How to set up Windows 8 File History to backup your data (step-by-step)

Learn step by step how to setup Windows 8 File History to backup your data periodically to an external drive or shared folder in the network and prevent data loss.

File History - Windows 8

In Windows 7 or in Windows Vista, or even in Windows XP (manually) you probably used the feature “Previous versions” to create a copy of files to recover in case something happens, but it wasn’t really an intuitive thing to do, now Windows 8 File History has the same principle as Previous versions, but it is a lot easier and more capable.

Keep in mind that File History only makes copies of documents and other files that are located in your libraries, contacts, favorites, and on your desktop. This means that if you have any important data elsewhere and you want them to be backed up with this feature, you’ll need to move that data to one of the locations that I just mentioned.

In the contrary to what is recommended using “Previous versions”, Microsoft recommends to use an external drive or network location (must be available all times a new copy needs to be made) to help keep your data safer from crashes, data loss, or any other problem that may occur in your system when using File History.

Setting up File History in Windows 8 using an external drive

1. Connect an external drive to your computer (e.g., Flash drive, external USB hard drive, or a secondary hard drive installed in your system could also work).

2. From the Start Screen type File History, click on Settings, and from the left select File History.

Open File History - Windows 8

3. Once in File History, if the drive you want to use isn’t showing up in the main screen — where it says: Copy files  to: –.

File History is off - Windows 8

From the left menu, click Change drive, select the appropriate drive, and then click OK.

Change drive File History - Windows 8

4. Now just click the Turn on button and you are all set.

If you get the message: “Do you want to recommend this drive to other members of your homegroup?”, just click No for the time being. But if your computer is part of a homegroup and center of all the computers, you may want to consider to click Yes — Note that you can change this setting at any time.

Recommend a drive for File History

Once you answer the question, File History will turn on and a copy will immediately start.

Setting up File History in Windows 8 using a network location (shared folder)

To configure File History on a network location is very similar to the previous steps.

1. Follow steps 1, 2, and 3 from the previous guide, but in step 3 when you are in the Change drive window, click on Add network location instead.

Add network location File History

2. Browse or type the path for the shared folder in the network — it is assumed that the network location is properly configured and it has the sufficient rights to write data to that folder –, click Select folder and then click OK.

Note: You may run into a situation where network folders aren’t being listed, and you’ll see a message at the top of the window saying: “Network discovery and file sharing are turned off. Network computer and devices are not visible. Click to change…”, click on it, and then select Turn on network discovery and file sharing. Now you can continue browsing the network folder.

Network location File History

Note: If you had previously set up File History and you are changing the location, for example, from an external drive to a shared network folder, you’ll be prompted if you want to move the existing files too. If this is something you want because you have history on important data, click Yes otherwise click No.

File History — Advanced Settings configuration

File History is a really powerful feature that now is included in Windows 8. Out of the box, the default configurations are more than enough for the average user, but for those who really like to take control, Microsoft also added various configuration settings and you can access them from the left menu, and by clicking Advanced Settings. There you’ll find three sections:

  • Versions: Allows you to change how often files are copied and for how long versions of files are kept, and it expands the disk space that the feature uses as cache.
  • HomeGroup: Windows 8 will also permit you to share the drive, which you configured as the location to store your history files with the option “Recommend this drive”.
  • Event logs: This option may not seem like much, but this is a really, really useful tool in Windows to track events or errors to troubleshoot problems.

Advanced Settings File History Windows 8

How to exclude folders from File History

If you have a large amount of data in your libraries, desktop, contacts, and in the favorites’ folder and the target drive or network location has a limited amount of space. You can use the option from the left menu, called Exclude folders to set which folders are not going to be backed up in the process — of course, that you want to exclude folders that do not contain anything that you consider important.

Exclude folders File History Windows 8

Troubleshooting Tips: Here are somethings to keep in mind if Windows 8 File History isn’t working the way it should:

  • When Windows 8 File History is working correctly, you’ll notice that in the main screen will say: “File History is on” with green rectangle icon on the left and the button will say: “Turn off”.
  • By default File History will make a copy of the data every hour. If it has been more than an hour and the time stamp didn’t change, something is not working right.
  • By default only 5% of disk space is used for offline cache files.
  • By default all saved versions of data are kept.
  • For advanced level troubleshooting go to the File History — Advanced Settings window, and under the Event logs, click the option: Open File History event logs to view recent events or errors. Here you’ll find great details of possible problems.

You are now done learning all the configuration aspects of the new Windows 8 File History. In the next article you’ll learn how to restore files that you may accidentally deleted, overwritten or any other problem.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 15 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 21 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].