Unattached Content Database Recovery in SharePoint 2010

Written By: Arshad Ali -- 11/17/2010 -- join -- contribute -- (8) comments -- printer friendly version

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Categories: Infrastructure, SharePoint 2010, SharePoint Foundation 2010, System Administration

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Editor's Note:

This tip is a continuation of a series on various methods of backing up and restoring SharePoint 2010 written by Arshad Ali. There are many facets to the procedures so we thought it best to break these articles up into different parts. This article deals specifically with restoring from unattached (to the SharePoint Farm) databases.


As a SharePoint Administrator, there might be a time when you would need to restore only some but not all content within a content database. How would you do that in SharePoint 2010? Read on to find out...


In earlier versions of SharePoint, to restore or recover content from a backup file, we had to restore the backed up file to a database server and had to attach that restored database to a another SharePoint farm. Then we needed to export the required content from this new temporary farm and then migrate it to the original farm where we wanted to recover it. This whole process required a huge time investment and rigorous planning.

SharePoint 2010 removes much of the administrative overhead with the inclusion of a Granular Backup and Restore feature. In the above mentioned scenario, we don't need to setup another temporary farm just to restore some content from the backup. We can simply restore a content database backup on any SQL Server instance (or can create database snapshot of the current database before making changes to the web application) and then use the unattached content database recovery feature from the Central Administration to browse the content of the backup. Then we can export it to a file and import it whenever we want.

So in nutshell there are two stages for such types of recoveries:

  • Backing up the site collection or exporting the site/library/list objects from the unattached content database. You use SharePoint 2010 Central Administration UI to perform this operation.
  • Restoring the site collection or importing the site/library/list objects from the backed up/exported file. This operation cannot be performed using the SharePoint 2010 Central Administration UI and hence you need to use erShell cmdlets or STSADM tool (discussed in detail below).

In In this tip we will discuss using the unattached content database recovery feature.

Browsing and Exporting the content of an unattached database from the Central Administration

In this example, I have taken the content database backup of a web application and restored it on the database server. Next I will be browsing this database , and then export the required content and import it back wherever it is required. (Please note this database is not attached to any SharePoint farm)

Go to START -> All Programs -> Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Products -> SharePoint 2010 Central Administration, on the left side click on the Backup and Restore link as shown below, then in the detail pane click on Recover data from an unattached content database under Granular Backup as shown below:

On the Unattached Content Database Data screen you need to specify the database server and database name which you have restored from the backup along with the authentication type and credentials to connect to that database. Next specify the type of action you want to perform.

On the Browse Content page select the site collection, site and then library/list to export. You can specify the type of operation you want to perform and depending on your selection, the next screen will vary.

On the Browse Content page I selected Backup site collection and here is my next screen. In the Site collection backup screen we need to select the name of the site collection which we want to backup, specify the location and name of the backup file and whether we want to overwrite a file if it exists with same name on the specified location.

On the Granular Backup Job Status screen, you can see the status of the site collection backup operation. This page gets refreshed automatically in every 30 seconds though you can refresh it on-demand by clicking on the Refresh link as shown below (You need to make sure SharePoint 2010 Timer windows service is running before taking site collection backup):

Instead of taking a backup of the complete site collection, you can choose to export any specific site/library/list. Select Export site or list on the Browse content screen as shown below:

On the Site or List Export screen, select the site collection which contains the required site, then select the required site and then the library/list along with the location and the name of the file to be created after the export. You can choose to export the associated security with the site which includes users, authors of the documents, and when the document was created and modified, etc. Next you can specify what versions of the documents or list items you want to export, whether to export current versions, last major versions, last major or minor versions or all versions:

On the Granular Backup Job Status screen, you can see the status of the content export operation.

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