TIP:: Recover Lost Excel Data with Version History

About this lesson

Tutorial Summary

Excel operates multiple versions of a single spreadsheet automatically through a feature called Version History.

In this tutorial, we demonstrate how to recover accidentally deleted sheets using Version History.

By clicking on the file name, you can access a list of previously saved versions, allowing you to restore lost data. However, this feature is only available if your file is saved on a Microsoft cloud service like OneDrive or SharePoint. It doesn’t work for files saved locally. Version History is a lifesaver when you need to recover important data, even if some updates made between versions may be lost.

The multiverse of versions is stored within a single file, making it easy to browse and restore previous versions. Though Version History helps prevent data loss, it has limitations, such as infrequent saves and a lack of detailed change documentation. To mitigate these issues, regular saving is crucial. For more precise tracking of changes, consider using the Show Changes feature. This tutorial is an essential guide for understanding and utilizing Version History to avoid data disasters and efficiently manage your Excel files.


Questions Answered (with video time stamps)

00:19 What is Excel’s Version History tool?
01:36 How to access Excel’s Version History Tool
02:46 Why Can’t I Edit after recalling a version history?
03:03 What happens if I use the RESTORE Option in Excel Version History?
03:41 What are the requirements for using Version History in Excel?
03:56 How to Enable Version History in Excel?
04:11 Why Did Version History Disappear?


00:19 Preview of Version History
01:36 Spoiler: THE TOOL
02:22 Caution of Lost Gap Data
02:46 Why Can’t I Edit?
03:03 The RESTORE Option
03:41 Version History Requirements
03:56 How to Enable Version History
04:11 Why Did Version History Disappear?
04:30 Where Are the Versions Stored?
04:43 Detailed Walk Through
06:09 When Do Versions Get Created?
06:47 Multiple Read-Only Versions at Once
09:29 Reveal Where Changes Happened
10:05 The Two Problems of Version History
10:41 Preview of Show Change Tool


Subject Microsoft Excel

Software Compatibility Office 365


Course Completed

PDF Files There are not any files associated with this lesson.



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Excel Version History Transcript

The Excel Multiverse

Really? Isn’t that just a YouTube clickbait video title?

No. Excel does have many multiverses of a single spreadsheet . . .all automatically happening without your knowledge.

Microsoft calls it VERSION HISTORY.


Here is a moderate-sized spreadsheet with multiple sheets in this one Excel file.

I am on the BUDGET tab called “Numbers,” and I observe another tab called “LOTS OF NUMBERS” and I think . . “oh that is a duplicate sheet.”

HINT: No, it is very different! Back to “Stupid Me”. . I am going to delete that QUOTE duplicate UnQuote sheet.

Good . . it is gone now.

I will go to the other budget duplicated sheet . . . oh no! It was not a duplicate!

That’s OK, that’s OK, I can just use the Excel undo.

Oh NO NO NO. Excel has no UNDO for the action of Delete Sheet.

I am doomed.

Wait, did not Power Up Training, me, just do a tutorial of the Excel magic SHOW CHANGES feature?

Oh yeah, there is the record of the deleted sheet called Numbers. But oh, the horror. It only notes the action of delete, but nothing else.

I am lost.

Unless, unless I can go into the multiverse of VERSION HISTORY.

I will click on the file name at the top and see the lifeline of VERSION HISTORY.


And on the right side of my screen is a list of previously saved versions of this one Excel file. The Excel Multiverse for this one workbook!

If I click on the most recent current version, we do see the missing tab of numbers is still missing.

But click on the earlier version from about 45 minutes ago, and hallelujah, the NUMBERS sheet is back, baby!!!!

Don’t get overly excited.

Any updates done in that 45-minute window between versions may be lost, and you will need to recreate the work.

However, the core issue of recovering the full sheet tab may warrant that inconvenience.

Better to get back much of the data as opposed to losing it all.

Pay close attention to the version displayed. It is not Usable.



See all the grayed-out commands? No edits can be done here.

So I have two choices, I could click RESTORE and make it the main active spreadsheet to replace the broken sheet.

Or my preferred method. Go to FILE and SAVE AS with a different name just in case I want to compare the two sheets to pick up any differences from the last 45 minutes. And yes, there are now two files. Do not get them confused.

Hi, this is Les from Power Up Training and let’s dig deeper to understand how and when Version History works and when it may fail.

VERSION HISTORY is a feature for both Apple macOS and Windows versions of Excel, BUT ONLY IF you are saving on a Microsoft cloud service such as OneDrive or SharePoint. That is the key.

If stored on Microsoft’s cloud, then there is NO requirement to turn the feature on. It is automatically enabled. Which means that all your older work on OneDrive already has this feature working behind the scenes.

WARNING #1: if you save to a local drive, the whole multiverse of history becomes LOST. Apparently, the multiverse exists in the bits of 1s and 0s in the paid Microsoft storage systems for the versions to be tracked and stored.

As you see, the multiverse versions are saved INSIDE the one file, they are not separate files. Just Microsoft cloud magic.

Now I will start fresh for us to best understand how VERSION HISTORY operates.

Here is a blank new spreadsheet. I will add a title in cell A1.

Click on the file name of BOOK2 and  . . . I no longer see the VERSION HISTORY option that was there before.

The reason? I have yet to save the file on our Microsoft Cloud OneDrive.

So I give it a name. Save it, on my paid OneDrive.

Now, if I click the name at the top of the Window.

YEA, VERSION HISTORY command is now listed.

But when I go into it, there is only ONE version, the CURRENT VERSION.

That is because we just turned it on, so there is nothing to revert back to. Only the one version that is in front of us.

So I will put in some data, but look, once I click a version, we go into READ ONLY mode with all the commands grayed out.

So, to get back to editing, I will close out this visible version and go back to my active sheet.

I will add some data. Widget 1 . . . magic mouse right click drag and autofill with incremented counts.

Add in a January heading then again magic mouse right click drag to autofill the dates.

Great. Let’s go look at VERSION HISTORY. And . . . .

Oh no. This is only the original version of the file, and this is where it gets fuzzy.

When do versions get created?

Let me close down the READ ONLY version and go over to the SAVE action icon.

Excel is doing Autosaves, whenever it wants or at least is seems like that, but I just forced a save. And now back to VERSION HISTORY.

There is now a second version.

I can toggle between the two. To be more precise, not toggle, but preview each version.

Neither version is active, until I SAVE it.

As always, when previewing the versions, they are always in READ ONLY, with the active current one hidden below.

With a CLICK TO CLOSE from becoming active and continue editing.

Let’s carry on with the active file.

I will add in a second sheet and rename it so.

I will also add in some text in A1.

And without saving, go back to VERSION HISTORY to see that there has yet to be a new version added.

Let me go into some dangerous waters by electing to DELETE the sheet 1 with the widgets without saving.

Microsoft warns it is permanent. But is it?

Excel is not joking about the dangers of deleting a sheet.

Undo won’t bring it back.

For cell content deletes, Yes with Undo.

Sheet deletes NO.

If I go to VERSION HISTORY, we find that it does not capture every little change—or, in our case, every big change.  Regular saving must be done.

So, is this feature even useful?

Yes, if you take the LONG VIEW.

It will show its true value. And can be a lifesaver when you think all is lost.

Hey, if you found this video in a panic and VERSION HISTORY provided the solution, leave a comment below. Plus give me a thumbs up!

To see how this works in larger spreadsheet, let’s use one that has evolved over several days.

It is these types of more elaborate spreadsheets modified over a longer time span—not just for a few minutes—that will reveal more elaborate saved versions.

Here is one, over four days of work, with many edits, I have 19 different points in time for this specific spreadsheet multiverse.

It is super easy to click and browse each version. And remember that each click is browsing older versions, not replacing our existing live version.

That only happens if you click RESTORE, which will replace the live version. Or as I suggested before, do a SAVE AS to bring it back as a secondary file to work with.

Diving deeper in one of the versions, look closely.

You can see that in each version history, there is a list of the number of edits tied to each version.

As I click the Show Edits arrows, I can see where the individual changes took place.

1 of 9. 2 of 9. 3 of 9.

Not sure what changed, but only the location ofwhere the change happened. In my view, not ideal. I would prefer to see what the previous edit was, but better than nothing.

Is VERSION HISTORY a guaranteed perfect recovery tool?


I see two gaps: 1) the fuzzy algorithm of when to save and 2) the lack of documentation of each change made at each step.

However, in a disaster of lost data, Version History can help prevent a catastrophe.

That is a BIG DEAL!

And for my second complaint about the lack of change documentation, consider looking at my Tutorial on SHOW CHANGES, which can rewind cell-by-cell changes to recover small bits of critical data. This is a real eye-opener that you most likely didn’t know existed.

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Until next time, Go Power Up.