Recovering lost bookmarks in Chrome

After mistakenly wiping out my Chrome bookmarks, which neither Google nor I had backed up, Windows was able to restore them.

I recently responded to a prompt from the Chrome browser (on Windows 7) without fully understanding the question. Lesson learned, the hard way. This carelessness wiped out my carefully curated bookmarks, which had never been backed up.

The good news is that, at least on Windows 7, all may not be lost. Even without Google/Chrome backups, I was able to recover the bookmarks thanks to a suggestion I found on YouTube.

Many online suggestions for recovering Chrome bookmarks on Windows involve files called "Bookmarks" and "Bookmarks.bak". Swapping these files may help in some instances, but in my case, both files were the same size, had the same very recent timestamp and were very small. No doubt, if the backup bookmark file had my bookmarks it would have been larger than the original file.

Things looked bleak until I ran across a video from February 2014 called "How to recover bookmarks in Google Chrome" by YouTube user GRkostas10611. The key idea in the video was not to deal with Chrome but to deal with Windows.

Restore Points in Windows 7 backup both system files and user files. The user files backup is totally transparent. Personally, I had never paid any attention to the feature at all other than initially configuring System Restore on a new computer (shown below).

Of course Windows doesn't know anything about Chrome bookmarks. To recover bookmarks, the video suggested recovering the folder where they live. Over time, this may change, but at least now (Chrome version 39.0.2171.95) Chrome stores bookmarks in the "User Data" folder located under 

C:\Users\<Windows userid>\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\

The process is easy; navigate to the User Data folder in Windows Explorer, right click on it and get the properties. Go to the Previous Versions tab and, if you are lucky, there will be a list of available backups. To restore a folder backup, highlight it and click the Restore button. If all goes well, you should see the message below that "The folder has been successfully restored to the previous version".  

The video doesn't suggest making a backup of the folder before recovering it, but it would be the wise thing to do. It's also a good idea to shut down Chrome before recovering the User Data folder. In my case, the only available backup was six days old, your mileage, of course, will vary.

Without my bookmarks, the User Data folder was 172 megabytes. After the restore, it had ballooned up to 550 MB. Most of the space was in a folder called "Default" which had not existed before the restore.

The backup that I restored was dated December 23rd, but after the restore, there were files in the User Data folder with a timestamp of the current day, the 29th. I can only assume that Windows restores the files it has, but does not delete files it has not backed up. The recovery process is thus more of a merge than a full restore.

Whatever the process, my beloved bookmarks had been restored.

Still, the first time Chrome ran after the restore, it wasn't all that happy. As you can see below, it didn't think it had shut down correctly, the Chrome menu was orange and it wanted me to sign in again.

The heck with that - the first thing I did was backup the newly restored bookmarks to an HTML file. The process is simple (see Import or export bookmarks) and, needless to say, I'll be doing it more often. 

Some of the YouTube comments note that this approach does not work on Windows 8. I mostly avoid Windows 8, but a HowToGeek article from May 2014 confirms that Windows 8 Restore Points no longer include user files.  

Days later, I realized another way to restore the bookmarks - from an image backup. As someone concerned with Defensive Computing, I make periodic image backups of the machines I maintain. As a rule, image backup programs let you view the files included in a previous backup and copy them from the backup to a computer. 

I conclude with some words I never expected to write: thank you Microsoft.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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