Google Drive: How to use document version history

Google Drive: How to use document version history

If you’re a power user of Google Docs, there’s one feature you really need to start using, one that could help you in ways you never imagined possible.

This feature is called Version History. What this tool does is keep a log of each version of a file that has been saved in your Google Docs cloud account.

What can this feature do for you? For example, suppose you open a very important document you worked on and, for whatever reason, everything went wrong. Either the formatting is lost, the data is gone or everything is confused. It’s a rare occasion for this to happen, but if you’re collaborating on a document with another person, you no longer have 100% control of what happens to that document, which means things can happen.

Should such a tragedy occur, all is not lost. You can switch to the versioning tool and go back to a previous iteration of the file. This tool is free with your Google account and does not require the installation of third party add-ons. It is also incredibly easy to use.

Let’s see how it works.

How to access Google Docs version history

The first thing to do is to open a document in Google Docs. Once the document is open, click File | Version history | See the version history. This will change Doc’s interface from the standard edit window to the version history, which is clearly indicated by the right sidebar of the version history.

Google Docs history

As you can see, at the top of my list, I have a named version. By default, all versions are named with a timestamp. It’s fine if you just want to restore one version of a document via timestamp. To do this, simply click on the date you want to use and that version will open. Don’t worry, opening a previous version does not lose the later versions. When you click on a version, you’re only viewing it, so it’s not open for editing.

If you find the version of the file you want to restore, click Restore this version.

After clicking the Reset button, you will be prompted to accept the reset. Once this is done, you will return to the standard Google Docs editing window, where you can get back to work. When you restore a previous version, not lose all versions after that date and time; the newly restored version becomes only the most recent in history.

This can be confusing. How do you solve such a problem?

How to name a version

One thing I’ve found that helps enormously, especially in longer documents, is naming my versions. For example, you can name versions with milestones (such as chapters, plot points, collaborators, specific changes, etc.). There are two ways to name a version, the simplest can be done from the Google Docs editing window. While working on a document, click File | Version history | Current version name. In the resulting pop-up, name the version and click Save.


The next method to name a version is from the Version History window. In the version sidebar, locate the version you want to name, click the associated menu button (three vertical dots) and click Name this version from the drop-down menu.

Naming a version of a Google Doc makes it much easier to find the version you want. To that end, I highly recommend that you start using the naming feature, even if only to make your life a little more efficient with the Version History tool.

And that’s all it takes to use Google Docs version history. This is a very easy tool to use and is one that can really save your skin, should things go wrong with a document. This tool has been very useful to me on numerous occasions over the years. Make it part of your Google Docs workflow. You may not need it, but if you do, you will be very glad it is there.

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