Shadow Copies of Shared Folders (Part 2)

In the first part of Shadow Copies of Shared Folders we learned what shadow copies are and how they can be enabled on a server volume. To recap, we have setup a drive that contains users’ redirected My Documents folders (E: in this example), have configured SCSF to make a shadow copy at 7:00 AM and 12:00 PM, and configured SCSF to store shadow copies on an alternative drive (F: in this example). In part two we are going to see how to restore a previous version of a file and how to restore a deleted file from a shadow copy. We will also look at how client software can be installed on previous versions of Windows to enable access of shadow copies from client workstations.

To save some time I have created a file named Important.doc in my My Documents folder and then made three modifications to the file, taking a manual shadow copy after each update. Although the updates in these screen shots will be only a few minutes apart, the operation of SCSF will be exactly the same if the updates were only taken twice a day.

Let’s start out with the most simplistic example – restoring a previous version of a file on the server itself (i.e. from the server console). To start you must navigate to the shared folder using a UNC path, mapped drive, or another method that accesses the shared folder. Note that you must access the files through the share – if you access the files directly from the server’s hard drive you will not see the “Previous Versions” tab in the following steps.

Right click the file in Windows Explorer, select properties, and then select the “Previous Versions” tab.

The buttons on the tab are self explanatory:

View – Allows you to view a copy of the file at the selected date/time

Copy – Allows you to copy the file at the selected date/time to a new location

Restore – Allows you to restore the file at the selected date/time over the current file

Let’s restore the copy from 10:29 which looks like:

When you click Restore you will be prompted to confirm the choice:

As you can see the Date Modified on our file now shows the time that the file was last modified when the 10:29 PM shadow copy was made. Cool, eh?

While being able to restore a file that still exists to a previous version is very useful, what about if the file has been deleted? There would be no file to right click, so how can you access the restore tab in order to restore the file? Simple, right click the shared folder, or a folder inside of the shared folder and open its properties. You will find the same Previous Versions tab in folder properties that appears in file properties. You can then click the View button to see what the folder looked like (i.e. the files and other folders it contained) at the selected point in time. From there you can copy and paste the file(s) you want to restore from the previous version of the folder to the “real” folder. You can also use the Copy and Restore buttons on the Previous Versions tab to Copy/Restore the entire folder all at once – there is no need to go file by file.

For example, let’s say it is 11:00 PM and I just deleted Important.doc by accident (and yes, I used Shift + Delete so it’s not in the Recycling Bin). To get my file back I can right click the maubert folder, select the Previous Versions tab, choose a previous version of the folder (10:52 PM in this example), and click View:

(Note the date the Shadow Copy was made in the title and address bars.)

I can now copy and paste this file back to the folder, to a new location, or I can open and view the file directly from the previous version of the folder. One thing to note is when restoring an entire folder (i.e. using the “Restore” button on the Previous Versions tab) any files that were added after the Shadow Copy you are restoring was made are not removed. For Example, let’s say there is one file in a shared folder called fileA which I have several previous versions of. I then create a new file in the same shared folder called fileB that was added after the Shadow Copies that include fileA were made. If I then restore a previous copy of the folder that contains an older version of fileA, but does not contain fileB, fileA will be overwritten with the older copy and fileB will be left alone. Continuing with this example, let’s say several more Shadow Copies are taken that now include fileA and fileB. While newer Shadow Copies contain both files, there are still older Shadow Copies that only contain fileA. Again, if I restore the folder from one of the older Shadow Copies that contains only fileA, fileA will be replaced with an older copy, but fileB will still be left untouched. On the other hand, if I restore the folder from a Shadow Copy that contains fileA and fileB, both files will be replaced with previous versions. If all of that is confusing think of restoring a folder as a copy and paste operation from the previous version of the folder to the current version of the folder and saying “yes” to overwriting existing files – the same rules apply as a typical copy/paste operation.