How to Set Up and Use File History on Windows 11

Creating routine backups of your data is common advice you hear on the internet. But, let’s face it, very few of us care about creating multiple copies of work/important data. We rely very much on that one single copy of the file stored on the disk. However, problems arise when you encounter a system crash, corruption, or disk failure.

You can create backups of important files and folders, but doing them manually is a chore. Well, Windows 11 (and some older versions) offer the File History feature which creates routine backups. We will explain how you can set up File History on Windows 11 to automatically back up your data.

What Is the File History on Windows 11?

Microsoft introduced File History with Windows 8 to offer an option to create automated backups. The idea was to create duplicate copies of data stored in select folders of the C: drive on another storage device.

File History backs up Documents, Music, Pictures, Downloads, Videos, offline OneDrive files, and Desktop folders. All you need is a USB storage device like a flash drive or an external hard drive which must be always connected to your system.

How to Set Up and Use File History on Windows 11

You will need to first enable the File History feature on your Windows 11 system. Check out our guide on How to Enable or Disable File History in Windows for more information.

To set up File History backup on your system, repeat the following steps:

  • Press Win + R to launch the Run command box. Type FileHistory in the text input area and press the enter key.
  • File History’s control panel page will launch. Since you are setting up the feature for the first time, it will be inactive by default.
  • Connect an external USB storage device (Pen Drive or External Hard Drive) to your system.
  • Now, click on the Turn On button to enable File History on your Windows 11 system.
  • File History will begin copying files to the external storage drive from these locations – Libraries, Desktop, Contact, and Favorites.
  • If you want to create a backup again, click on the Run Now option.
  • File History is up and running on your system. It will back up all the files stored in the Libraries, Desktop, Contact, and Favorites folders. In addition, File History will also back up the Downloads, Saved Games, and One Drive folders.

    How to Configure the Backup Settings in File History

    File History is up and running, but you still need to make a few changes. Here’s how to do it.

  • Press Win + R to launch the Run command box. Type FileHistory in the text input area and press the enter key.
  • Now, navigate to the left-hand side section and click on the Advanced Settings option.
  • You can change the backup frequency and preserve files for as long as you want. Move over to the Save copies of files option. It will be set to Every hour by default. Click on the drop-down list to reveal more options.
  • Select the time duration option fit for your backup requirements.
  • Then move to the Keep saved versions option. It preserves the backups stored on the external drive for as long as you want. It is set to Forever by default. Don’t change it.
  • If you want to delete older backup versions of files and folders, click on the Clean up versions option. It will delete all the old versions except the latest backup copy.
  • Now, click on the Save changes button to save your new settings.
  • How to Select a Drive for File History

    Once you assign a storage drive to File History, it becomes its default storage. But if you want to add a bigger storage drive to File History, you can do it as well. Remember that you can use only one drive to save File History contents.

  • Press Win + R to launch the Run command box. Type FileHistory in the text input area and press the enter key.
  • File History’s control panel page will launch. Click on the Select Drive option located in the left-hand side section.
  • All the available storage drives will show up in the list. Click on the USB storage device you want to use for File History.
  • File History will ask you whether you want to move old files to the new drive. Click on the Yes button to continue.
  • Then, click on the OK button to save your changes.
  • How to Add Folders to File History

    The default selection of folders that File History backs up isn’t sufficient for every user. So, you will have to manually add a different folder if you want File History to back it up.

    Here’s how to add a folder to File History on Windows 11:

  • Press Win + E to launch the File Explorer on your system. Now, navigate to the folder location you want to add to File History. We have created a folder named ‘Test‘ for demonstration purposes.
  • Right-click on the folder and select more options from the context menu. Then, click on the Include in Library option.
  • Select any one folder from the list of available options. We picked the Documents folder.
  • File explorer will add the Test folder to the Documents folder in the libraries. Click on the Document folder located under Libraries in the Navigation pane to verify it.
  • Now, go to the File History feature in the control panel and click on the Run Now option to create a new backup.
  • Browse the USB drive in file explorer and access the Data folder. The folder you added to the Libraries will appear here.
    Now, File History will include the contents of the new folder you added to it.
  • How to Exclude Folders From File History

    You may not want to back up all the folders using File History. Bigger folders like temporary downloads and videos can fill up disk space quickly if you use a USB drive. So, it is best to remove those folders which hold no importance from the backup standpoint.

    Here’s how to remove a folder from File History:

  • Open Control Panel and navigate to the File History feature. Then, click on the Exclude Folders option.
  • Click on the Add button to add a folder to the exclusion list.
  • Browse the File Explorer and click on the Select Folder button to add it to the list.
  • Then, click on the Save Changes button to save your settings.
  • Close the app window. File History will exclude the folder when it creates the next backup.
  • Why Not Use OneDrive or Create a Backup System Image?

    Well, both of these options indeed back up your data to some extent. But they have their inherent flaws when it comes to automating backups. Creating a system image requires fairly large storage space on disk. You cannot create system images regularly and store them on disks just for creating backups of 1-2 GB of important files.

    Similarly, OneDrive backs up the data present in the OneDrive folder on disk. You get a cloud backup, but it needs an internet connection to work. Moreover, it doesn’t back up the data present in other disk locations which could be equally important. Both of these options do not automate the backup creation process, and it is the precise reason why the File History feature exists.

    Use File History to Preserve Important Files on Windows 11

    Microsoft removed the File History option from the Settings app in Windows 11. So, you can only access it from the control panel. But it is a fairly simple method that you can use to always create redundant backups. Moreover, you can add or remove folders and change storage devices when the need arrives.

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