How to Recover Files After Format

by Rod Dunne on December 9, 2010

in Data Recovery

Recover Files After Format -  Steps Involved Using Data Recovery Software
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By using data recovery software, it should be possible to recover files after format or deletion quite simply, without the need for doing any PC repair work. In this article, we’ll take a look at the basic steps for using hard drive data recovery software to recover deleted files, along with the factors affecting the amount of documents that will be identified.

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How to recover files after format

Formatting a disk does not completely erase hard drive contents instantly. Each document is stored to disk as a number of data clusters on the memory with the file allocation table stores the addresses of these data clusters. When a drive is formatted, the file allocation table is cleared of all information but the data clusters are left intact. So you can use software to recover formatted hard drive data (or recover deleted files) by simply identifying these clusters and trying to reassemble them.

The standard data recovery process goes as follows:

  1. Install a file recovery tool. If possible, install the program in and your drive and the one that was formatted. Installing it in the same partition could overwrite the original clusters and reduce the chance of being able to retrieve deleted files.
  2. Start up the application and select the formatted drive for analysis. The program will scan the hard drive looking for data clusters and piece back together and present you back a list of documents it found.
  3. Select whichever documents you need and copy them to a new directory.

Note: You may observe that the found files list will contain documents with file names you do not recognize. You will probably see system file names due to the fact that the original filenames attributed by users will have been lost when the file allocation table was cleared (by formatting).

Factors affecting hard drive data recovery

The chances of being able to recover files after format can vary. Here are some of the things which can impact successful file retrieval.

  • Computer usage: If you continue to use the hard drive for running applications or storing documents after the formatting had occurred then this will naturally result in new documents overwriting the old data clusters. With sufficient time, this process will result in all your old documents being overwritten, and no tool can recover lost files completely once this occurs.
  • Nature of formatting: If you used a formatting tool that also included evidence wiping/data cleaning then this will result in your data clusters being overwritten repeatedly with blank or random data. No software application will be capable of recovering your files in this instance. These formatting tools are often used to remove your personal information when selling on your computer, so are meant to be this effective at wiping data. Some data recovery software tools are capable of retrieving overwritten files by using data shadows. Are post about how to recover overwritten file contents goes into further detail on the subject.
  • File Deletion: If you are using these applications to recover files that were simply deleted in error then the file allocation table will not have been cleared and will therefore give invaluable information about the location and addresses of data clusters belonging to each deleted document. Even freeware tools can be used to restore deleted files quite easily.
  • Choice of software: Each data retrieval application has to piece together data clusters to form complete documents using their own logic, so you will find that different tools will have different capabilities at doing this (some more successfully than others). Commercial tools are generally better at piecing together the clusters, due to the extra development work they put into this process.

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