Windows Vista – Volume Shadow Copy

Windows Vista – Volume Shadow Copy

People laugh at me when I say: ‘however big the hard disk – I always manage to fill it’.  If you enable Vista’s Volume Shadow Copy, I guarantee that you will soon see your free disk space plummet.

Vista comes with a trilogy of disaster recovery techniques, Backup, Restore Points and of course, Volume Shadow Copy.  Imagine this situation: you are working with a spreadsheet, a PowerPoint Presentation, or even a report document, inexplicably you over-write a perfectly good file with gibberish or save a blank file.  Here is where Volume Shadow Copy comes into its own; you can recover a previous version thanks to vssvc.exe (Volume Shadow Service).

Topics for Volume Shadow Copy


Check the master VSS switch

To check that your Volume Shadow Service is active, visit the Control Panel.  From there navigate to the System Properties and click on the System Protection tab.  Examine the Available Disks and decide whether to leave the settings at their default, or whether to tick more drive letters.

System protection - Volume Shadow Copy

How to Recover a Previous Version of Your Document

This Previous Version recovery is wonderful technology.  It could not be easier. 

  1. Right-click the folder where the document is stored
  2. Click the Previous Version tab
  3. Now select the latest item under the Date modified column
  4. Finally click on the ‘Restore …’ button. 

In the unlikely event that this technique does not retrieve the document you wanted, return to the menu and select an older version.

Previous Version Recovery with Volume Shadow Service

Command Line – Investigate Volume Shadow Copy with vssadmin

One common scenario is that you wish to check, and then reduce, the disk space that Volume Shadow copy consumes.  By default, it appears that Vista allocates 15% of disk space to Volume Shadow copy.  However, in the case of small disks, the shadows will not consume more than 30% of the available free disk space.  Once this storage area is created, it does not dynamically shrink or grow, thus you need expertise with vssadmin if you want to reclaim some of the space held by Volume Shadow Copy.

Let us investigate the command line program vssadmin, and see what’s happening behind the scenes. The two crucial verbs are ‘List’ and ‘Resize’.  What I recommend is to launch a cmd prompt with *Administrative privileges, then try some of these commands:

vssadmin list shadows
vssadmin list shadowstorage
vssadmin list volumes
vssadmin list providers
vssadmin list writers

And also
vssadmin resize shadowstorage.   To set the storage on the e: drive to 12GB, the curious syntax would be:
vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=e: /on=e: /maxsize=12GB

* To gain Administrative privileges, right-click the program and select ‘Run As Administrator’.

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Registry Settings to Exclude Files From Volume Shadow Copy

It is possible, even desirable, to exclude certain file types from the Volume Shadow copies.  Temporary files are an obvious candidate; in addition, you could exclude whole folders, for example Temporary Internet Files in a user’s profile.  Here is the full registry path to FilesNotToSnapshot:


Note: When you locate this registry key, you may already find a handful of entries already there.

From this registry key you can add a REG_Multi_SZ to exclude files and folders from the Volume Shadow copy.  For example, you could create a New REG_MULTI_SZ, it does not seem to matter what name you use.  Here are suggestions to configure the Data for a Value named Drivers:
C:\drivers\*.*.    You can even include the subdirectories with /s
C:\drivers\*.*   /s

To fulfil my initial suggestion and exclude temporary files, you could experiment with the $AllVolumes$ variable:
$Allvolumes$\*.tmp /s

The History of Vista’s Volume Shadow Copy

Curiously, Vista’s Volume Shadow Copy is not available on XP, yet it is a feature of Windows Server 2003.  My reason for drawing this to you attention is to point out that VSS is a mature technology that has been tested in a server environment.

Volume Shadow Copy is related to Restore Points, and indeed to Backup.  With System Restore, if you place the emphasis on System, then its purpose becomes clear; to restore operating sytem related files without losing data, such as Word documents.  You don’t have to worry about taking periodic system snapshots because System Restore automatically creates a restore point whenever a significant change occurs.  Naturally, you can also create restore points manually.  Incidentally, System Restore is available in XP, but not on the original version of Windows Server 2003.

Summary of Vista’s Volume Shadow Copy

Volume Shadow Copy has been described rudely as: ‘The poor man’s backup’.  I would prefer to call it the ‘Everyman’s backup’, because it is easy to use and available to anyone who can right-click a folder and select ‘Properties, then Previous Versions.  To investigate this useful service, firstly, check the configuration from the System Properties in the Control Panel.  Secondly examine the shadows and reduce the disk space with vssadmin at the command prompt.

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