Recover a broken document using versions, and clean versions up

It happens to the best of us. You’re working furiously on a tight deadline when you go to open the document you’ve got a few short hours to complete, and Pages does this to you:


It’s OK, though, because you use Time Machine. When you look at what’s backed up, that document is missing, the only copy there also won’t open, or the only backup you can find doesn’t contain the crucial content you think it should.

The problem you now have is that your hard work is locked away in previously saved versions, but the only way that you can access those is by opening that document in Pages, which you can’t do because it’s too badly broken. So how can you access its saved versions?


Pages may not be prepared to open your document, but Revisionist will, and then displays all the versions of that document which are saved in your Mac’s version database.


At this point, you have choices. You could Archive all the versions into separate files in a folder, then see which of those open in Pages. The simplest step is to select one of the later versions (with a higher number) and just double-click it.


Double-clicking the version opens it in a QuickLook Preview. If that’s looking promising, click on the button at the top right of the preview to open that version using its default app, which here is of course Pages.


Because this version is still in the database, it’s locked, but you can easily save it as an unlocked and editable document on which you can continue to work.

I’ve also used this method of opening a previous version in preference to accessing it through the app which created the file, as it allows me to study the version and save it as a new file. I then opened that and compared the changes made between that version and the current one. That’s a useful alternative to reverting to the older version, and valuable when coding in Xcode, for example.

There’s one snag with all these versions: they tend to accumulate, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with large documents with dozens or even a hundred or more saved versions. Again, Revisionist can help, this time with its Crawler window, opened from the Window menu. This will check through a folder and report the number of versions stored for each document with previous versions.


In this case, I have highlighted some Rich Text documents which seem to have far more versions than they need. You can open each in turn and strip unwanted versions, which can be useful when you’ve completed a project, for instance. Of course, copying those documents to an archive store or other volume will automatically strip all old versions. If you need to keep some or all of them, for audit purposes perhaps, that’s the time to use Revisionist’s Archive button.

Many Mac users ignore the built-in version system, which is a terrible waste. Like all features, turn it to good use with a utility like Revisionist.