File Versioning Best Practices for Windows

In the modern enterprise, employees across teams and throughout departments handle dozens of files on a daily basis. From copywriters and paralegals to developers and team leaders, everyone has a role to play in the lifecycle of documents, files, and other proprietary information. Thus, as workflows rely more and more on digital processes, it’s important that organizations have the right applications in place to coordinate the way these files are managed, saved, and shared.

Too often, however, individual employees and their teams use ad hoc file naming methods that make things all too confusing. For example, if a team is working on an important proposal and distributing it among stakeholders for comments and edits, a file may start as “Final Project Proposal” and end up with multiple versions floating around with names like “Final Project Proposal—Final,” “Final Project Proposal—Complete Edits,” and “Final Project Proposal—Manager Comments.”

In this situation, it can be challenging for everyone involved in the process to know which one is the most recent, operable file. For teams across many different industries—from litigation firms working on important court filings to large corporations finalizing org charts—the risk of working off of the wrong file can be dire. Accordingly, investing in systems that streamline file management is a serious value-add.

What’s more, these systems can even benefit organizations’ cybersecurity and backup operations. For instance, if an organization experiences widespread data loss, programs that handle file management and back up information regularly can quickly restore lost information. Such programs can also help reduce threat from hackers.

This is where file versioning comes into play. By storing multiple versions of files with systems that standardize file management, whether in the cloud or on premises, it’s possible to streamline workflows and keep information safe.

What does file versioning mean?

In short, file versioning refers to the digital practice of storing more than one version of a file simultaneously. This can be done any number of ways, but the overall goal is to provide access to previous iterations of important documents, design files, and more, for a number of potential scenarios.

For example, file versioning can be useful if multiple people on a team need to take turns editing a file. Instead of passing around several versions of the same document, changing its name every time someone makes a round of edits and making it difficult to trace who made what changes, file versioning simplifies the process. With file versioning software in place, teams can preserve previous instances of files for reference, meaning that users can make edits without permanently altering documents.

As previously mentioned, file versioning can play an integral role in an organizations’ backup and cybersecurity strategy. Because these applications regularly store previous iterations of documents—and often do so off-site through cloud technology—your clients’ information can be protected if their systems suffer critical malfunctions. In the event of a natural disaster, this can help them get things back up and running with files as they existed before the crash.

Additionally, file versioning can help enterprises evade the worst effects of ransomware. During ransomware attacks, cybercriminals hold your information hostage until you provide payment in order to get it back—although there’s no guarantee that’ll happen. With file versioning software, you can restore files to their state prior to any encryption from bad actors, allowing you to circumvent their demands.

How does file versioning work?

File versioning works by saving documents and other designated information whenever a change is made, at regular intervals set by you, your clients, or both. With the former model, files are saved whenever users make changes, thus creating a new iteration of the document. In the latter case, every time file versioning applications hit a timed checkpoint, versions of files are stored to the cloud or to on-site storage facilities.

Users can then access these stored versions for a set period. Some services allow teams to access every iteration of a stored file, while others only do so for a limited time—typically 30 days. Because file versioning can result in large amounts of data, it’s up to organizations to work with providers to understand how their needs fit with application offerings. For example, in order to avoid running up unnecessarily large storage fees on cloud platforms, it’s possible to restrict the number of changes or versions that can be made or created per minute or per hour.

Ultimately, the precise mechanism behind file versioning will depend on the exact application that your clients invest in. For example, the archiving and versioning functionalities with SolarWinds® Backup leverage sophisticated cloud computing technology to store important information and preserve points in time (recovery points) for key data. This goes for files as well as folders, applications, and even complete servers or workstations.

SolarWinds Backup offers other benefits as well. With comprehensive platform support, the platform can work with Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, VMware, and Hyper-V. It can even archive application data from Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, Exchange, and SharePoint. Saved information is securely encrypted with keys that can be automatically generated or created so only authorized users have access to certain files. For clients who need to be able to keep files beyond set retention periods, SolarWinds Backup makes it possible to create custom archive schedules as needed.

What is version history and version control?

Version history and version control refer to the specific aspect of file versioning that organizes files based on edits made by different users. Under this model, whenever someone checks out a document and makes changes, a new version is created, saved, and labeled in such a way that makes clear that it’s the most recent, operable file available. For teams that regularly deal with dozens of documents at once and have to coordinate feedback from multiple sources, this feature is an important value-add in any file versioning software.

With version history and version control, files are locked when a user checks them out. This means team members can work in documents confidently, knowing that the original material they’re working off won’t be pulled out from under them by another user. When they check the document back in, file versioning platforms will register the changes, update the library accordingly, and make the new document available for review and editing for the next user.

A key feature of version history and version control functionalities is that changes made by users and new versions saved as a result of those changes are automatically linked to a specific person. This can be helpful in a number of ways. For starters, if team members have questions about certain edits made to a document, they can see who made them and reach out as needed. If users need to know who has a document checked out at the moment for whatever reason, they can also check for reference. Additionally, if inappropriate changes are made to a file, supervisors can see who made them and follow up accordingly and discreetly.

With version history and version control, organizations can make file management organized and cohesive. Team members can be sure they’re working off the most relevant version of a document, collaborate more confidently knowing their changes will be preserved and appropriately logged, and be aware of a level of accountability built into the process.

What are Microsoft Windows file versioning best practices?

If you’re looking for a file versioning application that works with Microsoft Windows, you and your clients will need to understand related file versioning best practices. Third-party products can bolster your file versioning capabilities, but Windows does have some limited file versioning features built in, and for users who use those capabilities, these are some basic versioning best practices to make that system easier to use:

  • Make sure date and time are accurate across all devices, to ensure a realistic timestamp on shared files.
  • Typically, only a limited number of users can access a document at once. Be sure that users know to “check in” documents when they’re done using them, to allow others to access and edit the file.
  • Users should leave comments in documents as needed, to help additional readers quickly view, understand, and approve changes.
  • Be aware that restoring an earlier version may overwrite more recent changes.

In addition, you can use Windows’s version-information resources to learn about the specific version number of a file, the operating system it’s compatible with, and its original name. Certain requests will yield insights into this kind of version information, including the organization of data in certain files, API references, and more.

This information can be helpful if you’re trying to restore information after widespread data loss, or if you’re reviewing unencrypted files after a ransomware cyberattack. If your clients find themselves in that situation, it’s helpful to read up on Windows file versioning rules. They govern how file installation processes function if you’re dealing with multiple versions of the same file. For instance, a versioned file—that is, one that’s been edited or amended in some way—will get installed over a nonversioned file.