterday’s file and probably a few days before that.

This “shadowing”, as it is called, is turned on by default in all versions of Vista and in the Vista versions Ultimate, Business and Enterprise it can be accessed through the Properties of each file with the “Previous Versions” tab. There are more details here

Home and Home Premium, however, do not give you access to the versions although the function is there and working. However a useful utility, called ShadowExplorer, steps into the breach. It installs quickly and simply gives you an explorer window which gives you access to the hidden, previous versions of all of your files.

ShadowExplorer can be downloaded for free at

Running it you get a window:


It defaults to “C:”, which can be a bit disorienting if you are unfamiliar with the underlying disk structure, so you need to do a bit of navigating to find the file you want. To get to your normal “Document” area you need to click and expand “C:”, then “Users”, then “James” (or whatever), then “Documents”, and then you will find yourself in familiar territory.

ShadowExplorer buttons:

ShadowExplorer buttons
ShadowExplorer buttons

The button at the top of the window gives you the choice of dates and times available and then you simply right-click on a file or folder to “Export” it. You select the destination directory and you can overwrite the latest file, if you wish, but it is safer, I think, to create a new directory and new files if space allows.

On their site ShadowExplorer take great pains to emphasize that this is not a replacement for regular backups, but it is a great utility to have around for that one time when it will dig you out of a hole.

Originally published online August 29, 2009, and in SIDelights (Society of Indexers Newsletter)

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