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How to use Windows 10 File History to back up data

File History is a handy tool that lets you back up files on your PC to any hard drive connected to it, whether that connection is external via USB or internal via a bus. You can also back up to a network location if one is available. Here's how to use File History to safeguard your important files.

How to add a drive to use with File History

Before starting these steps, you should ensure a secondary drive is connected to your PC or that a network is set up.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. (It looks like a gear and is located in the bottom-left corner of the Start menu.)

  1. Click Update & security.
  2. Click Backup.

  1. Click Add a drive.
  2. Click the drive you'd like to use as a backup. You can also choose to back up to a network location if one is available.

You now have a drive or network location associated with File History, and it's time to choose which files you want to back up.

How to back up files using File History

File History will automatically back up files from folders it deems important, but you can customize exactly which folders and files its backs up.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. (It looks like a gear and is located in the bottom-left corner of the Start menu.)

  1. Click Update & security.
  2. Click Backup.

  1. Click More options.
  2. Click Add a folder.

  1. Click a folder you want to back up.
  2. Click Choose this folder.
    • If you add the wrong folder or simply want to remove a folder from the backup list, perform the following two steps.

  1. Click a folder in the Back up these folders list.
  2. Click Remove.

How to change the frequency of backups

If you don't need your files backed up on an hourly basis, you can change how often a backup occurs, as long as the drive is connected or the network location is available.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. (It looks like a gear and is located in the bottom-left corner of the Start menu.)
  3. Click Update & security.

  1. Click Backup.
  2. Click More options.

  1. Click the dropdown arrow beneath Back up my files.
  2. Click a frequency options.
    • You can also change how long the backups are kept on the drive or network using the following two steps.

  1. Click the dropdown arrow beneath Keep my backups.
  2. Click a time limit.

How to switch the drives that use File History

If your backup drive is full, or if you just want to start using a different drive, you have to manually switch the drive in the File History settings.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. (It looks like a gear and is located in the bottom-left corner of the Start menu.)

  1. Click Update & security.
  2. Click Backup.

  1. Click More options.
  2. Click Stop using drive.

You can now connect a different drive, and back up to it, using the steps listed above.

How to restore files from File History

If something goes wrong and you lose files, you can easily restore them from the File History backup. Make sure the drive that contains the backup is connected to your PC or the network location is accessible.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. (It looks like a gear and is located in the bottom-left corner of the Start menu.)
  3. Click Update & security.

  1. Click Backup.
  2. Click More options.

  1. Click Restore files from a current backup. (You might have to scroll down to find it.)
  2. Click the Restore button. (It is green and has a circular arrow on it.)

Your files contained in the backup will now be restored to their original location.

Best external drives and NAS solutions

If you don't already have an extra hard drive, check out our picks for the best available right now:

See the best external hard drives

If you'd like to take some extra steps and create a network storage solution, have a look at our guide to building your own NAS, or our collection of the best pre-built NAS systems:

More resources

If you want to create an image of your drive to use in the event of a complete failure, Windows has a built-in tool that is quite easy to use. We've also created a guide to walk you through each step of that process:

How to make create an image backup on Windows 10 and Windows 8.1

Using File History and Windows Image Backup are just the tip of the iceberg. If you'd like more info on creating data backups, have a look at our roundup of six easy backup methods:

Six easy and effective ways to back up your PC

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

11 Comments
  • I don't see why File History can't just select your entire 'home' folder by default and if you want to exclude directories, you can do so. For example, it doesn't backup the hidden 'appdata' folder where a lot of your config data lives. Apple's Time Machine seems to do a much better job.
  • I highly recommend the free FBackup if you want more control, with a friendlier interface. It even supports backing up to the cloud (though only Google Drive is supported in the free version).
  • If you have 12000+ songs in the music folder, it wont backup anything.
    Watch out...
  • So does that mean it has limitations by numbers?
  • Don't think so, probably a bug on the music folder. If you specify not to backup the music folder, it works regardless of how many files are in the other Document folders
  • Ah, ok, thanks. I usually use another folder and link it to the public music folder anyway so everyone can see it without the need to set permissions. Probably has the same bug
  • Not being able to have your backup drive disconnected for longer periods was the main reason not to recommend W10 for my parents. I have their backup drive at home and every two month or so I take it with me and do a backup of their W7 pc. Had to use it a year ago when their 14 month old samsung 1tb hdd failed. Worked perfect actually 👍
  • You could've made a system image instead.
  • I'll look into that👍
  • I snagged a 512 GB Toshiba external for $30 (a black Friday 2015 deal at Staples ) and it's not the fastest external around, only does a USB 2.0 interface, but I've got it permanently connected to my Surface dock. The Surface Pro occasionally nags me about it if I haven't docked in a few days, but otherwise, I don't even have to think about it. It backs up drive changes every time I dock my SP4. Being a little bit OCD/paranoid, I've also made OneDrive and ODFB my default storage locations (offsite storage).
  • Is File History any better now? It was horrid about a year ago; explosive excessive copies clogging up the backup drive, settings not sticking, and no system image option. Thank goodness for the Windows 7 legacy backup they've left behind, but even that is starting to feel dated and ignored by Microsoft.