How to Recover Deleted Files

How can you recover files that you've accidentally deleted? Find out in this week's how-to column.
Published: Jan 2, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan
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This question submitted by Jennifer Tunatti, Bob Johnson, Elenor Hartman, Dan Vickson, Patty O'Neil and numerous others

The question of how to recover files came in many different forms. I guess that's because each person envisioned losing files in a different way. I'll try to hit the primary ways you can lose files and the ways to try to recover them.

If you use a computer long enough you're going to lose files. It's not really a question of if, but more a matter of when. And when it happens it can cause a wide range of feelings and emotions. Anger, rage, frustration, panic and more. The first thing you have to consider is: How did you lose the file?

If it's one of those cases where you accidentally deleted a file, then in many cases the outlook isn't so bleak. There was a time in the "old days" when a deleted file was gone and gone for good. We've gotten smarter over the years and now we have ways to compensate for some of our mistakes.

Double-click on the Recycle Bin icon that's normally on your desktop. With any luck the file or files you deleted should be there. To recover a files you can click on it and select Restore. Viola! The file is back exactly where you deleted it from. Just like it had never left. If you just want the file back you can also click on it and drag it onto your Windows desktop or you can drag it into any folder in your file manager. Easy.

If, however, you've emptied your Recycle Bin then it's going to be a bit trickier. There are a couple of key things that can help you to possibly retrieve your file.
  • Do NOT install any program or file on the disk
  • Do NOT download any file to the disk in question

Okay, some of you are asking "Why not?" Well, because of the way file systems and hard disks work together. The file you deleted occupied space. You erased it, but it's really still there, just hidden. If you download a file, copy a file or install a program, you very well could write files on top of the file you're trying to get back. That means you won't be able to recover it.

There are a number of good file recovery programs you can purchase that can often save a file that you can't recover from the Recycle Bin. A few of these include:

Just remember, don't download a file recovery program to the hard disk where you deleted the file you're trying to recover. Download to a CD or to a floppy disk and install the program to a CD or DVD or floppy disk or ZIP disk. Only by doing this do you stand a chance of getting the file back.

If your computer or your hard disk is failing you can try a product that worked very well for me when I had a recent problem - Lifeboat by Tugboat Enterprises. If you're on a network Lifeboat can quickly save all your files and move them to another computer.

One way to avoid most of the problems is to keep good backups! Then perhaps you can at least recover a portion of what was lost. If your hard disk crashes, then recovering files is a whole different project. Generally Windows will try to repair a damaged hard disk. There are also products that repair hard disks, but I'm not certain how well these work unless they are installed right when you get your computer.

I'd like to thank Jennifer Tunatti, Bob Johnson, Elenor Hartman, Dan Vickson, Patty O'Neil and numerous others for asking this question.

If you have a question on how to doomething on the computer you can submit it via email by clicking HERE. You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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