Windows

How do I... Configure and use shadow copy in Microsoft Windows Vista?

<img src="http://t.cbsimg.net/i/z/200606/how_110x85.jpg" align="right" border="0" height="85" hspace="5" vspace="5" width="110" />Let's face it -- sometimes things go wrong, especially when you are dealing with computers, networks, <a href="http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/gadgets/" target="_blank">electronic gadgetry</a>, and the people who use them. When it comes to saved files on a hard drive, users have been known to delete, modify, and otherwise render useless important documents and then want them restored to their previous condition. The <a href="http://www.techrepublic.com/search/index.php?t=1&amp;s=0&amp;o=0&amp;q=%22shadow+copy%22" target="_blank">shadow copy</a> feature in Microsoft Windows Vista goes a long way toward making that restoration just a few mouse clicks from reality. That is, if you have turned shadow copy on and have it configured properly. Configuring and using Vista shadow copy is not complicated, but it does require some specific knowledge about where these features are located.

Let's face it -- sometimes things go wrong, especially when you are dealing with computers, networks, electronic gadgetry, and the people who use them. When it comes to saved files on a hard drive, users have been known to delete, modify, and otherwise render useless important documents and then want them restored to their previous condition. The shadow copy feature in Microsoft Windows Vista goes a long way toward making that restoration just a few mouse clicks from reality. That is, if you have turned shadow copy on and have it configured properly. Configuring and using Vista shadow copy is not complicated, but it does require some specific knowledge about where these features are located.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic gallery and TechRepublic download.

Shadow copy configuration

Before you can use the shadow copy feature, you must make sure it is enabled. Shadow copy does require additional system resources, so you should weigh the benefits of file restoration with the availability of system resources. For most, the benefits will outweigh the additional system requirements, but your situation may dictate a different approach.

Configuration settings for shadow copy can be found in Vista System Properties. Navigate to the Control Panel and click the System Properties icon, as shown in Figure A. You can also type system into the Desktop Search box on the Start Menu.

Figure A

Vista System Properties
In the System Properties window (Figure B), click the System Protection link on the left-hand side of the screen. It is odd, but I could find no keyword that would lead me directly to the System Protection screen from the Desktop Search. The intermediate step to System Properties seems to be required.

Figure B

Link to System Protection
Once you get to the System Properties dialog window, click the System Protection tab to reach the configuration screen for shadow copy (Figure C). Make sure to check the drives for which you would like shadow copy to be available. If you want, you can create a restore point immediately by clicking the Create button. Under normal conditions, a new restore point is created as part of the shutdown/boot process.

You can also restore to a previous point from this screen if you want to and if a restore point exists. Click OK when your configuration is complete.

Figure C

System Protection tab

Using shadow copy

Now that you have configured Windows Vista to create shadow copies of your files, you can rest assured that no matter what bonehead thing you do to your documents, you have a copy to restore from when needed. In the example in Figure D, I have created a simple Word 2007 document called ShadowTest.docx and saved it in my folder.

Figure D

My documents
As you can see in Figure E, there is just one line of text in ShadowTest.docx.

Figure E

Original ShadowTest.docx
After saving the document and exiting Word, I right-clicked the filename and navigated to the Properties screen for the file and clicked on the Previous Versions tab, as shown in Figure F. As you can see, there is no shadow copy version of this Word document yet. Under normal operation, a shadow copy will be created during the next power down and boot cycle.

This is important to remember -- the shadow copy feature does not replace file backup procedures. Instead, shadow copy should be considered a supplement to regular file backups. Restoring a file from shadow copy almost always results in a loss of data and/or time and effort. It should be used as a last resort recovery method.

Figure F

File Properties
For our example, I forced the creation of a restore point to create a shadow copy of our test file (Figure G).

Figure G

Restore point established
From this screen (Figure G) you can Open the document, Copy it, or use it as a restoration file. Restoration will replace whatever is in the current document with the version shown here in the shadow copy. Windows Vista will warn you of this fact (Figure H).

Figure H

Restoration warning

Considerations

The Windows Vista shadow copy feature will create a new shadow version of a file whenever a restore point is created by the operating system. In our example, we have only one shadow copy, but under normal operating circumstances, there will often be several shadow copies to choose from. Just keep in mind that the further back in time you go for your restoration copy, the more data you are likely to lose.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

10 comments
socrtwo
socrtwo

Hi. I coded a lame named but working Shadow Copy recovery program called Vista Previous Version Recoverer. It works with all versions of Vista and Windows 7 including Vista Home Basic and Premium versions. The previous versions exist in the Shadow Copies of Vista Home Basic and Premium snapshots, there is just no client to access them. My program is here: http://godskingsandheroes.info/software/#19. It works on individual files chosen from a standard open file dialog box. Unfortunately right now it rebuilds its index with each file searched for, however considering the length of time Windows takes to display previous versions, it might be doing the same thing, I will try to fix this inefficiency. Another application that allows access to the previous file versions in all versions of Vista, is Shadow Explorer: http://www.shadowexplorer.com/. Although it has a standard admirably clean Explorer like interface, this program might be overkill as it forces you to choose a Restore Point then look to see if your file has a backup and that backup is different from your original. All this has to be done manually. My program on the other hand will only return files if they are different, and will only return one copy of each different version.

willm
willm

Please update this article to denote which versions of Vista support this feature... my Home Premium does not.

nathalie
nathalie

People might also want to take a look at TimeTraveler. It is built on top of volume shadow copy technology. It inserts a timeline populated with a tick per shadow copy within Windows Explorer. Sliding the time cursor to a time tick brings Explorer at that point-in-time by redirecting Explorer to the mounted shadow copy volume. From there, the user can navigate the selection as it was at that point-in-time. TimeTraveler also allows users to schedule shadow copies and to configure the associated storage using a comprehensive user interface. TimeTraveler works on all editions of Vista and Windows 7. It can be found at: http://www.bearsontheloose.com

d
d

It would be helpful to state at the beginning of the article which versions of Vista -or- Office this applies to. For this kind of functionality on lesser versions of Vista, you might try Roxio's BackOnTrack3.

nhiep_nguyen
nhiep_nguyen

You just forget to tell us that it's not available on some Vista flavors for exemple Home Premium Edition

perry-agm
perry-agm

I created a restore point, but I cannot get to your Figure D. What did I do wrong?

tonyrony
tonyrony

Did you say "Shadow Copy"? I ran myself ragged for a little while as I began to wonder whether I might have this Shadow Copy feature running without my knowing it. Might Shadow Copy be available only on Vista Ultimate or on the business versions of Vista, perhaps? I'm running Vista Home Premium and wondered about Shadow Copy because I recognized it as one of those features that probably has a certain degree of overhead associated with it. I'm usually quite careful and honestly cannot recall ever deleting a file or accidentally over-writing a good version of a file with a bad version. Although I recognize the value of this feature, I would not want it running on my system. So as I searched for it, I realized something must be amiss because my System Properties > System Protection tab looks a little different than in the images associated with this story. Only after scrutinizing the images very closely did I notice that these screen shots came from a system running Vista Ultimate, but I believe this is never mentioned in the text of the article. Did I miss it, perhaps? Is this the reason why I don't see this feature available on my Home Premium system? Thanks.

nbsc
nbsc

Much like the old saying "that Location; location, location is everything"; the same now applies to Microsoft OSs & Office versions. You now have at least 3 major OS versions being utilized, with several variations of each of those. Now combine that with the 3 or more major versions of MS Office, & you have one hell of a lot of confusion, due to the wide range of variations possible in these otherwise helpful articles. While you may not be able to research, test & determine throughout all the various iterations (for many obvious reasons) there is not a valid reason for not telling us what flavors you did test. Following that, perhaps you could mention those that you might expect to produce the same or similar results. thanks; NBSC

techblarepublic.2.muri
techblarepublic.2.muri

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't include the GUI to restore lost files in the Home Basic/Premium editions, even though the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) is also included and fully running! But luckily there is a third party tool at www.shadowexplorer.com which allows you to browse the Shadow Copies and restore files if needed!

rickrbyrne
rickrbyrne

Hey, Your Right you system protection tab does look different.... Windows Vista Home Premium does not include the windows shadow copy. The only versions to offer this is Buisness and Ulimate Edition. So, don't think you missed anything, it just wasn't there. The link below has more info http://www.powerdonkey.net/vista/Home_premium_business.php Rick

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