macOS: Using “Restore a Copy”

2 minute read
| Quick Tip

A lot of the apps around your Mac—like Pages, Numbers, and Preview, for example—are actually tracing your steps. Not in a bad way, though! What I mean is that every time you choose File > Save or press Command-S when you’re working on a document, the app is saving a version of your file, which you can then revert to if you find you don’t like the changes you’ve made. But by default, reverting replaces the file you’re working on, which isn’t always the best thing, to say the least. Here’s how it works and what you can do instead!

So let’s pretend I’ve got this cool (?) circled mountain picture I’m working on in Preview.

Edited photo of a mountain in Preview we're about to revert to an earlier state

Most amazing demonstration file ever, right? Anyway, since I’ve saved this document several times, I can go back to the different save points by using the menu option File > Revert To.

Choose File, Revert To, Browse All Versions to see previous file states

With that, you can either choose the last opened version to restore if that choice is available, or you can select “Browse All Versions” as I’ve done, which’ll take you to a Time Machine–like interface and show you every available file version.

Click the Restore button to replace your current file with an earlier version

I’ve called out the “Restore” button there, but you’ll want to first search back through the versions by clicking through the windows on the top (highlighted in yellow in my screenshot above) or by using the arrows on the right-hand side. When you’re within that restore mode, there’s also a little bar on the right that’ll let you scroll by date and time and then navigate to that desired version by clicking there.

Use Dates and Times to select which earlier file version you want to restore

In any case, though, when you find what you want, clicking “Restore” will overwrite the existing file you’ve got open, as I mentioned, and it won’t warn you before that happens. It’s good to know that you can visit this restore mode again if you accidentally lose your existing file!

But if what you need to do is bring back a version without replacing your current one, you could just hold down the Option key within this view, and “Restore” will switch to “Restore a Copy.”

If you want to restore a file without overwriting the version you're using Option-click Restore to choose Restore a Copy

Pick that instead, and a new file will open, which you can then save if you wanna. Neat! It’s really nice to know we’ve got some failsafe options around macOS, isn’t it? I could use some more of those in real life, guys.

2 Comments Add a comment

  1. Graham McKay

    I know that this is a “quick tip” but as a deeper dive it’d be interesting to know where these versions are stored and how they are managed. eg. does macOS start deleting them when the drive they’re on is nearly full? Are there any tools for manually managing these hidden versions?

  2. Melissa Holt

    Hey Graham!

    Apple says that the versions are stored within the files themselves, and macOS does have a built-in way to delete them if you need to. I think how you can do that is an excellent idea for a tip, so thanks! (I’ll be sure to credit you when I write that up.)

    And as far as I know, your Mac won’t delete them to save space specifically, but considering that these “versions” aren’t full, separate copies of the files themselves but just records of which changes were made, the space they take up is generally not worth worrying about, I think. Back in the days of Lion, Apple used to say that the versions were weeded out periodically (https://support.apple.com/HT202255), but I don’t believe that to still be the case—I can still see hourly versions of files I created a year ago, for example.

    Hope that helps. And thanks again for the suggestion!
    Melissa

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