Shadow Copies are a built in feature of newer Microsoft Windows desktop operating systems such as Vista and higher as well as Windows Server operating systems. If enabled Windows will take snapshots of files and\or volumes and keep them for a certain amount of time allowing you to go back and recover older versions of your files. Many companies will enable this feature on their file servers so that if a file gets deleted it’s easy for an administrator or even an end user to go back and recover a copy of that file. The copies can be scheduled to run at various times of the day and can be accessed by a Previous Version tab on the properties of the files or folders. Keep in mind that this is not a replacement for an appropriate backup system.

For the home user you have the same option to restore these copies of your files because Shadow Copies are enabled by default in Windows Vista and up. But if you don’t have the Ultimate, Business, or Enterprise edition of Windows there is no way to access these Shadow Copies. This is where Shadow Explorer comes into to play.


Shadow Explorer provides an interface to these backed up files allowing you to recover files if you accidentally delete some or if you make a change to a document, save it and then realize you didn’t want to save the changes and want to roll back to a previous version. It will allow you to choose a specific date when a backup copy took place and then access those files from that day.

To use Shadow Explorer simply select the dropdown item to choose the date and time you want to go back to and it will show the available files and folders from that date. Once you find the file or folder you would like to restore simply right click on it and chose Export.

Shadow Explorer

Then you will choose what location on your computer you would like to restore the file to.

Then it will show a status bar for the export and when the process is complete you will have your restored files or folders ready for use.

By default Windows only enables the Shadow Copy (System Protection) feature on the C drive if you want to be able to access files and folders off of other drives you will need to enable it for those drives. You can actually enable this feature from Shadow Explorer itself by going to the File menu and choosing Configure System Protection and then turn it on for your other drive(s). If you have the higher end version of Windows then all you need to do is go to the file or folder in question and right click it and choose the Previous Versions tab.

Previous Versions Tab

But if you don’t have the file anymore to click you won’t be able to do that and Shadow Explorer might better help you out in that case. We also noticed that Shadow Explorer showed additional copies that the Previous Version tab didn’t show so maybe it’s best to use both.

Shadow Explorer can be downloaded free from their website.

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