What is document version control?

Woman learns about document version control on her laptop.

Learn how document version control works and how it can help you keep track of your files.

We all know how beneficial tracking changes within one document can be. Effective management of document version control is crucial for streamlining workflows and ensuring accuracy. Document version control lets you do the same across multiple drafts of the same document. Let’s take a closer look at document versioning and why you might benefit from using it.

How does file version control work?

File version control involves creating and managing different versions of a document as it’s modified over time. Whenever a change is made to a file, rather than overwriting the existing document, a new version is created. This approach lets users access and refer back to previous versions, compare changes, and even revert to an earlier version if needed.

Why is a document version control system important?

A document version control system records who made changes, how and when they did it, and whether anyone approved the changes. Using a document version control system can save you time, headaches, and potential errors. Here are some key reasons why version control is important:

  1. It ensures you’re working on the latest draft. With version control, contributors can easily identify and access the most recent draft, reducing the risk of mistakenly working on an outdated version. Knowing which draft is most recent ensures that everyone is aligned and working on the latest changes, promoting efficient collaboration.
  2. It prevents mistakes and inconsistencies. Version control systems act as safeguards against errors by preventing accidental use of old drafts, overwriting changes made by others, and reducing the potential for conflicting information.
  3. It facilitates easy retrieval of previous versions. Maintaining a comprehensive history of document revisions makes it effortless to retrieve and refer back to previous versions.
  4. It enables efficient tracking of document statuses. For managers overseeing projects or teams, a version control system provides a clear overview of the document’s progress and status, making it easier to track which team members are actively working on the document.
  5. It maintains an audit trail. Document version control systems record essential information about changes made to a file, including who made the modifications, when they were made, and any approvals associated with the changes. This audit trail serves as a valuable reference for accountability, compliance, and regulatory purposes.
  6. It streamlines review and approval processes. Version control systems enable users to add comments, annotations, or feedback directly within the document, facilitating efficient collaboration.

The importance of document version control in business.

Document version control, or documentation revision control, is an essential part of document management. A document version control system manages different document drafts and tracks which is the most current version.

Is version control for documents built into most apps and software?

Version control for documents is not built into most apps or software by default. While some applications may have basic file-versioning features, comprehensive version control systems are typically not available in standard document editing software. However, there are specific tools and platforms that offer robust version control capabilities to address the needs of individuals and organizations. Here are a few common places where version control is commonly found:

  1. Version control systems. Dedicated version control systems like GitHub or Perforce Helix Core provide robust features for tracking changes in software development, letting developers keep track of changes to code.
  2. Document collaboration platforms. Online collaboration platforms, such as Adobe Document Cloud, Google Workspace, and Microsoft 365 enable real-time collaboration and include version control features. As part of Document Cloud, Adobe Acrobat provides document version control functionalities, allowing users to save different versions, compare changes, and collaborate effectively.
  3. Content management systems (CMS). Content management systems like Adobe Experience Manager and WordPress often incorporate version control features for managing digital content, helping users track revisions and access different file versions.
  4. Project management tools. Project management software like Adobe Workfront and Asana integrate document management modules with version control capabilities, enabling users to attach files, track changes, and collaborate effectively within project management workflows.

Measurable benefits of document version control.

Using document version control systems can yield various measurable benefits, enhancing efficiency, collaboration, and overall productivity. Here are some key advantages:

  1. Concurrent collaboration. Concurrent collaboration promotes efficient teamwork, eliminates bottlenecks, and expedites project completion.
  2. Reduced errors and rework. By ensuring that everyone is working on the latest draft, version control minimizes the occurrence of inconsistencies, data loss, and time-consuming corrections.
  3. Easy tracking and accountability. Document version control systems provide a clear audit trail of file changes. Tracking features allow project managers to monitor progress, manage who is responsible for specific revisions, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
  4. Improved collaboration and communication. Features for commenting, adding annotations, and setting up notifications facilitate effective collaboration and communication among team members.
  5. Enhanced document recovery. In case of accidental deletion or modification, previous versions can be easily retrieved, minimizing data loss and the need for extensive document reconstruction.

Common obstacles to maintaining a document version control system.

While document version control systems offer several benefits, there are many common obstacles that organizations may face when trying to maintain such systems. Recognizing these barriers can help in developing strategies to overcome them effectively. Here are some common obstacles:

  1. Insufficient user adoption. Inconsistent or inadequate use of the version control system by users can lead to difficulties in tracking changes and maintaining effective version control.
  2. Lack of standardized processes. Without standardized document management processes, maintaining a consistent version control system can become challenging and confusing.
  3. Poor organization and file management. Disorganized file storage, mislabeled versions, and inconsistent folder structures can reduce the effectiveness of version control systems.
  4. Too many people working on the same document. Collaboration among numerous individuals on a single document can complicate version control management, necessitating clear communication channels and defined roles.

Document version control tips and best practices.

You could save every document draft as a separate file to keep track of changes — but manually saving each is both time-consuming and mistake-prone. It’s better to use a software system that automates your version control. How these systems work depends on your software choice, but most offer some version control functions.

Here are some best practices when it comes to document version control:

Acrobat tracks all changes and edits by each user and allows you to roll the document back to a previous version. You can also limit file access to certain users, making document tracking easier. Acrobat online services also save all file versions to the cloud, so you can easily work with PDFs online.

More resources on documents.

What is document version control? Just one of the many facets of making your work life easier. Here are more resources to consider:

Discover other ways Acrobat can help you convert, edit, and share PDFs.