Backup

How to Use All of Windows 10’s Backup and Recovery Tools

Windows 10 includes several different types of backup and recovery tools. And we’re going to take a look at all of them.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good computers. Fortunately, Windows includes a number of tools you can use to make sure your files are properly backed up and to recover your computer should you need to. On the backup side of things, File History is the primary backup tool in Windows 8 and 10. It offers not just full backups, but also a way to restore previous versions of files. Microsoft also includes the old Windows 7 Backup and Restore in both Windows 8 and 10 and it works the same way it always has, allowing you to perform selective or even full image-based backups. And while it’s not really a true backup solution, the inclusion of OneDrive does let you build a little redundancy into your file storage.

On the Recovery side of things, Windows offers a full recovery environment you can use for troubleshooting and recovery, as well as the ability to fully reset your PC to it’s default settings. Here’s how it all fits together.

Back Up and Protect Your Windows 10 PC the Easy Way

Windows 10 includes a number of backup and recovery tools for free, but the reality is that they aren’t anywhere near as good as commercial solutions. Carbonite automatically backs up all of your files, photos, and documents and stores them encrypted in the cloud.

Not only do you get cheap unlimited cloud backup, but you can also use Carbonite to backup your PC to a local hard drive. And you get versioning, deleted file protection, mobile apps so you can access your files from any device, and a whole lot more.

And for a limited time, How-To Geek readers get 2 free bonus months.

Built-In Backup Tools in Windows

You’ve heard the advice a million times, but it’s still surprising how many people don’t take the time to make sure their files are adequately backed up. We’ve covered all kinds of ways to make sure that your computer is backed up and we’ve even talked about what files you should be backing up. The good news is Windows itself provides some pretty solid tools to get the job done. Just remember, it’s not only about backing up to an external hard drive. You also should be creating offsite backups—or at the very least, storing a copy of your backups in a different location.

File History

File History was first introduced in Windows 8 and continues to be the primary built-in backup solution in Windows 10. File History doesn’t create a full backup of your entire PC. Rather, it focuses on making sure that your personal files are backed up. You set up File History to back up all your files to an external drive and then you really can just let it do its job. It not only regularly backs up files, it also retains previous versions of files that you can easily restore.

By default, File History backs up important folders in your user folder—stuff like Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos, and parts of the AppData folder. You can exclude folders you don’t want backed up and add folders from elsewhere on your PC that you do want backed up.

When you need to recover files, you can browse through the whole collection of backed up files and folders.

Or you can restore previous versions of files from right within File Explorer.

File History gives you a pretty reliable way to make sure your personal files are regularly backed up. Make sure you check out our full guide to using File History for instructions on setting it up and using it.

Backup and Restore (Windows 7)

Microsoft also kept the old Backup and Restore feature from Windows 7 around. It was available in Windows 8, removed in Windows 8.1, and is back in Windows 10. The Backup and Restore (Windows 7) tool allows you to restore any of your old Windows 7 backups onto your Windows 10 computer—likely why the tool is still around—but you can also use it to back up your Windows 10 PC in the exact same way you’d back up a Windows 7 PC.

Unlike the newer File History backup solution, you can use Backup and Restore to more easily create a backup of practically everything on your hard drive. However, it also does not feature File History’s ability to maintain older versions of your files.

You can find the tool by hitting Start, typing “backup,” and then selecting “Backup and Restore (Windows 7).”

Setting up the backup is pretty straightforward. You’ll choose an external drive (or network location), pick the folders you want to backup, and set a schedule. After that, everything’s automatic. Do be sure to check…

Save Space on Your Time Machine Drive by Excluding These Folders From Backups

Are you getting notifications about a full Time Machine drive? Do you feel like your backups are taking too long? A bigger, faster hard drive might be the best solution, but you can also help by excluding particular folders from your backups.

We’ve shown you how to back up and restore files with Time Machine, including how to exclude particular folders from being backed up. To exclude a folder, just head to System Preferences > Time Machine > Options.

Some more options will slide down, giving you the ability to exclude particular folders from your backups. But which folders can be safely disabled? And are any disabled by the system already? Let’s take a look.

What Does Time Machine Exclude By Default?

Time Machine already excludes a bunch of things you don’t need backed up: your Trash, caches, and indexes. And you know how you can use Time Machine even if your drive isn’t plugged in? The local backups that make that possible are also not backed up, as that would be redundant. So you don’t need to worry about excluding system-level things like logs and caches—Time Machine already has you covered.

If just knowing that system-level stuff is already excluded is enough for you, go ahead and skip the rest of this section. But if you’re interested in seeing the complete list of folders excluded by default (or just want to prove to yourself that something is excluded), here’s how to do it.

A file named “StdExclusions.plist” outlines everything that Time Machine excludes. You can find that file in the following location:

/System/Library/CoreServices/backupd.bundle/Contents/Resources/

You can quickly open that file by running the following command in the Terminal (which you can find at Applications > Utilities > Terminal):

/System/Library/CoreServices/backupd.bundle/Contents/Resources/StdExclusions.plist
The list is too long to include here, so you should just check it out yourself.

Individual programs can also mark particular files to not be backed up. Typically, this includes caches and other temporary files. You can find a list of these exempt files by running the following command in the Terminal:

sudo mdfind "com_apple_backup_excludeItem = 'com.apple.backupd'"

To summarize, though, you don’t need to worry about stopping Time Machine from backing up caches or your Trash folder, because it already knows not to. And a big thanks to Brant Bobby on Stack Exchange for pointing out the commands that prove this.

What Other Items Should I Consider Excluding?

Now that you’ve seen what Time Machine excludes by default, let’s take a look at some of the other items you might consider excluding to free up some space.

Your Dropbox Folder, or Any Folder You’re Already Syncing

If you’re using Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, or any other syncing service, you already have those files stored in at least two locations—on your local drive and in the cloud. If you’re syncing files to other devices, as well, then you have those files stored in other locations as well.

Just be careful. Most cloud services offer a grace period to recover deleted files. Dropbox, for example, gives you 30 days, and keeps older versions of the files it has—just like a backup. But if your cloud service does not provide this feature, you probably don’t want to exclude those files from your Time Machine backup, since…