How to Set Up File History in Windows 10

By Woody Leonhard

To use File History, Windows 10 demands that you have an external hard drive, a second hard drive, or a network connection that leads to a hard drive. In this example, a drive is connected on a home network. You can use a cheap external hard drive, which you can pick up at any computer store.

If you have lots of photos in your Photos Library or a zillion songs in the Music Library, the first File History backup takes hours and hours (or longer!). If you have lots of data, and this is your first time, don’t even try to set up things until you’re ready to leave the machine for a long, long time.

If you haven’t yet set up your Libraries, made them visible in File Explorer, and put the Public folders inside your Libraries, do so now and bring back the Library stuff Microsoft knocked out.

To get the desktop version of File History going, follow these steps:

  1. Bring up the Control Panel by right-clicking in the lower-left corner of the screen and choosing Control Panel. Click or tap System and Security and then File History.

    The File History applet appears in the desktop Control Panel, as shown.

    Set up File History here.

    Set up File History here.

    If you don’t have a drive set up for File History, you see the banner that starts, We Recommend That You Use an External Drive for File History . . . .

  2. Attach your external drive, or tap or click the User Network Location link and navigate to a networked drive.

    If you’re using a clean hard drive, the banner disappears. If data’s on your drive or your drive installs a driver of some sort, you may need to tap or click Use Network Location, then Add Network Location, and point to the drive.

    After your drive is connected, File History presents you with the dialog box shown here.

    With an external or networked drive connected, time to turn on File History.

    With an external or networked drive connected, time to turn on File History.
  3. Tap or click the Turn On button.

    If you have a HomeGroup, File History asks whether you want to recommend the drive to other members of your HomeGroup.

  4. If you have a HomeGroup and want to recommend the drive to other members, so they can also use it for File History, tap or click Yes; if you don’t want to recommend the drive, tap or click No.

    File History goes out to lunch for a long time. Possibly a very long time. It gathers everything in your libraries, everything on your desktop, all your Contacts, and your IE and Spartan favorites.

    You can go back to work, or grab a latte or three. Go home. Take a nap. If you have lots of pictures in your Library, you may want to consider rereading War and Peace. When File History is good and ready, a Run Now link appears in the dialog box under Files last copied.

    File History is on the job.

    File History is on the job.
  5. Don’t tap or click Run Now just yet. Before you leave the topic entirely, make sure that the backup actually happened by following the next steps.

    Instead of relying on the File History program to tell you that the backup occurred, take matters into your own hands and look for the backup with File Explorer. To find the backup files with File Explorer, follow these steps:

    1. On the desktop, tap or click the File Explorer icon on the taskbar.

      File Explorer opens.

    2. Navigate to the drive that you just used in the preceding steps for a backup.

      This may be an external or a networked drive; it may even be a second drive on your PC, although that’s notrecommended.

    3. Tap or double-click your way through the folder hierarchy:

    • FileHistory

    • Your username

    • Your PC name

    • Data

    • The main drive you backed up (probably C:)

    • Users

    • Your username (again)

    • Desktop (assuming you had any files on your desktop that you backed up), or Pictures, or some other folder of interest.

      A File Explorer screen like the one here appears.

      Your backup data appears waaaay down in a chain of files; they're stored on the hard drive.

      Your backup data appears waaaay down in a chain of files; they’re stored on the hard drive.
    1. Check whether the filenames match the files that are on your desktop, or in your Pictures folder, with dates and times attached.

    2. If the files match, you can close File Explorer and close the File History dialog box.

      Although you can restore data from this location via File Explorer, it’s easier to use the File History retrieval tools.

    3. If you dont see a list of filenames that mimics the files on your desktop, go back to Step 1 and make sure you get it right!

File History doesn’t run if the backup drive gets disconnected or the network connection to the backup drive drops — but Windows produces File History files anyway. As soon as the drive is reconnected or the network starts behaving, File History dumps all its data to the correct location.