The Ultimate Guide to Restoring Data from Backups

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Please raise your hand if you’ve never lost your data and had to restore it from a backup copy.

If you’re raising your hand, then you are a very lucky person!


Because most of us, some time or another, have lost a portion of our data and had to restore it from backup.

While we hope that you are one of the few lucky persons and you will never need to restore data from backups; the truth is: it almost happens to everyone.

And for various different reasons – hard drive failure, ransomware infection, accidental deletion of files etc.

So, in this blog post, we are going to help the ‘not so lucky’ people restore their lost data from backup.

Needless to say, the lucky ones are more than welcome to read our guide – you never know what’s waiting for you in the computing world! At least, if it does happen to you as well, you’ll be informed and well prepared 🙂

It goes without saying that, in order to restore data, first and foremost you should’ve read our blog about backing up data.

Without a backup plan in place, restoring data is very difficult and most probably, you will have to seek the assistance of Data Recovery Specialists.

And …. it’s not cheap!

If, on the other hand, you followed our tutorial about backups, then it will cost you nothing and you can put your mind at rest about the recovery of your precious data.

Sounds interesting? Let’s begin!


Restoring Data on Windows PCs


Restoring data is really a simple procedure.

Obviously, as we saw in our backups blog, different Windows versions have a slightly different utility and we will explain how to use them all.

The good thing is that you don’t need to worry which utility you should use because it’s the same one used for backups.


Windows 7 Backup and Restore

If you read our blog about backups, you should know how to access Backup and Restore by now. However, let us refresh your memory 😉

To access the utility, click on the Start button, then select Control Panel > System and Security > Backup and Restore, as shown below:


Accessing Windows 7 Backup and Restore


Obviously, before starting to restore data, you should have your backup drive connected to the computer given that you are restoring data from a backup.

When Backup and Restore loads, you will see the Restore section right at the bottom of the window. Here, you are presented with four options:

  • Restore my files
  • Restore all users’ files
  • Select another backup to restore files from
  • Recover system settings or your computer


Restore files section in Backup and Restore

Source: How-To Geek


To restore your backed up data, click on Restore my files and then on Browse for folders.


Choose which files or folders to restore

Source: How-To Geek


This will bring up a list of backed up folders and you can select which folder you want to restore by clicking Add folder.

The folders that you select are then added to the restore list and the utility will ask you whether you want the folders restored to their original location or to a new location.

After selecting the destination, you can click on Restore to start the procedure.

When you’re browsing for folders, you won’t be able to see the individual files in a folder.

Therefore, to restore specific files, you must use the Browse for files option. The method is the same as for the folders – you choose the individual files that you want and add them to the restore list.

The utility will once again ask you whether the files should be restored to their original location or to a new one.

Clicking Restore will start the recovery of the selected files.


Choosing where you want to restore files

Source: How-To Geek


If there’s a specific file that you want to restore but don’t remember its exact name – worry not! The utility gives you the option to search the contents of the backup.

All you have to do is select Search… after clicking on Restore my files and then type in the keywords or part of a file name in the search field provided.

For example, to search for all JPG files, type JPG or *.jpg in the Search for box. Then click on Search and you will be provided with a list of files that match the keywords that you typed in.

Next, all you need to do is select the files you need, add them to the restore list and click Restore.

Should you need to restore the files of all the PC’s users, you must choose Restore all users’ files. The restore process is exactly the same as the Restore my files option described above.

Note: If you want to search for files or folders associated with a specific user account, you can improve search results by typing the location of the file or folder in the Search for box. For example, to search for JPG files associated with the user Peter, type C:\Users\Peter\JPG in the Search for box.

The third option, Select another backup to restore files from, is used to restore files from a backup that was created on another computer running Windows Vista or Windows 7.

The files will be restored in a folder under the username that was used to create the backup.

If the usernames are different, you’ll need to navigate to the folder where the files are restored.

For example, if your username was Mary on the computer that the backup was performed but your username is MaryB on the computer that the backup is being restored on, the restored files will be saved in a folder named Mary.

And finally, we have the Recover system settings or your computer option.

Do you remember when we mentioned System Image in our backups blog? Take a look here.

Simply put, a System Image is used to restore your computer to the exact state it was in when the image was created – including Windows, your programs and all your files.

With the Recover system settings or your computer option, you can either perform System Restore or use the Advanced recovery methods, which include recovery from a System Image and the option to reinstall Windows from the installation disc.


Recover System Settings or Computer option

Source: DavesComputerTips


A System Image recovery will wipe out your hard drive and replace the contents with the information saved on the System Image. The Reinstall Windows option might keep existing files in the "Windows.old" folder.

The difference between the two is that the System Image recovery will include programs and your files (apart from Windows of course), while the Reinstall Windows option will install Windows only.

Therefore, if using the latter, you need to reinstall the programs you had and restore your files from a backup.


Advanced Recovery Methods Menu

Source: DavesComputerTips


Do not confuse System Image with System Restore, which we mentioned in the post about how to avoid formatting your PC.

Although System Restore is part of the Recover system settings or your computer option, it’s not used in conjunction with System Image recovery.

System Restore is used to restore a computer to an earlier point in time while a System Image replaces everything on a computer with the information saved on the System Image.

Note: When opting to recover your computer from a System Image, Windows will ask you whether you want to back up your files before starting the recovery process. Needless to say – DO IT! Furthermore, this recovery can be done either from within Windows if it’s still booting successfully or from the System Recovery options if Windows is not booting.

Recovering your computer from a System Image shouldn’t be something done very frequently. Mainly for two reasons:

  1. Because it takes quite a long time. Imagine the amount of files, programs etc. that must be recovered and reinstalled. In contrast, when you’re restoring just your files, the process doesn’t take a very long time. This obviously depends on the amount of data you’re restoring – but still, it definitely won’t take as long as a System Image recovery.
  2. Because there’s no need to perform a System Image recovery each time you encounter a problem with your computer. Most problems can be solved by using other methods, as we explained in this blog post.

So that’s Windows 7 done and dusted 😀

Next up …. Windows 8.1 and 10 -- bring it on!


Windows 8.1 / 10 File History

We mentioned it in the blog about backups and we’re going to repeat it here.

Microsoft designed File History with two objectives in mind:

  1. To offer the best possible protection of your personal files.
  2. To offer ease of use, simplicity and peace of mind.

And we can assure you that they definitely did a good job in reaching these objectives!

File History really offers peace of mind.


Because it regularly backs up versions of your files in the Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos and Desktop folders. So, over time, you’ll have a complete history of your files.

And restoring your data with File History is also very simple, as we will see in a while.

Not only you can recover lost, damaged or deleted files; but you can also browse and restore different versions of your files.

For example, if you want to restore an older version of a file (even if it wasn’t deleted or lost), you can browse through a timeline, select the version you want and restore it.

It’s a procedure very similar to Apple’s Time Machine, as we will discuss later on in this post.

The easiest way to access the File History Restore feature is by using the Search option.

In Windows 8.1, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down and then click Search. In Windows 10, the Search box can be found on the taskbar.

Once in the Search box, type Restore your files or Restore files and then select Restore your files with File History, as illustrated in the image below:


Accessing the File History Restore feature

Source: Microsoft


If using Windows 10, the Restore Application can also be found here: Control Panel > System and Security > Restore your files with File History.


Accessing File History from Control Panel


At this point, your backup drive should be connected to the computer.

Clicking on Restore your files with File History will bring up your backed up files and folders. From here, you can browse to find the file or folder you want to restore or you can search for specific files and folders via the File History search box.


Window displaying backed up folders and files

Source: How-To Geek


When you find the file or folder you need, you can then use the arrows to see different versions of it. To restore it to its original location, you simply click on the green Restore button.

If the file or folder already exists, you must confirm that you want to replace it with the one you’re restoring.

Should you decide to restore it to a different location, press and hold (or right-click) the Restore button, select Restore to and choose the location.

And that’s how simple it is to restore data using File History!

If you want to see it in action, just take a look at this video.

Another utility that we believe we should make you aware of is Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

Yes, you have guessed correctly – this is the old Backup and Restore feature found in Windows 7. It was available in Windows 8, removed in Windows 8.1 and is back in Windows 10.

Basically, this tool allows you to restore any of your Windows 7 backups onto a Windows 10 computer.

If you want, you can also use it to back up your data in Windows 10 the exact same way you’d back up a Windows 7 computer.

However, unlike File History, it doesn’t have the ability to maintain older versions of your files while backing up.


Restoring Data on Mac Computers


The same concept applies here – restoring data on Mac computers is very simple indeed.

And even though Apple release newer versions of their Operating System just like Microsoft, unlike Windows PCs, the utility is always the same: Time Machine.

So, it’s fair to say that it’s even less complicated because the procedure is always the same; irrelevant of the Operating System running on your Mac ☺️


Time Machine

As we explained in our backups blog, it’s called Time Machine because, in a virtual sense, you can turn back time to see how a certain folder looked in the past, complete with files and folders you’ve since deleted or edited.

Time Machine keeps versions of your files going back days, weeks, months and years – provided there’s sufficient space on the backup destination.

So, let’s get to it!

To restore specific files, make sure that your backup device is connected, click the Time Machine icon on the menu bar and then select Enter Time Machine to access your backed up data.

The following interface will be provided:


The 'Enter Time Machine' interface

Source: Apple


From here, you can:

  • Use the timeline on the edge of the screen to see the files in your Time Machine backup as they were at that date and time.
  • Use the onscreen up and down arrows to jump to the last time the contents of the window changed.
  • Select a file and press Space Bar to preview the file.

The timeline on the edge of the screen may also include local snapshots. These are some of the backups that Time Machine saves to the Mac’s internal storage. They are automatically enabled when Time Machine is turned on and disabled when turned off.

One daily snapshot is saved every 24 hours, beginning from the time you start or restart your computer. One weekly snapshot is saved every week.

Time Machine includes a search feature as well.

You can use the search field in a window to find a file, then move through time while focused on changes to that file.

Once you’ve located the folders or files that you want to restore, select them and click on Restore.

By default, Time Machine will restore the selected folders or files to their original location and it will ask you whether you want to overwrite them if they still exist in the destination.

If you want to restore to a different location, select the folders or files, press control on your keyboard (ctrl on older ones) + left-click on your mouse, select Restore “folder or file name” to… and choose the alternate destination.

With the Control-click feature you can also:

  • Open the selected backed up folder or file
  • Delete All Backups associated with the selected folder or file
  • Delete the selected backed up folder or file
  • Get Info on the selected backed up folder or file
  • Take a Quick Look at the selected backed up folder or file
  • Copy the selected backed up folder or file


Time Machine's Control-Click feature

Source: Justus Beyer


Given that Time Machine periodically and silently backs up everything on your Mac, including the entire Operating System, you can also use the Time Machine backup to restore the entire system.

To do this, you must use macOS Recovery, which is part of the built-in recovery system on your Mac.

To start up from macOS Recovery, hold down command+R (cmd+R on older ones) immediately after turning on or restarting your Mac.

If, for some reason, the recovery system is not available on your Mac, you can hold down option+command+R (alt+cmd+R on older ones) to start up from the recovery system over the Internet (requires an Internet connection).

Release the keys when you see the Apple logo and after a while, the Mac will display this utilities window:


The macOS Utilities Menu

Source: Apple


From the macOS Utilities, you can then select the option Restore From Time Machine Backup to completely restore your Mac from an external hard drive.

When discussing Windows 7 Backup and Restore earlier in this post, we said that restoring a computer from a Windows 7 System Image shouldn’t be something done very frequently – and the same rule applies to Mac computers!

Restoring an entire system from a Time Machine Backup should only be done in specific circumstances, such as to recover from certain software issues for example.

Otherwise, there is no need to restore an entire Mac system!

Time Machine also provides you with the option to copy / transfer the files, apps, user accounts and settings in your backup to another Mac.

For this, you can use Migration Assistant.


The Migration Assistant Utility

Source: Apple


Connect your backup drive to the other Mac, open Migration Assistant (from the Utilities folder of the Applications folder) and then select the option to transfer From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk.

If the backup is encrypted, you will be asked to enter the password to continue.

Then, you will see a list of backups organised by date and time. Choose the backup that you want to use and click Continue. Finally, select the information to transfer and click Continue.


Select Information to Transfer with Migration Assistant

Source: Apple


Can it be simpler than this to restore data on your Mac?! Don’t really think so ☺️




Restoring your backed up data is a very simple task IF you back up regularly.

Why did we emphasise the “if”?

Well, because if you don’t have backups, then getting back your lost data is not that simple.

Like we said in our introduction, you will most probably require the services of Data Recovery Specialists and it’s not cheap.

Plus, you don’t have any guarantee whatsoever that you will get all your data back!

So, if your data is important, the first steps are always ‘backup, backup, backup’!

Then, if something happens to your computer, you can sit back, relax and restore all of your data by using the guidelines above 👍🏻

Have you ever restored your data from backups?

If yes, how was the experience?

Do you use other methods than those provided in this blog post to restore your data?

Send us your feedback or any questions you might have in the Comments section below.



About the author

Anthony has been in the Information Technology industry for more than 22 years and specialises in Digital Marketing. His passion for helping people in all aspects of IT and online marketing flows through in the expert industry coverage he provides. Anthony also enjoys watching football.


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