How to recover previous versions of your files and documents, using OneDrive

One of the coolest features of OneDrive is the fact that it keeps the version history of your synchronized files so that you can recover older versions when you need to. For example, you may be working on an Excel file with someone else, or you may work alone on it, but on multiple devices. At some point, a mistake is made, and the Excel file is no longer useful. You can save time and restore an older version of it, so that you can resume working from a version that is useful, instead of redoing everything all over again. Here is how to recover older versions of your files, from OneDrive:

Step 1. Log in to the OneDrive website with your Microsoft account

Open your favorite web browser and go to the OneDrive website. Log in with your Microsoft account. Please note that you have to log in with the same account that you use to sync your files through OneDrive. You should now see your synchronized files.

Step 2. Find the file that you want to restore to a previous version, and access its version history

In the column on the left, choose Files, and then browse the contents of your OneDrive, until you find the file that interests you. One way to access the version history of that file is to right-click (or press and hold on it) and choose Version history, in the contextual menu.

Another method involves selecting the file, by clicking its checkbox in the top-right corner and then pressing the Version history button in the toolbar on the top.

If your web browser window is not large, you will not see the Version history button in the toolbar on the top. However, you will see three dots in the top toolbar. Click or tap on them, and then on Version history, in the menu that opens.

OneDrive loads the different versions of the selected file. However, the way it displays them to you differs based on the file type.

Step 3: Restore or download an older version of your file, from OneDrive

If you are restoring a Microsoft Office document created with an application like Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Access, and so on, the online version of that Office app is opened, and it automatically loads the file that interests you. For example, look at the screenshot below:

We opened a spreadsheet in Excel Online and, on the left, we see all the older versions of that file, and the date and time when they were saved. Click or tap the older versions that are available until you find the one that you want to use. Once you have found the version that you are interested in, you have two options: Restore and Download.

If you click or tap Restore, the older version of the document becomes the current version, and OneDrive synchronizes it automatically, on all your devices. You can resume your work from there and update the file as needed. Any new updates you make to it, are saved in new versions of the same file.

If you want to keep the current version without having it replaced by the older version you are looking at, then it is best to Download the older version of the file. In the Save As window, select a different location for the older version of the document and press Save. You can also save it in the same place as the current version, but you should use a different name for the older version so that you can tell the files apart from one another.

The problem with OneDrive's version history: it does not work for all files!

In July 2017, the OneDrive team from Microsoft bragged about the fact that they made version history available for all file types. You can read their announcement here: Expanding OneDrive version history support to all file types.

We tried this feature for Microsoft Office files, and it always worked. But, for pictures, simple text files, and other file types, we could not get it to work. Each time we tried to access the version history of those files, we encountered an empty page with no older versions of our files.

According to Microsoft, you should see a list of versions similar to the screenshot below. Then, you should right-click the version that interests you and choose Restore or Open File.

NOTE: The screenshot above was shared by Microsoft. We could not replicate a similar behavior in our OneDrive.

For how long does OneDrive store older versions of your files?

To quote Microsoft, "OneDrive will keep an older version of your files for 30 days. Expanded version history support has started rolling out and will be available to everyone this summer."

However, we found this statement to be untrue. For text files, PDFs, and image files, the version history did not work for us. For Microsoft Office files made with Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and so on, OneDrive kept file versions that were more than six months old.

What is your experience with OneDrive's version history feature?

As you can see, this feature of OneDrive is useful when you mess up the versions of one Microsoft Office document or another. We use it from time to time, and each time it saves us a lot of time and headaches. However, Microsoft's promises of making this feature available for all file types does not seem to be true. Therefore, we are curious to know whether it works for you or not. Please comment below and share your experience with us.