Few technological disasters can send your stomach into free fall, as you realize that you have removed something important from your laptop or phone, without an obvious way of recovering it. Fortunately, if you find yourself struggling to restore your deleted files, there is still hope. Free tools and applications are widely available to help you recover your deleted data no matter what platform you are using. This is what you need to know.
In most modern forms of storage, deleting a file does not actually eliminate it; in general, it only tells the operating system that the space that the file is using is free for other data. If you can get in fast enough, you may recover your file from your digital tomb before something else has rushed to take its place, so speed is essential.
Backup, backup, backup
Being told that you should have backed up your stuff right after deleting a folder full of holiday photos is not very useful, but it is worth repeating for future reference. The simplest option is to use a service in the cloud: iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and most others have recovery functions built into them.
If you want to continue with local file storage for your backup needs, then OS X has Time Machine and Windows has File History, and of course there are a lot of third-party options to choose from as well. If you buy an external hard drive or a network drive, it will often come with a backup program included.
In the case of Dropbox applications, for example, load the web interface, then click on Deleted Files to see a list of recently deleted files and folders. Click on Restore next to any entry to retrieve it. Deleted files are saved for 30 days or a full year if you have registered in Dropbox Pro and in the Extended versions history snap-in.
Windows and Mac
If your files have disappeared from the Recycle Bin or Trash, you need a dedicated third-party tool to search and recover your deleted files. Recuva is one of the best and most respected options for Windows, while DMDE and PhotoRec are worth considering as alternatives to recover your data.
Those of you who are on a Mac may want to take a look at Disk Drill, Prosoft Data Rescue and MiniTool Mac Data Recovery. However, all three are recommended from various sources (similar to Windows), there are many options to choose from. If a program can not find your files, you must run a scan with a different program.
Recuva offers you the option of a step-by-step assistant or an “advanced” interface with more control. In both cases, you can choose the type of file you have lost and where it was (if you know it), and Recuva goes to work. If the application finds nothing, you can opt for a deeper analysis, which is more complete, but takes much more time.
In the advanced mode of the program, any fragment of files that Recuva finds is classified using a simple traffic light system. If a file is marked green, then Recuva has good chances of recovering it. Select the files you want to restore and click Recover to see if Recuva can rebuild them correctly.
Due to the way recovery programs work, you must close other applications during the restoration process (to avoid overwriting your valuable data). You should also restore the files in a different location from the one they originally had, which helps protect the original data.