How to recover/restore an unsaved Excel file

In this tutorial, you will learn multiple methods to restore an unregistered Excel file and recover the previous version of a spreadsheet.

It often happens that we work on a very important Excel file and spend days to finish it and then, accidentally, the power is cut or a problem occurs in Excel. It’s frustrating! But don’t worry and don’t be embarrassed about it, because you can get your document back easily .

Another problem  we often encounter is when working on a spreadsheet , Sometimes, after hours of work, we realize that we that we had committed a mistake that we cannot correct by simply going back! Luckily, you can also fix this kind of problem and recover an old saved version of your workbook. Follow the tutorial for more details !

Table of contents

Recover Unregistered Files/Data:

Case 1 : Recover updated Excel files (previous version has been saved)

Case 2: Recover a new unregistered Excel file (that was never saved before)

Case 3: Recover a previously saved version of an overwritten Excel file

Precautions to enable easy recovery of unregistered files

Enable automatic registration and recovery

Create automatic  backup copy of a saved Excel file

Recover Unregistered Files/Data:

Microsoft Excel (and even windows) is highly unpredictable. It can crash at any time causing the loss of your workbooks . It’s a bad situation to be in, but there are effective ways to deal with that kind of problems.

Actually, Excel offers you good features such as automatic backup and automatic recovery. If these two options are enabled, it will not be a problem for you to recover unregistered files and restore previous versions in Excel 2016-2010. Before we show you how to use these two features, let’s first define what they mean:

  • Automatic save: is a tool that automatically saves each new document you have just created and that you have not yet saved. Thus, in case of computer failure or power failure, This prevents you from losing your important data.
  • Excel automatic recovery:  this tool helps you to recover unregistered files due to accidental shutdown or any other failure. When you start Excel next time, this tool shows you the latest saved version of your file in the “Document Recovery” pane, allowing you to restore it.
  • Below are three scenarios in which the built-in Excel checks can help you recover files/data:
  • When working on a new file (which you have not saved yet) your operating system or Excel crashes.
  • You have updated a file that was previously saved and Excel crashes before it can be saved.
  • After saving the changes, you realized you had made an error, and now you want to go back to the previous version.

Let’s see how to solve each of these problems :

We will first see how to recover updated Excel files where the previous version has been saved.

Case 1 : Recover updated Excel files (previous version has been saved)

You can use this method to recover files that you have previously saved and that after other Excel changes or the system has crashed or power went out.

So you still have the file previously saved, but you lost the changes you made. Here are the steps to recover the updated Excel file:

  1. Open an existing Excel workbook.
  1. As soon as it opens , you will see in the left corner a document recovery pane that displays all the unsaved  files:

  1. Click on the file name to load the data .
  2. When you get the desired data, save the recovered file under a different name .

Alternatively, you can also open the Excel application, and you will see the « Recover Unsaved Workbooks » option as shown below :

You can click on it and it will open the same document recovery pane.

Now we’re going to move to the case where the file was never saved before .

Case 2: Recover a new unregistered Excel file (that was never saved before)

Suppose you are working on a new document in Excel and the program crashes unexpectedly. Within seconds, you realize that you have not saved the workbook. Here are the steps to recover an unregistered Excel file:

  1. Open a new Excel workbook.
  2. Click on the « file» tab .
  3. Click on  « Open » :

  1. In the upper left corner, click on the « Recent » tab :

  1. Click on the « Recover unsaved workbooks» button at the bottom .

  1. When the  « Open» dialog box appears , simply select the required file and click on  « Open »  :

  1. The file will open in Excel and the program will ask you to save it . Save the file, using the «Save As» option , under a different name at the location of your choice .

By default, Excel saves a copy of all unregistered files to the following location :

C:\Users\[NomSystème] \AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\UnsavedFiles

In the above address, you must replace [SystemName] with the name of your system .
This method works because Excel has built-in automatic registration and automatic recovery functionality. Both options are enabled by default, so you should be able to use these methods to recover files. However, in case they are not enabled, you will need to do so in order to use this method . The procedure for enabling automatic registration and automatic recovery is explained later in this tutorial .

Case 3: Recover a previously saved version of an overwritten Excel file

Excel not only restores unregistered workbooks, but also restores previous versions of your workbook . This will be enormously helpful when you make a mistake that you cannot undo or when you want to see what the document looked like a few minutes earlier. Below are the steps to return to a previous version of your workbook (even when you have updated and saved it) :

  1. Click the « File » tab and then click on « Information» in the left pane of the window.
  2. Next to « Manage workbook» button , you will see all the automatically saved versions of your document .

As you can see it in the screenshot above, the name of each version has a date (today), a timing (15:50)           and the « (automatic recovery) » note. When you click on one of them, it opens with the most recent version of your workbook so you can compare them and see the changes .

  1. Click on the version you want to restore .
  2. When you open the desired file, you will get a message above your spreadsheet.  Simply click the  « Restore» button on the bar to return to the new unregistered version of the workbook :

  1. Save the restored file (preferably under a new name) .

Note that for this to work, you need to make sure that the automatic recovery option is enabled. Although it is usually enabled by default, it is something you can check and make sure of. We will explain how to enable “Automatic Recovery” in the next section.

Another method we strongly recommend is to back up your files to the cloud (OneDrive or Dropbox). This removes a lot of worry because cloud services keep previous versions of your files.

Note:  A note to keep in mind is that Excel deletes all previously saved (automatically) versions of a workbook when you close it. If you want to review the previous version, it is better to create a backup copy of your data.

Now we’re going to show you some precautions to take into account in order to do a save easy recovery of your files .

Precautions to enable easy recovery of unregistered files

Although Excel offers ways to recover your workbooks automatically, it is always recommended to ensure that these options are enabled .

  Enable automatic registration and recovery

To ensure that Excel automatically saves your files and displays recovery options, you must enable them by following the steps below:

  1. Access the « File» tab and choose « Options » in the left pane of the window.
  2. Click « save» in the left pane in the « Excel options dialog box ».
  3. Make sure that the options «Save automatic recovery information every X minutes» and «Keep the latest version recovered automatically if I close without saving » are checked :

Let’s quickly explain what each option means:

  • Save automatic recovery information every X minutes: this option tells Excel to save your files every 10 minutes or whatever time value you specify here. It’s 10 minutes by default, but you can reduce it further if you want .
  • Keep the latest version retrieved automatically if I close without saving: This will ensure that if your Excel or system crashes or a file is closed without saving, a version is saved so that it can be recovered automatically .
  • Auto recovery file location: This is the default location where files recovered automatically by Excel are saved. You can change that if you wish.

If you want to be safer in the event of any outage, you should reduce the time interval « Save automatic recovery information every X minutes » . The more frequently the document is saved, the more versions you have, the more chances there are of recovering all changes .

Now, when Excel is configured to automatically save and recover your workbooks, you can easily recover a file in case of a problem.

Create automatic  backup copy of a saved Excel file

Automatic Excel backup is a very useful feature that can help you recover a previously saved version of your workbook. You can always protect your work by saving a backup copy especially when you accidentally save changes you don’t want. Therefore, with this backup, you will have the information currently saved in the original workbook and all the information previously saved in the backup copy.

For example, if you are working on a file named « Example.xlsx »and saving it to a folder, it would automatically create a copy with the name - « backup of  Example.xlk ».

Now, every time you save the « Example », file, all changes are also saved in this backup copy. So, if your file crashes or gets corrupted, you will have the backup copy that will have the last saved content.

  1. Access the « File» tab and click on « Save under ».
  2. Click on  « Browse» button :

  1. When the « save as» dialog box appears, click on the small arrow next to the « tools » button at the bottom of the window.
  2. Select « General options…» from the drop down-list  :

  1. Check the « Create Backup Copy» box in the « General Options» :

  1. Click on « OK».
  2. You can now rename your file and choose the desired location to save it. Excel will create a backup copy of the document in the same folder.

Here are some important things you need to know about using this automatic backup feature in Excel:

  • This setting is enabled at the workbook level. This means that you must enable it for each workbook you want to have a backup copy of. It will only work for the workbook in which it is enabled. If you want it to work for other workbooks as well, you will need to activate it manually.
  • This option is different from automatic recovery and automatic registration options. These are independent parameters and the configuration of one has no impact on the other. Thus, you can have a workbook in which automatic recovery, automatic registration and automatic backup all work.
  • The backup file is saved with an extension . XLK and not .xlsx. When you try to open such a file, a prompt may be displayed telling you that the file format and extension do not match. Simply click on « Yes » and it will open the backup file.
  • The backup workbook is always a version behind your main workbook. For example, if you create a new workbook and enable the backup by following the steps above, then you make changes and save the file, it will save the new file as well as a backup copy of it. At this point, the two files (the main file and the backup) will be exactly the same. Now, if you make changes to the original file and save it once, it will not be saved in the backup file. But if you save it again, this will also be done in the backup file.

Conclusion :

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to retrieve unregistered workbooks. Searching for temporary files and using Excel’s automatic recovery features, are useful. And if you save in OneDrive, it may help you. But your best bet is to save as often as possible.