Using Shadow Copies (Shadow Explorer) To Recover Files

Shadow Explorer is a free tool for Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 10 that allows you to retrieve older versions from files you accidentally deleted or altered.

Windows has a default shadow copy feature enabled and creates point-in-time snapshots of your files from time to time. With Shadow Explorer you can see available shadow copies, browse through them and retrieve earlier versions of files and folders.

You can also access the shadow copies directly through Windows if you have Ultimate, Business, or Enterprise edition. Shadow Explorer makes them available for Home users as well and has a better functionality.

The main difference between shadow copies and Windows backups is that shadow copies are always stored on the same disk as the original versions. This means that if the disk fails you will not be able to recover your files. Meanwhile, you can store your backups on a different disk and retrieve them even in case of a failure.

Windows Restore Points are also a different thing: they only restore the system settings and not your files.

Shadow copies are not replacement for backups or restore points. It will not roll back your system settings, just the files.

Is this tool right for me?

This tool would be useful if you accidentally delete 5 pages of your thesis and want to restore the full document. You can also restore a deleted file by retrieving a previous version of the containing folder. When it comes to threats, it is useful when, for example, a ransomware virus encodes the contents of your file: you can try to revert it back to the unencoded version.

However, it is hard to predict when the system will create the next snapshot of your file as the process is more or less random. Therefore you might not have a shadow copy of the file available.

The best way to find out if it is going to help is simply to try the tool and see if there are shadow copies available.

 Accessing shadow copies directly through Windows:

Right-click on a file or folder you want to restore.

Click Properties.

Click on the Previous Versions tab. It might take some time before Windows finds the copies.

Choose a desired version on the list and click Restore. You will be able to open it or copy to a new location.

Repeat this for every file you want to restore.

As mentioned above, if you have Home edition of Windows you might not be able to access the previous versions and you will have to use Shadow Explorer.

 Using Shadow Explorer:

Visit Shadow Explorer website and download the Latest Version. You can also download the Portable version of the program: you will not need to install it then.

Install and launch the program. We recommend right-clicking on the program shortcut and choosing Run as administrator.

You will be able to see all the available shadow copies in the drop-down list. You can right-click any file or folder and Export it. The files will be saved in a new folder of your choice.

Click here for a more detailed manual on how to use Shadow Explorer.

Reasons why previous versions might not work:

  • Your partition is not in NTFS format.
  • It is not enabled on the partition.
  • Disk is running out of space.
  • A snapshot has not been done after the file has been modified.
  • It is disabled by Administrator.

Try other recovery methods: restoring a backup or using a professional file recovery program if everything else fails.