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What Is File Versioning? (And Why You Need It)

April 23, 2024


Wouldn’t it be nice to have the ability to maintain many versions of your files, especially if you make a mistake on one?


Well, that’s what file versioning is for. Not only is it helpful for your own personal use, but businesses can also benefit greatly from this since, without it, there’s always a risk that a file that is continually being worked on would be lost or corrupted.


In this article, we’ll quickly take a look at everything you need to know about it.



What Exactly Is File Versioning?


Versioning is basically a way for you to recover your original work without losing any data. As you change your work, various versions of it are saved via a system called file versioning. To ensure that they are never lost, these versions are preserved in the same hard drive (and usually the same directory, folder, or partition).


These variations operate like time-based checkpoints, bookmarks, or backups. Versioning allows you to recall older versions of a file to a point in time before you made the (now undesirable) modifications.


Let’s take the instance where you are editing a crucial text document and accidentally overwrite the file. In this case, file versioning enables you to restore your work to the state it was in just before you accidentally overwrote it.


If you’re using the most recent versions of Microsoft Office products, then you’ve also probably witnessed file versioning in effect before. In the event that the computer you’re using to create a document abruptly shuts down for whatever reason, these applications can display a finite number of copies or “checkpoints” of the document.


file versioning on Microsoft SharePoint

What file versioning looks like in Microsoft SharePoint. (Source: Microsoft Support)


In a nutshell, file versioning is the digital technique of storing multiple copies of a file at once. The main objective of this, which can be achieved in a variety of methods, is to give users access to earlier versions of crucial documents, file types, and more for a variety of possible circumstances.


How file versioning works


When a modification is made to a document, file versioning pretty much automatically saves it at certain time intervals. It creates a previous version of a file and saves it on your computer, cloud, or on-site storage.


With that, you can find that versioning can be carried out in one of two ways: incrementally or fully. Full versioning is essentially duplicating every single change made in a document before an edit, whereas incremental versioning just creates a new copy with the modifications made during an edit. The specific program that you choose will determine the versioning technique to be used.



Why File Versioning Could Be A Lifesaver


frustrated woman

It can be pretty frustrating when things don’t go according to plan.


Everyone (even the most skilled and careful people) makes mistakes. It’s comforting to know that regardless of what happens to your files, older versions of your data will always be accessible in case the most recent one becomes unavailable for whatever reason.


In some ways, it’s even similar to having a data backup as well as a recovery option, but just with a slightly narrower scope.


Let’s take a look at some instances when file versioning can be helpful:


  • For times when multiple people need to edit a file together
    Instead of exchanging multiple copies of the same document, changing its name after each round of adjustments, and making it almost impossible to track down who made what changes, versioning streamlines the process and makes collaborating with others a lot simpler.
  • For backup and cybersecurity plans
    Your information can be saved in the event that your system experiences serious problems. This will make it easier for you to restart operations after a natural disaster using the same files that were in place before the crash.
  • For avoiding ransomware attacks
    You can also avoid the worst consequences of ransomware by using file versioning. Ransomware attacks are basically when cybercriminals hold your important files hostage until you pay a ransom to get it recovered.


    But, the scary part is that there’s no guarantee that they’ll return any of your data. Luckily, by using file versioning software, you can avoid the demands of these hackers by restoring your files to their original state before any encryption was added to them.


So, when you want to recover your documents in case things don’t go according to plan, file versioning is there to save the day!



How To Do File Versioning On Mac


File versioning isn’t anything new and is even a feature on the macOS. But, this is often overlooked.


Versioning is engrained in the system even further with the introduction of Apple’s new file system, APFS. It’s a pro-level feature that enables you to retrieve earlier versions of your files using Time Machine’s restoration abilities, which can save you during very sticky situations.


Now, let’s take a look at a step-by-step guide on how to restore your files on the macOS:


  1. First, open the file with the changes you want to look at and restore to a previous version.
  2. In that application, open the “File” menu and navigate to the “Revert To” option. After that, select “Browse All Versions” to access the version browser feature.
    revert to prior save file browse versions

    Click on “Browse All Versions” to find previous versions of your file. (Source: OSXDaily)
  3. Once there, you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard, your mouse’s scroll wheel, your trackpad’s scroll gesture, or click on the arrows on the right-hand side of the version browser to navigate through the various saved versions of a file.
  4. After you’ve chosen the version you want to return the document to, just click on the “Restore” option.
    file version control browser mac

    You can find different versions of your files in the version browser. (Source: OSXDaily)
  5. Once you’ve hit “Restore”, the file you chose should open again with the version you’ve restored it to.


And that’s it! You’ve successfully restored your file to its previous version.



How To Restore Previous Versions Of Files On Windows


Using the Windows OS instead of the macOS? No worries!


You can also restore previous versions of your file on Windows. There are multiple ways to do this, but in this guide, we’ll be teaching you how to do it using File History on Windows 10.


But, before anything else, make sure File History is enabled in your Windows settings. If this isn’t enabled, you wouldn’t be able to see older versions of your file or documents.


  1. To enable this, simply go to your Windows settings by clicking on the Windows icon and then settings. Or, you can use the “Windows + I” shortcut on your keyboard.
  2. Then, once you’re there, you can use the search bar and search for Backup settings.
    backup settings

    File History can be found in Backup settings.
  3. You can then find an option to enable File History.
    file history

    Make sure File History is on so you can restore previous versions of your files.


Now we can go ahead and restore an old version of your document.


  1. First, choose the file you want to restore the previous version to.
  2. Then, right-click on it and click on “Restore previous versions”.
    restore previous versions

    Click on “Restore previous versions” to find an older version of your file.
  3. After that, you’ll then be greeted with a popup window of previous versions of your file. Simply select the version you want to restore the file to.
  4. Once you’ve found the version you want, just click on “Restore”.
    restoring previous version

    Click on “Restore” to revert it back to the previous version.


Your file should now be restored to the version you chose!



Bonus: Opt For A Cloud Storage Provider That Offers File Versioning


Cloud storage is a fantastic option for storing backup copies of your critical documents and data. With one, your files are safely kept on remote servers that you are able to access from any location with an internet connection. This guarantees that your files are still secure and available even if your local device is lost, stolen, or damaged.


So, when selecting a cloud storage provider, file versioning is an important feature to consider. This essentially enables you to maintain many versions of a file, making it simple to go back to a previous version in case you make a mistake or the changes are not clear.


With that said, let’s take a look at our top picks for the best cloud storage services, so you can pick the right one for your needs:


  • pCloud
    Whether it’s online backup, file synchronization, or a virtual drive to help you free up storage space on your PC, this all-rounder has every feature you could possibly need from a cloud storage service. You can maintain several versions of your files for up to 180 days thanks to their file versioning feature. pCloud is a cost-effective choice for people on a tight budget, with plans starting at just $4.99 per month for 500GB of storage.
    On all of its plans, provides file versioning for up to 30 days, which is a little less time than some other providers. But is well-known for its solid security and privacy features, including zero-knowledge encryption, making sure that only you have access to your files. You can also find that it is a little more expensive than some other storage solutions, with plans starting at $8 per month for 2TB of storage.
  • Backblaze
    Just like Sync, all of Backblaze’s services include file versioning for up to 30 days. This cloud storage solution is recognized for its simple design and user-friendliness. It also offers limitless storage and supports an infinite number of device backups. So, for those who need to backup a lot of data, the plans start at just $6 per month with unlimited storage.


So, whatever happens, the peace of mind you get from knowing that you can access a document or folder from the past and retrieve it is priceless.



Never Lose Your Files Again


So, you modified a crucial file that you later realized was a mistake. You then feel down, start to panic, and feel like all hope is lost.


Fortunately, file versioning can save you.


On Windows and Mac, there are a few steps you can do to restore your files. And, if you want to take it to the next level, you can even opt for cloud storage for an even better way of file versioning.


Knowing all of this, you never have to worry about losing your files again. All it takes is a few clicks to get your file back to the way you want it to be.