Recovering Deleted Data In 3 Simple Steps

by Rod Dunne on July 27, 2010

in Data Recovery

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Recovering deleted data from a hard drive or storage device is one of the simpler PC repairs that everyone can do. The important point is to act fast before your file is overwritten. Here, we’ll step through the 3 steps to recover lost files.

1 – Before You Begin

The sooner you try to recover deleted files, the better your chance that the file’s data clusters on the disk have not been overwritten.

In technical terms, your files are stored as data clusters on the disk and these are declared as free to reuse by the operating when your files gets deleted. Even browsing the web creates temp files and system files that could be saved to disk, overwriting your deleted data and reducing the chances of successfully recovering deleted files. If you do have to install applications (including the data recovery software) then do not use the same partition as the one containing your deleted files as doing so could over write your documents and run the chances of being able to retrieve deleted files.

Prior to getting recovery software to restore lost data, you should just double check the directory in which the file was and the Recycle Bin to be certain you lost your file. If it is there then you saved yourself some bother.

2 – Choose Suitable File Recovery Software

There is no manual way of recovering deleted data – you need software capable of scanning the drive and identifying files. User friendly tools like Remo Undelete are capable of scanning internal hard drives, external drives and flash memory devices to recover deleted files and documents off of a formatted disk. Commercial tools are generally better at being able to recover files after format than freeware options.

Both these tools have a free scan so at the very least you can try them out first to confirm if they are able to find deleted files you want, before you need to purchase.

These tools work on any FAT32 file system (Windows own format) so the applications will be suitable/reusable on internal or external drives and for flash card data recovery. Recovering deleted data from other formats of storage devices (for example, zip disk data recovery) will require specialized software.

3 – Recover Deleted Files

No matter which file recovery application you choose they all operate in much the same way:

  1. You select the drive to analyze for lost files.
  2. The application scans the drive for clusters that can be formed into recognizable files/documents. The file allocation table (FAT) is also scanned for document references, as this system file holds the information associating your files with clusters on the disk.
  3. The application reports back on the files found and you can select which ones to copy back to a directory.

The more expensive applications use additional logic and processing to recover deleted data based on the clusters. Therefore each tool can potentially identify different numbers of files. In comparison, a freeware application may be dependent on the FAT for identifying clusters.

Our post on system restore software utilities provides more information about restoring deleted operating system files

~ Additional Considerations

Formatting: You can recover lost files off of a formatted disk but the chances of success plummet if the formatting process included an evidence wiping pass (to clear clusters) or the disk was reused (reinstalling Windows onto a formatted disk will overwrite a lot of clusters). The same applications can be used as for recovering deleted data. Some free tools will struggle to recover formatted files due to the lack of useful information in the file allocation table. See also our post on how to wipe a computer clean.

Crash Recovery: It is even possible to recover lost files even after a hard drive crashes and the PC won’t operate. The approach is detailed in our post on hard drive crash recovery.

Safeguarding Against This Occurring: It often takes an incident like deleting important files to realize the importance of backing up your files. Modern backup applications can provide you with a continuous backup system to the internet (e.g. iDrive/My Live Drive) or the old school approach of scheduling backups to an external disk (e.g. using Final Sync) that will help save you from accidental file deletion and severe computer errors that could lose you your documents.

Recover Deleted Photos: File recovery tools like Remo Undelete can also recover deleted data from many types of digital photography media. All you have to do is plug the camera into your computer and use the software to scan the memory for files. Check the application supports your specific media type before picking a tool.

Mechanical Damage: With regard to data recovery flash drives or hard disks with component damage/faults will be unreadable by the OS, and therefore recovery software will not be able to scan them.

Related posts:
Using deleted file recovery software applications.
A guide on how to recover formatted hard drive data.
Seven things that can crash PC machines.

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