iWork apps and more: View old versions of files and undo revisions

Working on Apple Mac, one has access to various tools thanks to which one can get back old versions of files and even entire system images. From Time Machine backup to snapshots of the APFS file system, there's a lot. But if you use the iWork apps Pages, Numbers and Keynote uses, you can choose an even easier way. This is called "Reset to" and is hidden in the "File" menu of the respective apps. In addition to Apple's own office applications, the feature is also supported by some third-party apps. In this guide you will find all important information about it.

In some Apple-owned and third-party apps, you can use the "Revert to" function to use old saves of the file or copy content from them. This is how you easily get back the previously deleted content.
In some Apple-owned and third-party apps, you can use the "Revert to" function to use old saves of the file or copy content from them. This is how you easily get back the previously deleted content.

Preview: Save in between provides instant file snapshots

Every time you save a file after editing (or close it and thus autosave), an image is saved for it. After composing a paragraph, after adding table rows or after creating slide content in each Apps not only save the current work status, but also create a possibility to return to the current work status later. But this approach is save Protection against data loss. If the file is lost, only a proper backup will help you. The feature shown here is only intended for occasional patching of accidental edits within existing files.

This is how you call the old file version of an iWork document

Whether in Pages, Numbers or Keynotes: the process is actually always the same. If you have opened a certain file and realize that you want to have previous content or an entire editing status back, then proceed as follows:

  1. Click in the menu bar filing
  2. Moves the mouse pointer to the menu item reset to
  3. Choose either Last saved for the last edit you pressed command+S to...
  4. ...or choose Browse all versions... from
  5. Scroll through the individual versions in the latter overview and select the one you are looking for

Use multiple save states and interact with windows

As you can see on the screenshots, you can scroll through the individual saves like in Time Machine and select individual ones to enlarge them. You can then interact with the memory snapshot, for example to further enlarge the view and also with a high display resolution to see if it's the right save. If everything is clear, you can retrieve the selected processing status with the "Restore" button below. If you don't find what you're looking for and want to go back to the current document, click on the "Done" button to the left. I find this to be a very useful tool when working with the iWork apps. Since I use Pages and Numbers every day, it is extremely helpful for me personally.

What to do if you deleted something important, but then continued working?

However, there is not only the case that you want to restore an entire processing status, but perhaps only want to retrieve a paragraph (Pages), a data set (Numbers) or a few slides (Keynote). If possible, the new content added since the deletion should not be lost. No problem, there is a simple solution for that too. Because as shown above, you can interact with the old file versions. So call up the version that still contains the content in question, mark and copy it, and paste it into the current version. In this way, you can retrieve deleted content at some point without having to revoke new entries.

The procedure does not work in all Apple apps

There are other Apple apps where you can use text input, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on. Examples of this would be the notes or the memories. However, their contents are not stored in individual files. So there are no memory dumps that can be restored. There are also several apps from Apple in which you can save project files as the current processing status. These include about GarageBand and iMovie. I couldn't find a file menu item in either of them that would allow you to call up old saves. Though I think it would make sense in those iLife apps too.

No old file versions available in file copies and sent documents

Two things are important to know with regard to the function presented here. If you save the edited document as a new file – for example via filing -> Duplicate, via the key combination Shift+command+S or by copying the file in the respective folder - then no old file versions are available for the copy created in this way. Only changes made and saved in the copy itself are noted for you. Furthermore, the version images of the file are not displayed in sent copies. To test, I sent myself this post by email and opened it from there. No old file versions were available in the mail attachment.

Can I use memory dumps from really old files?

Since I bought a new MacBook in April 2022 and the "Reset to" feature doesn't work for files transferred from an old Mac, I can't really try this. However, I have called up a few of the first Pages documents that I wrote with the new MacBook in April 2022. And the individual memory images are available for these. It's now May 2023, which means that documents that are more than a year old definitely still have old memory versions. I think that without the Mac change, even older documents would have offered their individual versions.

In which third-party apps does this procedure work?

Bad news for everyone who uses Microsoft's Office offering on the Apple Mac. Because in Word, Excel and Co. there is no "Reset to" function. I couldn't find it in the File, Edit or any other program menu. So if you've been waiting for a sign to switch to iWork, this might be it :D What I couldn't find either is a list of apps that support this feature. In the relevant section of the official macOS manual also only says "Many apps automatically back up multiple document versions as you work [...]". What they are will not be revealed.

Do you know other apps where you can filing -> reset to or File -> reset to can use? Then please leave a comment!

On the subject of storage space: Do the numerous file versions take up a lot of storage space?

No, because it is only information stored in the file itself about the changes made. A new file is not saved for each save. In this way, the memory consumption for the individual file versions of a document is kept very low. So you don't have to worry about individual files that you have changed and saved often exhausting the hard drive. The situation is different with snapshots of the entire system, as you can read here: APFS snapshots silently take up space on the Mac hard drive.

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