Google Sheets Version Recovery and Cell Edit History

How many times have you been working in a spreadsheet and thought to yourself, “Let me try this idea to see what happens.”

All seems well until you discover a few hours later that downstream data or calculations have failed because of that action a few days ago.

You need to put everything back the way it was, but the UNDO feature won’t go back far enough.

No problem; I’ll just close the file without saving.

Oh, NOOOOOOOOO!  Google Sheets saved my mistake.  In fact, it saves EVERYTHING instantly.

If you failed to make a backup copy of the file, what options do you have to regain your sanity?

Sheets has two ways to restore earlier versions of files when issues like this arise: Version Recovery and Cell Edit History.  Let’s see how these work.

It is not uncommon to want to experiment with a tactic when solving a problem.  The problem with this experimentation is that Google Sheets automatically saves every action, step, and procedure.

If you make a mess of your sheet, you’ve unwittingly saved the mess.

With traditional applications, nothing is saved until the user invokes a save operation.  It is easy enough to just close the file without saving, reopen the file, then start over from the beginning with a new tactic.

With Google Sheets, we are always stuck in the moment.

One strategy is to save the file with a different name before we start experimenting.  But as human beings are wanting to do, we don’t always remember to do this until it’s too late.

Version History Feature

To revert to an earlier version of a file, select File à Version History à See Version History.

You will be presented with the entry for the file’s initial creation along with a listing of the various save points (you may need to click the small arrowhead next to the date to reveal the save points list.)

When you select an entry from the list, all cells that were altered for that savepoint are highlighted in green.

NOTE:  If you are not seeing highlighted changes, check the option at the bottom labeled “Show Changes”.

Restoring a Previous Version

To restore a previous version, select the desired save point then click the “Restore This Version” button in the upper-left of the window.

Naming Versions

To help keep track of which version contains which modifications, you can give the versions more descriptive names.

To rename a version, select the More Actions (vertical ellipse) button and click Rename.

If you are naming versions based on significant modification points, you can elect to only display those versions that have custom names.  This will reduce the number of versions you need to view when examining your version history.

Examining a Cell’s Edit History

Histories are not limited to entire sheets; you can “go back in time” to view the changes made to a specific cell.

To do this, right-click on a cell and select Show Edit History.

Using the ß à arrowheads, browse through the version history to see all the modifications made to that cell.

Although you can’t restore a specific cell to an older save point, it is useful to see what changes were made, when those changes were made, and by whom when collaborating with others.

NOTE:  Certain types of edits are not reflected in the history.  These include:

  • Adding or removing rows and/or columns
  • Changes to a cell’s formatting
  • Changes to a cell made by a formula



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