A system and method for backing-up, or storing, user-created files to a magnetic tape, or the like, and for subsequently retrieving, or restoring, selected files. Files that are backed-up utilizing one particular operating system software may be restored by a computer system utilizing a different operating system software to provide forward and backward compatibility. A directory file is created for each user file and is written to the tape. Information specific to the manner in which an operating system treats a file is stored in a first field area of the directory file and information non-specific, or common, to all operating systems is stored in a second field area of the directory file. The operating system of the computer system that backed up a file or set of files is identified on the tape and is compared, during file restoration, with the operating system of the restoring computer system to determine if the operating systems are the same or different. If the same, then all portions of the directory file are retrieved for combining with the file data information to restore the file. If different, then only the non-specific information in the common field area is retrieved and used in file restoring. Additionally, enhanced reliability is provided by storing data information from the user-created file in a different area of the tape in a data file having a header containing sufficient information to allow reconstruction of the directory file if destroyed or accidentally erased.