How to Configure File History on Your Windows 10 Laptop

By Dan Gookin

Unlike other, less useful Windows 10 features, the File History utility isn’t activated automatically. You must deliberately set up and configure the tool, and you should do so as soon as possible because disaster strikes like an empty room with only a lamp and cat.

To get running with File History, follow these steps:

  1. Connect the portable, external hard drive to your laptop, if you haven’t already. Or, ensure that network storage is available.

    The external hard drive is the easy option. To configure external network storage, you must ensure that the laptop has full access to the storage. That may involve setting up an account and a password and assigning the storage to a drive letter on your laptop. See the later sidebar, “All that network backup stuff he wrote about in Step 1.”

  2. Open the Settings app.

  3. Choose Update & Security.

  4. On the left side of the window, choose Backup.

    If you see a setting that says Automatically Back Up My Files, you’re all set. Ensure that the toggle is set to the On position. You’re done. Otherwise, continue:

  5. Click the Add a Drive button.

    Windows prowls for suitable locations, such as an external hard drive or network drive. The results are displayed in a list.

    If no drives appear, you failed Step 1. Either the external drive is unavailable or the network lacks shared resources. Try again.

  6. Choose a drive.

    Click to select one of the choices.

After you choose a location, Windows activates the File History feature. At that point, your interaction stops.

Here are a few things you should know about File History

  • You can confirm that File History is working: Follow Steps 1 through 4 in this section. Ensure that the toggle is set to the On position.

  • File History duplicates copies of your files on the storage location chosen in Step 6. This process takes place automatically, any time your laptop is on. In fact:

  • Generally speaking, File History works on all your files and folders stored in the laptop’s User Profile area. Program files and Windows are not backed up. That’s why you should keep copies of your program installation discs or downloaded installation files.

  • If you leave your laptop off for a while or you disconnect from the File History storage location, you’re reminded by a notification to reconnect and keep File History up-to-date.

  • File History features a redundant screen in the Control Panel: Open the Control Panel and choose System and Security and then File History. You see a summary screen showing the backup location, its storage statistics, and a button to turn File History off or on.