Top 9 ways to Recover Deleted files

By Srikanth
23 Min Read
Top 9 ways to Recover Deleted files 1

  1. Are files really gone after being permanently deleted?

The short answer is no.

Now, let’s go through the extended one.

Deleting a file doesn’t erase it from your computer – the file continues to exist on the hard drive, even if you’ve emptied the Recycle Bin. You can recover the file you’ve deleted, but keep in mind that other users could be able to retrieve it as well.

Complete file deletion requires a set of processes so that no one would be able to harvest deleted data from your device. However, this is not the topic of the article. Here, we’ll show you seven ways to recover accidentally deleted data quickly.

But first, let’s go through what happens when you delete a file.

Essentially, most operating systems “know” where your files reside on the hard drive through “pointers”. Each file and folder on your device have a corresponding location on your hard disk. The OS uses pointers to pinpoint where a data piece begins and ends.

Upon file deletion, the specific file pointer is removed, and Windows (or another OS) marks the sector storing the file’s data as accessible for new content. As far as the file system’s concerned, the file’s data is no longer present on the hard drive. Now, it considers the sectors that used to hold deleted data as available.

Nonetheless, you can still recover it until you actually make any changes to your device, causing Windows to write new data over the sectors previously holding the file. However, this doesn’t apply to solid-state drives (SSD).

If you’re using a TRIM-enabled SSD (all new-age SSDs support it), deleted files are instantaneously erased and you can’t recover them. This happens, because you can’t overwrite data onto flash cells. To write new data on an SSD sector, the contents of the flash memory must be erased beforehand.

Essentially, SSD erases files immediately to maintain optimal write speed in the future.

  1. Can I recover deleted files?

We imagine every user has asked this question at least once when accidentally using Shift + Delete to remove a file in Windows. As the combination removes the file directly without going through the Recycle Bin, many users may assume the file is gone for good.

Well, that’s not the case. Even if you wouldn’t be able to find the file in File Explorer, a copy of it still resides on your hard drive. As we’ve discussed, the file will remain there until Windows writes another piece of data in its exact location. This is why it’s vital to act swiftly if you want to recover deleted files from your Recycle Bin.

To have as much time as possible, it’s best to close all applications and processes that aren’t operation-critical for the device. More importantly, you should avoid writing any new data to the storage which held the deleted files.

Now that you know how file deletion works let’s go over nine ways to recover accidentally deleted files.

  1. Recycle Bin Recovery

As you probably know, whenever you delete a file via the “Delete” button on your Windows keyboard, the file is transferred to the Recycle Bin. The file will reside there until you decide to empty the Recycle Bin, giving you enough time to change your mind and restore it.

To recover deleted files from the Windows 10 Recycle Bin, you need to do the following:

  • Right-click on the Recycle Bin and select “Open”. You can also double-click the Recycle Bin item.
  • The Recycle Bin expands, showing all deleted files it’s storing.
  • Browse deleted files to select the one you wish to restore and right-click on it.
  • ●       From the dropdown options, choose “Restore” to recover the deleted file to its original location on your hard drive. You can opt for selecting multiple files by holding down the Ctrl key and recover them together.

While simply deleting files enables easy restoration, it’s not the most efficient way of alleviating your system. Deleting data via the Delete button sends deleted files to the Recycle Bin but doesn’t immediately free up storage space on your device.

As most people delete files to do precisely that, they’d need to empty the Recycle Bin manually. Upon doing so, Windows will mark the occupied file disk space as empty and free for writing new data on it.

If you’re deleting a file and you’re sure you wouldn’t need it in the future, you can bypass the Recycle Bin and use the Shift + Delete shortcut to delete the file permanently. Using the perma-delete option frees up storage space immediately; nonetheless, the file can still be restored if you haven’t written new data to its previous occupied section on the hard disk.

However, as soon as the operating system writes new data to the file’s location, you won’t be able to recover it at all. This is why restoring deleted files relies heavily on immediate actions.

  1. Undo-Delete Recovery

We often take operating systems for granted without learning their most essential features.

We can only guess, but we’d say not many Windows 10 users are aware of the undo-delete action. Yes, you can undo almost any command on your device, and deleting files is one of those commands.

However, Windows keeps the undo history open for a single session. It doesn’t carry it over to the next one. If you log off your account or restart or shut down your computer, the undo session will expire.

To restore deleted files via the Undo command, you should:

  • Open Windows Explorer, go to the deleted file’s location, and open the folder.
  • Right-click anywhere you choose inside the folder. (excluding clicking on other visible files)
  • Select the Undo-Delete option from the context menu.

As an alternative, you can use the Ctrl + Z command on Windows Explorer. However, you won’t be sure which actions you’re reversing unless you remember every command you initiated in the current session.

  1. CMD Recovery

We admit CMD recovery is probably the least user-friendly tactic to recover deleted files in Windows 10. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not efficient.

The command prompt enables access to numerous system tools. One of them allows recovering deleted files without the need for third-party software.

To restore files via CMD, you should:

  • Press the Windows button + X.
  • Select the Windows PowerShell (Admin) option.
  • Type in the following command – chkdsk X: /r

Replace the X in the command line with the letter of the corresponding storage device on your computer. The command will enable CHKDSK utility and order it to scan the entire surface of the storage device for errors and bad sectors.

If prompted to “convert lost chains to files”, go for Y.

  • Next up, type the following command to change hidden properties, file protection options, and system attributes to a normal state. (keep in mind, you still need to replace the X with the letter of the corresponding storage device on your computer) – attrib –h –r –s /s /d X:*.*
  1. File History Backup Recovery

Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 packed a Backup and Restore option. The File History feature is its successor in Windows 10. When you enable it, it can automatically create copies of specific files in selected folders.

As you may be familiar with, File History backs up all files in the Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, or Desktop folders. However, you can easily add another folder if you wish.

To recover permanently deleted files via File History, you should:

  • Open Windows Explorer.
  • Find the folder where the deleted files used to reside.
  • Right-click anywhere on the folder (excluding existing files) and choose the Restore previous versions option.
  • Sift through and pick the most accurate File History backup.
  • Click Open to preview its contents.
  • Mark the files you plan to recover and click on the green Recover button to restore them.
  1. Previous System Restore Point Recovery

Windows 10 has a neat data backup feature by the name of System Restore. This feature can automatically take snapshots of your whole system, thus enabling you to undo any accidental or unwanted changes by reverting your device to a previous point in time. Provided you’ve activated the option beforehand.

To recover deleted files from an earlier system restore point, you should:

  • Open the Start Menu, type in “create a restore point”, and click Enter on the keyboard.
  • Choose System Restore.
  • Sift through and find the most appropriate system restore point -> click Next.
  • Confirm the chosen restore point and click Finish.
  • Your device will restart to let Windows apply the changes.

Keep in mind that restoring to a previous system point can affect recently installed programs, drivers, and browser updates. Its primary task is to repair the Windows environment, so it will revert your computer to a point where you might not have installed specific software.

However, upon initiating system restore, an informative window will show you which programs will be affected by the action so that you can take precautions beforehand.

  1. Recovery Software

Third-party data recovery software apps can restore permanently deleted files, even if Windows 10 doesn’t “see” them anymore. You can usually download such solutions for free or pay a small fee.

Generally, such apps let you recover up to 500 MB of data. They are relatively easy to use and support most known file formats and commonly used storage devices.

To restore deleted files using third-party recovery software, you should:

  • Download and install the solution.
  • Launch the app and select the disk (or partition) where the deleted files used to be.
  • Choose the Search option to initiate a scan and look for lost data.
  • If filters are available, use them to preview the found deleted files.
  • Mark the checkbox of the files you wish to restore.
  • Click the Recover or Restore button and choose the recovery folder. Choose OK to confirm the action.

The interface of different solutions varies, but the primary options follow a similar structure. Regardless of which one you choose to use, these guidelines should help you find your way around it.

  1. Safest file recovery

Now that we’ve covered the most known tactics to retrieve deleted files, it’s time to go deeper.

If you’ve deleted files on a magnetic hard drive and your computer is still active, the safest approach is to shut down your device immediately.

If you remember the first sections of the article, almost any data-writing activity can overwrite the deleted files’ data on your storage device. If you continue using your computer, even to install file-recovery software, there’s a big chance your operating system, a program, or an app can write data on your hard drive. This is why it’s best to turn it off to maximize the chances of recovery.

Once you shut down the computer, you should boot a file-recovery app from a USB drive or a live CD. A second option is to remove the hard drive and connect it to another computer as an external media carrier.

The key here is to avoid writing any data to the specific drive. You can scan the drive via file-recovery software and hope you’ll find the missing files. If you deleted the files recently and haven’t bombarded the drive with new data, there’s a good chance you can complete a successful recovery.

If you deleted the file a week or two ago and have written data to the drive a lot, it’s pretty unlikely you’d be able to recover the files. Nonetheless, it’s worth a try.

  1. Older Backup Recovery

As we’ve mentioned, Windows Vista presented users with a new data recovery feature called “Backup and Restore”, allowing users to create backups and restore data from them.

We’ve also mentioned that the Backup and Restore option was entirely removed from Windows OS, making way for File History. (the passing of the torch occurred in Windows 8.1)

Nonetheless, it’s still possible to recover data on newer Windows devices from older backups created by the Backup and Restore feature.

To recover deleted files via Backup and Restore, you should:

  • Open the Start menu, type in “backup”, and hit “Enter” on the keyboard.
  • Choose the “Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” option. (it’s located under “Looking for an older backup?”)
  • Go for “Select another backup to restore files from”, browse backups and select the one you need.
  • Choose “Next” and follow the instructions to complete the recovery process.
  1. System Image Recovery

System Image backup is a feature enabling you to back up your entire Windows 10 OS rather than specific files and folders. Naturally, just like you can’t back up single files or folders to a system image, you also can’t recover them from an already existing backup. It’s either restore all or don’t restore anything.

You can think of it as a last resort in recovering deleted files.

To restore from a System Image backup, you should:

  • Open the Start menu, type in “settings”, and hit Enter on the keyboard.
  • Find and select Update & Security.
  • Choose Recovery from the options list to the left.
  • Save the progress on any documents or active programs and select the Restart now button under Advanced Startup.
  • Now, choose Troubleshoot -> Advanced Options -> See more recovery options -> System Image Recovery.
  • Browse through System Image backup files and choose the one containing the deleted file -> click Next.
  • Select additional restore options and again, click Next.
  • Review all system image details and choose Finish to initiate the restore process.

The ultimate recovery assistant

We’ve gone over the quick-fix tactics to recover deleted files. Some of them are pretty user-friendly, while others require more effort. However, none of them can ensure you can recover the entirety of deleted files. Or at least without altering your system in the process.

The surest way to consistently access a file is via regular backups.

You can enable File History and Windows Backup features to schedule regular backups of your data if you have the space and time. With them, it’s still possible to accidentally delete a file and overwrite it, but they’re sensible steps towards data protection. After all, it’s way easier to recover data from backups than to recover deleted files.

If you want to guarantee you’d always have an operational copy of all data on your system, it’s best to .

We’re not saying it’s a must if you want to keep your files whole. However, it is handy in many scenarios, not only when clicking on “Empty Recycle Bin” by accident.

You can opt for free backup solutions, like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or iCloud.

All of these are convenient free options to store your data. However, they offer limited storage space – if you need to back up extensive volumes of data, you’d be prompted to pay for more storage. In addition, such platforms lack advanced backup options and pack poorer cybersecurity tools.

What’s more, most free backup options offer “syncing” rather than genuine backup. This means that the app checks periodically for updates on your device and syncs your backups. If you delete a file from your smartphone or computer and the next syncing cycle hits, the file will also get deleted from the backup.

On the other hand, a paid backup solution can provide enhanced backup options and still be cost-efficient. Moreover, data recovery from such solutions is more manageable and often quicker. You’d also be getting robust data protection features as a bonus.

You can place multiple copies of your data across several locations when storing your backups. You can use an external hard drive for local backup and the cloud for remote backup.

Keeping the external hard drive close enables rapid data recovery, while the cloud adds protection layers around your data.

The first one is immune to cyberattacks, given you never use it on a computer with an active internet connection. However, it is prone to physical damage and natural disasters.

The latter is immune to physical damage and natural disasters but can, in theory, fall victim to a cyberattack. Additionally, restoring larger volumes can be slower when recovered from the cloud.

Regardless of your favorite form of backup, implementing both local and remote storage ensures you’ll always have at least one operational copy of your files. Even if you or someone else accidentally deletes them, you could quickly restore them from one of your backups.

If you back up your data regularly, there’s a great chance you’ll have all files on your system safe and sound in storage.

You can decide to create daily, weekly, or monthly backups. You can even back up your data hourly, but that seems a bit extreme unless you rely heavily on uptime.

Scheduling backups may seem challenging, but a reliable backup software can do most of the work for you.

If you choose to rely on one, you can set up your backup preferences and let the software do its job. However, it’s recommended you audit your backups from time to time to keep storage organized and potentially free up some space.

Conclusion

Accidentally deleting a file can happen to any user. Even if deletion is not accidental, we may delete a file and realize we need it later. However, all is not lost.

Recovering deleted files relies on quick reactions and following the proper steps of your chosen method. There are various ways to restore files – you can use the Undo-Delete function, go for CMD recovery, or install a File Recovery solution to assist you.

Regardless of your approach, the most efficient way to avoid any headache over deleted files is to back up your data regularly. It’s best to store multiple backups of your data across different locations. This way, you’ll always have access to your files and folders, even if you or another user deletes them voluntarily or accidentally.

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