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How to recover deleted files

David Ludlow
5 Aug 2015
Recover deleted files - Recycle bin
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If you’ve lost an important file, don’t panic, as it should be possible to get it back if you act quickly

Losing an important file can be a complete nightmare, but don’t panic yet, as there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to restore it if you act quickly. We’ll show you a variety of ways to get your files back, but it’s important to understand a little bit of the science behind file storage before we continue. Files are stored on a hard disk or flash drive, with a file table telling the operating system where the actual file is located. When you delete anything, it’s entry is merely removed from the file table and allocated as free space, but the file is still there on your hard disk.

This means that with the right tools you can recover the file. However, the danger is that while you’re looking for ways to get your data back, it’s already been overwritten by new files. For that reason, we recommend that you download any tools to a different drive completely. Shut down all unnecessary applications, so that they’re not creating additional files. Please note that these instructions only apply to local storage (internal and external hard drives), not network drives.

Method 1: Check the recycle bin

This one may sound a bit obvious, but check your computer’s Recycle bin to see if the file is in there. Everything you’ve deleted from internal storage should go into their automatically and it is only exceptionally large files that don’t. There are a couple of other exceptions, too. First, if you used the key combination SHIFT+DELETE, the file is permanently deleted. Secondly, removable storage (flash drives and external hard drives) are a bit random in that some support the Recycle bin and some don’t. In other words, don’t rely on the Recycle Bin.

Recover deleted files - Recycle bin

Method 2: Go to a backup

If you’re running backup software, your deleted file may be in there. For example, Dropbox keeps deleted files for 30 days. If you’re using more traditional file backup, a version of your files should be available in the latest backup, even if it’s not the most recent one.

Recover deleted files - Dropbox

Method 3: Use file recovery software

If you can’t find your files using any of the methods above, you’ll need to use file recovery software. This scans your entire hard disk looking for files that exist, but that have merely been removed from the file table. Recuva Portable is our tool of choice, as you can download it to a USB flash drive and run it from there. When you run the software you can tell it the types of files you want to find (Pictures, Music, etc.) and you can choose a drive to search as well. If the software doesn’t find anything, the Deep Scan option takes longer but is more thorough. Once the scan has finished, put a tick next to the files that you want to recover, click the Recover button and choose where you want to save the files.

Recover deleted files - Recuva Portable

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