Is it possible to recover a previous version of an Excel document?

Quick Answer

Yes, it is possible to recover a previous version of an Excel document in many cases. The main methods are using Excel’s AutoRecover and AutoSave features, restoring from a backup, using version history if the file is stored in OneDrive or SharePoint, and using third party recovery software.

What are the main ways to recover a previous version of an Excel file?

There are several potential ways to recover an older version of an Excel file:

  • Use Excel’s AutoRecover feature – Excel automatically saves versions of a file you have open as you work at set intervals. You may be able to restore a previous auto-saved version from the Recover Unsaved Workbooks section of the Open dialog box in Excel.
  • Use Excel’s AutoSave feature (if enabled) – Excel can automatically save your open workbook to OneDrive or SharePoint at set intervals. You may be able to restore an older auto-saved version from one of these locations.
  • Restore from a backup – If you have backups of your Excel files (e.g. Time Machine on Mac or File History on Windows), you may be able to restore an older version of the file from a backup.
  • Version history in OneDrive or SharePoint – If the Excel file is saved to OneDrive or SharePoint, previous versions are automatically saved over time. You can browse through the version history and restore an older version.
  • Use third party software – Specialized third party tools exist that can scan your computer’s storage and recover unsaved or older versions of Excel documents, if available.

The availability of older versions depends on factors like whether the file was saved, what settings are enabled in Excel, and whether you have backups or version history available. But in many cases restoring an earlier version is possible.

How does Excel’s AutoRecover work?

Excel’s AutoRecover feature automatically saves your workbooks while you’re working on them. It works in the background to store periodic snapshots as you edit the file.

Specifically, AutoRecover:

  • Saves backups of open Excel workbooks every 10 minutes by default.
  • The backup copies use a temporary file name like ~$Sales Report.xlsx and are usually stored in the same folder as the original file.
  • The backups are deleted when you close the workbook normally. But if there’s a crash, power outage, or other disruption, the temporary files remain.
  • The previous AutoRecover files can then be accessed via the Document Recovery pane when you restart Excel after a crash.

Some key points about Excel’s AutoRecover:

  • It is enabled by default but can be disabled in the Save options.
  • The exact save interval can be customized from 1 to 120 minutes.
  • It does not replace manually saving your workbooks. AutoRecover files are deleted unless there is an unexpected disruption.
  • It only retains the last auto-saved version since the workbook was opened.

So in summary, AutoRecover provides an automatic recovery option to restore Excel documents in the event of a crash, power loss, or force quit. But the standard Save feature is still the primary way to deliberately save your workbooks.

When does the AutoSave feature in Excel save versions?

Excel’s AutoSave feature is different from AutoRecover. When enabled, AutoSave automatically saves your Excel workbooks to OneDrive or SharePoint at set intervals as you work.

The key characteristics of AutoSave:

  • It saves your open workbooks to cloud storage like OneDrive or SharePoint.
  • The save interval can be set from every 5 minutes up to every hour.
  • AutoSave versions remain available in the cloud storage location until manually deleted.
  • It serves as an automatic backup as you work, not just a recovery option.

So unlike AutoRecover, the AutoSave backups are not deleted when you close the file. The older versions remain available in OneDrive or SharePoint:

  • They use the standard workbook name – not temporary file names.
  • You can view AutoSave history and restore an older version via OneDrive or SharePoint.
  • It provides an ongoing backup history of your Excel workbooks as you edit them.

However, AutoSave only works if you have OneDrive or SharePoint document library connectivity from Excel. It is off by default but can be enabled in the Save options.

So in summary, AutoSave can provide ongoing backup versions of your workbooks in the cloud as you work – not just temporary recoverability. But it requires OneDrive or SharePoint connectivity.

How to restore an earlier version from a OneDrive or SharePoint history

If an Excel workbook is saved to OneDrive or a SharePoint document library, you may be able to restore an earlier version from the file history:

  1. Open OneDrive or the SharePoint library where the file is stored.
  2. Locate the workbook and click the (…) icon next to it.
  3. Choose Version History from the menu.
  4. You will see a list of all saved versions with date/time stamps. Click on an older version to preview it.
  5. To restore that version, click Restore to overwrite the current version.

The detailed steps may vary slightly between OneDrive and SharePoint, but the general process is the same.

Some key points about version histories:

  • They are saved automatically as you work – no settings required.
  • The history may retain deleted files and let you restore them.
  • Version histories go back 30 days by default but can be extended.
  • You must have Office 365 or Microsoft 365 to get the full version history features.

So if the Excel file is stored in OneDrive or SharePoint, check the version history as an option to restore earlier versions from the cloud. Just be aware this will overwrite the current version of the workbook when restoring an older version.

What are the key capabilities of third party Excel recovery software?

Specialized third party tools exist that are designed to recover unsaved or older versions of Excel documents in various scenarios. Some key capabilities of third party Excel recovery software include:

  • Scanning storage devices – They can scan hard drives, external drives, and memory cards to find Excel documents that may have been deleted or unsaved.
  • Retrieving temporary and orphaned files – They can access Excel temporary files like those created by AutoRecover as well as orphaned files.
  • Repairing corrupted files – Some tools can repair corrupted Excel files to restore access to the contents.
  • Time slider – Some provide a “time slider” feature to browse through earlier versions of a file from a certain point in time.
  • Cloud storage access – Some tools can connect to cloud storage like OneDrive to check for older versions of files.

Key things to know when using third party recovery tools:

  • The more time that elapses, the lower the odds of successful recovery.
  • Results vary widely depending on the specific case.
  • Some tools work better than others depending on the situation.

In summary, third party recovery tools provide additional options to restore unsaved or earlier versions of Excel workbooks beyond built-in methods – but effectiveness varies.

What are some manual techniques to try recovering Excel file versions?

If automated recovery methods don’t work, there are some manual techniques you could try to recover older versions of an Excel file:

  • Browse temporary folders – Look in temp folders like `C:\Users\\AppData\Local\Temp` for temporary versions of the file.
  • Check the operating system Recycle Bin – Sometimes earlier versions get tossed here before complete deletion.
  • Use file search tools – Powerful search tools can scan for lost and deleted files not visible in File Explorer.
  • Manually restore from backup – If you have manual periodic backups, carefully restore versions one by one to find an older copy.
  • Search email attachments – If you emailed the file to someone, search your email for an older attached version.
  • Check SharePoint drafts – If stored on SharePoint, browse draft versions which sometimes hold old copies.
  • Contact collaborators – If you shared the file, ask collaborators if they have an older version in their storage or email.

These techniques are more time-consuming and less reliable than automated options. But in some cases manually hunting for earlier copies across devices provides a last resort option if all else fails.

What steps should be taken to make sure Excel file versions can be recovered?

To make sure you have the ability to recover older versions of important Excel workbooks in the future, you should:

  • Enable AutoSave to backup files to OneDrive or SharePoint as you work.
  • Manually save workbooks frequently and use descriptive names.
  • Maintain backups of critical files via cloud storage or external drives.
  • Enable version history in OneDrive or SharePoint to retain older copies.
  • When making major changes, use Save As to create new file versions.
  • Be cautious when deleting originals or saving over old files.
  • Store files in organized locations so you can find them easily.

The combination of deliberate backups, version histories, and descriptive file organization makes recovering previous workbooks versions much easier if the need arises in the future. Developing good file management habits takes some time but pays off in the long run.


Recovering unsaved or earlier versions of Excel documents is often possible using built-in tools like AutoSave/AutoRecover, OneDrive version histories, and manual backups. Third party software provides additional recovery options as well in some scenarios. But there are no guarantees – the likelihood of success depends on the specific circumstances. Using AutoSave, diligent manual saving, backups, and version histories provides failsafe measures to minimize situations where file recovery is needed in the first place. With the right habits and tools, recovering previous Excel documents is usually achievable.