Image of document version history in Microsoft 365.

Keep Track of Changes to Documents Using Version History in Microsoft 365

Josh Logozar
Josh Logozar
August 12, 2021

Version history is one of the more powerful tools in your document managing repertoire. Let’s take a look at how we can use it to save our butt if we goof.

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Versioning is an amazing tool that can be used in your day-to-day document management. Versioning can allow you to roll back if you have made a mistake on a document, or track changes that have been made to said documentation. Version history has saved me a few times when I have made changes to documents that either I didn’t want to, or shouldn’t have made changes to. Today, we are going to touch base on the difference between major and minor, and how you can access your version history on a document that is stored in OneDrive or SharePoint.

Accessing Version History

To access the version history of your document, you need to find the document in question, right-click (or click on the “…”) and select “Version history.”

Image of a the 'Version History' link under a document's dropdown menu in SharePoint.
Access a document's Version History through its dropdown menu.

Once you are in there, you will get a pop up that will look like this:

Image of the version history of a document saved in SharePoint.

This will show you all of the version history, who edited it, and if there are any version comments that have been left. To see the version, click on the date, and it will open Word, and allow you to see the version at that time.

Major vs Minor

There are two pieces when it comes to versioning, a major version, and a minor (or draft version). By default, depending on your library, major versioning will be turned on, and minor will be turned off. Major versions are number sequentially when you have made a change to your document (as you see above).

You cannot control when or how they are created, they are created every time you make a change to your document while your auto-save is on. When you are editing in the browser version, versions are always created as your changes are always auto-saved.

Minor versions of your document are created between the major versions and are represented by a decimal number (i.e. 2.1 would be the minor version of 2.0). Companies would use minor versions when files are under development, and the major file is when they hit a benchmark so the file can be used by a wide audience.

Restoring a Version

If you have made a mistake, changed a document you shouldn’t have, it is very easy to restore the document to its previous state. Simply go back into your versioning history, find the version that you are looking for, click the arrow beside it, and hit restore. You will get a pop-up that states “You are about to replace the current version with the selected version”. If you are sure this is the version that you want, click “Okay”, and the file will roll back to that version.

Note: It will restore it as the current major version. It will not replace or overwrite the current version, meaning that you won’t lose anything.
Image of restoring a document's previous version in SharePoint.
You can find and restore a document's previous version within the 'Version History' pop-up window.

Turn On Versioning

Note: Requires “edit” privileges or higher on the document library.

Now, if you don’t have versioning turned on, touch base with your admin as to why you do not have it enabled. To turn on major and minor versioning, you are going to start by clicking on the gear in the top right, and selecting “Library settings”.

Image of Library Settings link in SharePoint.

From here, you will then select your “Versioning settings”.

Image of Versioning Settings in SharePoint.

From here, you are going to get a large list of settings. The main one that we are going to focus on is the “Document Version History”. Here you will see the option of “Create major versions” and “Create major and minor (draft) versions”. You can also set the number of versions that you want to create before you begin overwriting. You can have anywhere between 100 and 50000 versions of your document.

Image of the Document Version History Settings in SharePoint.
You can define how many previous versions you want to keep.

Versioning for Custom Lists

Almost everything that we have spoken about above can also be done with custom lists. The only thing that cannot be done is minor versioning. The only difference that you are going to come across is that instead of “Library settings”, you will go to “List settings”.

Image of the List Settings link for custom lists.

Versioning is turned on by default, but if for some reason it has been turned off, simply change the “Item Version History” option to yes and decide how many versions you want. Default is 50, and the maximum is 50000.

Image of the Item Version History settings for custom lists.

Versioning in Desktop Applications

You can also quickly and easily access your versioning in the desktop applications. To find your file versioning, click on “File”, then “Info”, and then click into “Version history”.

Image of Version History in Microsoft Word.
A document's Version History is also accessible within desktop applications.

You will then get a list of all the versions, and be able to open them and open the version that you are looking for. It will open in a new window, and not change anything that you are currently working on. It is a nice quick alternative to opening it from your library.

Image of a document's Version History when view in Microsoft Word Desktop App.

Keep Track of Your Documents

As you can see, versioning can save your bacon in more ways than one, whether it be deleting the contents of a document, making changes that you had no intention of making, or even just not liking what you changed. Rolling back is as easy as a few clicks.

If you have any other questions on how versioning works, here is the Microsoft documentation, but if you have more questions, or want it explained differently, reach out to us, and we will talk through it with you.

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