Recovering SharePoint

As a SharePoint Administrator, it is critically important that you understand the backup process. Don’t just take the word of the person whose job is to look after backups, then aren’t experts in SharePoint. You should also take time to understand the different recovery options available to you and practice restoring each scenario, so when disaster strikes the recovery process is understood and appropriate to the situation.

Over the past two or three months I’ve received a couple of calls from people with serious SharePoint issues wanting to know how to roll back to a previous backup. Before doing that it you really need to ask yourself do I really need to roll back and what is the impact?


On one occasion the issue was related to a failed installation of a SharePoint CU. The SharePoint farm was down and had a very large amount of content.

Key Point: The issue was a failed CU install.

In this case the Configuration Database was corrupt but the user content was OK. The solution was to restore the Configuration Database only (take a backup of the current one first, just in case). Once this was done the Cumulative Update was reapplied.

In another case the issue was a user had deleted a site containing several document libraries. The site collection recycle bin had been emptied, so items couldn’t be recovered from here. The site collection contained many other sites and restore from backup would have resulted in a day’s worth of changes being lost.

Key Point: The issue was with one content database

SharePoint allows ‘Unattached Content Database recovery’ via Central Admin. To get the site back, we restored the Content Database from the most recent backup to a different name and then used Central Admin to extract the missing site from the restored the missing site.

In both cases above the recovery was quick because SQL dumps were being used to backup the SQL server hosting SharePoint’s databases. Some backup solutions allow item, library and site level restore and this could have also helped.

One thing to bear in mind when thinking about backup software is that some solutions need sufficient disk space to restore the database before extracting the items you want to recover. I’ve heard of more than one person struggling to recovery because they don’t have space available.

Remember that SharePoint has recycle bins at both the user and site collection level. This should always be the first place you look.

My advice to SharePoint Administrators is to make backup and recovery a priority. Own it because if disaster strikes, you are the person people will turn to.

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