Introducing Windows 8 & 8.1: How to Backup Data with File History

file historyFile History is an awesome tool included in all versions of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. It allows for easy automated backups of your data and it works with a number of devices on which data can be stored. As you will see from this guide, it is very easy to setup and use, it needs few system resources and it knows how to store multiple versions of your files so that you can easily revert the version you need, when you need it. In this first guide about File History in which you will learn how to find it, enable it and change the way it works.

How to Access File History in Windows 8 & Windows 8.1

File History can be found in the Control Panel. Open it and go to System and Security. There you will find File History. Click or tap on it to open the tool.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

Alternatively, you can search for the words "file history" directly on the Start screen. Filter for Settings and click or tap File History.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

In Windows 8.1 you no longer need to do any filtering when performing the same search. The File History shortcut is displayed immediately.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

In Windows 8.1 there's also a touch-based interface available for File History This will be covered in a separate tutorial. For this guide, we will stick to the desktop version.

How to Turn On File History

Turning on File History is very easy. Plug in an external hard drive or a large USB memory stick with plenty of space on it. Then, simply click or tap the Turn on button.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

You are asked whether you would like to recommend the drive to other members of the homegroup.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

Make a choice and File History starts its job immediately.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

What Does File History Backup?

File History has a predefined set of items that it backs up automatically: all your libraries (both default libraries and custom libraries you created), the Desktop, your Contacts, Internet Explorer favorites and the SkyDrive.

You cannot set it to backup specific folders or libraries. You can only set it to exclude items from your backup, using the procedure detailed in the next section of this tutorial.

If you want it to backup a special folder, you should create a new library for it or include it in an existing library.

How to Exclude Libraries and Folders from the Backup

To exclude specific libraries and folders, click or tap Exclude folders in left-side column, found in the File History window.

Then, press Add and select the item(s) you want to exclude.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

When you are done setting exclusions, click or tap Save changes.

How to Configure How File History Works

You might not be happy with the defaults used by File History, so you should consider improving them. On the left-side column, click or tap Advanced Settings.

In the Advanced Settings window, you can set how often copies are made. The default is Every hour. You might want to change this to Every 15 minutes or Every 30 minutes.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

If you want to, you can also change how much of your disk space is used by the offline cache created by the tool. One of the most important settings is how long you want to keep saved versions for each file. The default is Forever. Personally, I prefer a shorter time frame so I selected 3 months. You might want to do the same.

Just in case you are not familiar with "saved versions", they are the different versions of a file. For example, you can work on a document and end up having 10 different versions of it. By default File History keeps all of them, forever. :) Now you see why you might want to limit for how long they are stored.

You can also change the backup drive used by File History, in case you need this. Click or tap Select drive in the left-side column, in the File History window. Then, select the appropriate drive from the list.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

You can also add a network location, such as a drive recommended for use through the Homegroup.

What Happens When You Disconnect the Backup Drive?

One of the coolest things about File History is that it works silently in the background, without eating too much CPU time and without stressing your hard disks.

Yes, it takes awhile for it to backup the data, especially the first time you do it, but it works without user input. And that's great.

Also, when you unplug the backup drive, File History stops working and it shows a discreet warning: "We can't finish copying your files. Connect your File History drive and refresh this page to continue."

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Backup Data, File History

When you plug the drive back, File History resumes backing up your data, silently.


Personally, I love File History and how it works. It's a discreet, silent tool, easy to use and set up even if you are a beginner.

If you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to ask using the comments form below.