It is wonderful how services like Google Sheets make it easy for teams to collaborate on single spreadsheet files. Gone are the days when one had to spam the Save button on their offline spreadsheet app and hope their inputs and formulas weren’t messed up along the way as the files were passed along. What exactly changed? The introduction of automatic saving and Version history.
What is a File’s Version History?
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides have a feature called Version History that allows users to revisit older versions of a document. As you work on your document, Google automatically saves copies of your documents called versions. Your older edits reside on these backups from where you can start over when things go wrong or when you are branching off to a different project.
This can save you a lot of time when auditing your data and revising your information. If you or someone in the team makes an error like deleting important tables, you can go back and recover lost data so you don’t have to start back from scratch.
Conditions to View Google Sheets File History
If you’re wondering why you cannot see a document’s file history, there could be a couple of conditions that have to be met.
First, to be able to see historical versions of a Google Sheets file, you need proper access. If you created the file yourself, you are the Owner and you can view the file’s history. If the document has been shared with you, you need to have at least the Editor access permission.
You will not be able to see the file history if you only have Viewer or Commenter access on shared files. Also, if the file is a new copy, say, when duplicated using the Make a copy function, it will not carry over the history of the original file. Instead, subsequent edits to a copy will start a new version history beginning from the state you acquired it.
With these requirements in mind, you may have to request Editor access from the file Owner or from other Editors who are able to grant access.
You also need to use the full web version of Google Sheets to view version history as this is not possible on mobile apps as of writing.
How to Access Google Sheets File Version History
Now that the requirements are out of the way, we’ll show you how to view the version history of your Google Sheets document. There are three main ways you can visit your version history library.
Step 1. Navigate to Version history. Go to File > Version history > See version history. Again, if this comes up empty or if you couldn’t find older edits, check out the previous section entitled Conditions to View Google Sheets File Version History.
Step 2: Click on See version history to view older edits sorted by date and time.
Alternatively, here is the faster Method #2
At the top of your workspace, there should be a Last edit was… button which can take you directly to your version history.
Note: If the Last edit button isn’t showing, make sure your menus aren’t hidden. You can toggle it on and off by clicking on the rightmost arrow button as shown on the image below.
You can also use the hotkey Ctrl+Shift+F to toggle your menu bar.
Reviewing the Version History in Google Sheets
Once you’ve accessed Version history, you should be greeted by the chronologically-ordered library of the backups that Google automatically saved for you. On files that are frequently edited and files that have many active collaborators, expect to find more versions down to the minutes or seconds. On younger and smaller spreadsheets, you will naturally have less versions to come back from. For new copies of an existing document, you start with no history at all.
In this section, we’ll show you how to review changes that were made to a document during a historical version backup.
View Specific Edits on Older Versions of Google Sheets Files
Step 1: To view the list of available versions, toggle the arrow beside a version. By default your history is organized into groups of versions and are automatically generated by date and time. If you need to find a specific version, you can expand or collapse these groups to view even more granular snapshots of your file history.
Step 2: View edits by moving over to the Total edits section’s up and down arrows. If you’re viewing edits on a group, the arrows will show you major changes within that time period. If you opt to expand a group, you’ll find versions created over minutes or mere seconds which represent very precise changes. As good initial practice, explore groups first before deciding to move on to more granular versions.
Step 3: Make sure Show Changes is toggled. When you’re hunting down specific versions, make sure the Show changes toggle is marked with a check.
By toggling this option, your Version history previews will highlight sections that have been edited on a version representing a specific point of time.
[Optional] Step 4: Rename a version to easily return to it later. Hover over the version and you’ll see a three-dot icon representing More actions. Click on it and Rename.
Tip #1: Give it a descriptive name so you don’t get lost and you don’t waste time reviewing files over and over.
Tip #2: Revisit ‘Named versions’ by going to the Version history dropdown and selecting Named versions. Think of it as your bookmarks!
If you again wish to view all including unnamed versions, simply use the dropdown and revert to All versions.
Tip #3: If you want to discontinue a custom file name you’ve assigned and reuse the timestamp as the file name, you can click Remove name on the same three-dots menu. This also removes the item from the Named versions filter so that section may remain as clean as you like.
Conclusion on How to View File History in Google Sheets
Being able to revisit old snapshots of your Google Sheets files allows you and your team to easily jump back to important edits, restart from older versions, and account for your data handling processes.
To recap the fastest method, all you need to do is open up your Sheets file, click on the Last edited button on your menu bar, and view the library of versions generated by that specific file. From there, you can restore older versions, make copies based on them, and review when and where in the document the edits happened.
All these backups happen in the background without having to spam the Save button like we did in the olden days of offline spreadsheet editing. This can be a time saver and even a life saver.
Saving More Productive Time Using a Free Google Sheets Add-on
FileDrop is a powerful Google Sheets and Docs add-on that allows you to drag and drop files into spreadsheet cells with automatic linking and adds them to your Google Drive. It also has great time-saving features like PDF to Text, Image to Text, and managing your attached files using the built-in File Library. Install FileDrop for free using this link.
Learn more by visiting FileDrop.