How To Find Deleted Files

by Rod Dunne on August 5, 2010

in Articles, Data Recovery

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Everybody who owns a PC has accidentally deleted important documents at some point or another. Luckily though, finding deleted files is one of the easier PC maintenance tasks to complete.

Here, we’ll look at how to find deleted files using a logical search approach, along with using software.

Before Retrieving Deleted Files

It is important to realize that the sooner you try to find deleted files, the better your chances are of recovering the data. If you continue to use the computer then the data clusters on the disk for your original files will begin to be overwritten.

If the document was deleted from Windows Explorer then check the appropriate Recycle Bin. Each directory on your hard disk (C-drive, D-drive, etc.) will have its own bin. So if you delete a file in the C-drive then it may still be in the bin located in the root of that directory. If present, you simply right-click the document and choose ‘Restore’ from the context menu.

How To Find Deleted Files Using Software

If however, your Recycle Bin has been emptied out or you had used the Shift + Delete keys together then you will need to use data recovery software to undelete files.

Remo Undelete is capable of finding deleted files on your hard drive even when the bin has been emptied. They both operate by searching a disk drive you have selected to find these files and presents you with a list of documents. You then undelete files by copying them back into a local directory or onto a disk.

When choosing applications note that each will specialize in searching specific file formats. The FAT-32 file system format is used by most internal hard drives (and can also be used for flash memory data recovery, which also follows this standard format) so tools that support this are most common.

Our post on deleted file recovery software goes into more detail about the process of using these applications.

Undelete Files – How Is This Possible?

This is technically possible because of the way files are stored to & deleted from memory. Each file is saved as numerous data clusters located all around the hard disk (or flash memory, if storing files there). The file allocation table (FAT) is one system files that each directory contains in order to administer files. The FAT keeps details about each file (for example, its directory/folder location) along with details of where to find the data clusters for this file.

The key to knowing how to find deleted files is that these clusters are not immediately cleared off of the disk. Deleting a file will clear the directory location for the file in the FAT and mark the associated clusters as free to use (for saving new files), but does not erase hard drive information.

In time, these clusters will be overwritten with new documents. Before that occurs, you can undelete files by using software to read the FAT and scan for data clusters marked for reuse. These applications can then clone/copy the clusters into a new file for you.

It is a similar scenario for formatted data recovery, except that formatting may also clear the FAT of file information.

Retrieving Deleted Files From Backup Copies

Once you have deleted important data, it becomes apparent that storing back-up copies of your data is crucial. While it may be child’s play retrieving deleted files, it can be more difficult and expensive to do data recovery if a system fault or mechanical damage occurs.

So with this in mind, consider using an online or local backup system that does scheduled synchronization of your data to safeguard your files.The following two applications come with FREE trial scans for finding deleted files or recovering documents on formatted hard drives:

  • Final Sync – Backup solution that allows you to copy/sync files between several devices (laptop <-> external drives <-> USB memory sticks)
  • iDrive/My Live Drive – Provides 2GB of space online for backing up files. Data is stored online so doesn’t require external hard drives to store the backup copies.

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