You don't always consciously delete files. It can also just happen by accident. For example, when formatting a disk, without having made a backup. Or you make a selection of files that can be deleted and there are accidentally some that you wanted to keep. Are they gone forever? Not necessarily! In this article, we will cover several ways to get back deleted files.
You already know the best way to prevent file loss. Also in Computer!Totaal we regularly insist: make regular backups to an external medium. And if possible, store the backup in two different locations, preferably both offline and online. No, this article will not become a workshop on making backups, because what if the damage is already done?
Then you have more data recovery tools, and we will also talk about smart 'safety nets' that are often already built into your operating system, in your cloud storage service or in the program you used to create the files. It would be a waste of your time and energy to get started with all kinds of data recovery tools if the recovery can also be much easier.
Have you accidentally overwritten a file in Windows and want that earlier version back? If the old data was actually overwritten, the chance of recovery is very small. But many users don't know that Windows may have kept even older file versions, thanks to the feature File history.
There are some conditions attached to this: you must have a second physical storage medium, you must have the File History function enabled beforehand and the System Restore must be active. You can read how to do this in the 'File history' box below. We assume that these conditions have already been met.
In that case, go through Windows Explorer to the folder in which you overwritten a file. Right click the overwritten file and choose Characteristics. Open the tab Previous versions and select the file with the desired date. If you want to check the version first, click the arrow at To open and choose Open in File History. From here you can browse through the different versions. With the green button you return the displayed version to its original location. If you want to restore the version to another location (to have it as a copy), click the arrow next to Put back and choose you Reset to then browse to the desired location.
Windows' File History feature automatically backs up folders you select. You can enable it as follows. Go to Institutions and choose Update and Security. Open the section backup, press the plus button at Back up with file history and indicate on which drive you want to save the backups. Then set the switch to On and click More options. Through Add a folder you decide from which folders you want to back up files and Back up my files indicate the frequency (default Every hour, we prefer to choose Every 10 minutes). Excess folders can of course be removed from the list.
File History works by the grace of another built-in feature: the Windows System Restore. That feature is reportedly disabled after you install a major Windows 10 update. Here's how to check whether that function is still active. Press Windows key+R and enter the command sysdm.cpl from. Open the tab System Security. If system restore appears to be disabled for the drive in question, select the drive, click Configure and make sure Enable System Security is active. Confirm your choices with OK.
02 Trash can
It can also happen that you accidentally delete a file. Whether you can still find it (easily) depends on a few factors. When you have pressed the Delete key (from Explorer), the file moves by default to the recycle bin and you can still retrieve it from there. Go to your desktop and double click on the Recycle Bin. Through Search in Trash locate the desired file, after which you can restore it from the context menu with the option of the same name.
Is your Recycle Bin set up in such a way that files are deleted immediately and do not end up in the Recycle Bin first? You can check that as follows: right click on Garbage can, choose Characteristics and see if there is a check mark next to it Don't move files to the Recycle Bin, delete them directly. In this case, the file isn't in that recycle bin, and then you'll need heavier guns to recover the file: specialized data recovery tools. Even if you deleted the file with the Shift+Delete key combination, you have to resort to this, because even then the file will skip the Recycle Bin.
03 Data Recovery Tools
There are many data recovery tools out there. Among the better programs that are also available as a free version are Disk Drill 4 (also available for macOS) and Recuva. With the free version of Disk Drill, you are limited to data recovery of up to 500 MB. This is one of the reasons why we show you in a nutshell how you can get started with Recuva, which remains our favourite.
Download and install Recuva. Note: Do not write anything to the drive from which you want to recover data, so install the tool on another drive or USB stick. By default, Recuva starts up in wizard mode, which is a great launch option. Indicate which file types you are looking for. If you are not sure or if you are looking for multiple types of files, select All files. Initially, the interface is in English, but further on in the program you can use the tool via the button Options make Dutch.
Then you indicate where the missing file was located - you can, among other things: Choose a specific location, but possibly also I'm not sure. The more accurately you define the search, the faster the operation can go. Then press Start.
04 Recuva Recovery
Recuva searches for files and after that search shows a list of files of which traces can still be found. The column Status as well as the colors of the dots indicate how Recuva estimates the recovery chances: Excellent, (Very) Bad or even hopeless irreparable. By clicking on a column title (once or twice) you change the order of the file list.
Check the box for files you want to try to recover. Right-click your selection and choose Get checked back. Decide where you want to save the files – on a different drive of course – and confirm with OK.
There are other doomsday scenarios, for example that you formatted the wrong drive (in a distracted mood). If you haven't saved any new data to the drive yet, there's a reasonable chance of recovery. You can also use Recuva for this. In that case, cancel the wizard mode and select the accidentally formatted drive in the drop-down menu at the top.
as soon as you click scan press, Recuva suggests to change the mode Extensive Scanning to turn on. Confirm by pressing Yes. You can also try this mode if you can't find the files with the normal wizard mode. Keep in mind that such a deep scan can be very 'labor-intensive': during this process you should have time for a cup of coffee or even an entire lunch. Hopefully Recuva will have some good news to report when you get back to your PC.
06 Word: Clean Boot
Accidentally deleting or overwriting files, or scattered formatting the wrong drive… those are our own fault situations. It can also happen that a file suddenly becomes 'corrupt' and will no longer open normally. This is relatively common with Word files. The cause doesn't matter for a while, we'll see how you can solve this.
Suppose Word suddenly doesn't want to open a document correctly: strange characters appear, the layout doesn't look like anything, the application freezes or an error message invariably pops up. Your first attempt is then to start Word 'naked': without templates or add-ins. Right click on the shortcut to Word and choose Characteristics. Open the tab Shortcut and now add to the back of the field Target (temporarily) the parameter /a up. Start Word and open your document.
07 Word: Recovery Options
If the previous way doesn't work, a second possible solution is to let Word make a recovery attempt. Go to the menu File, choose To open and navigate to the desired file via To leaf through. Click the arrow to the right of the button To open and select Open and Restore.
Another thing you can try: you first convert the defective document to another format (preferably first via RTF file (*.rtf) Bee Save as), and then revert it back to its original format.
Selective copying can also help: open the document and successively press Ctrl+End and Ctrl+Shift+Home so that all text is selected. Copy it with Ctrl+C and then paste it with Ctrl+N and then Ctrl+V in a new, blank document. If you have different sections in your document, just copy the text between the various section markers.
Finally, you can also get external help, for example in the form of the free Savvy DOCX Recovery.
08 Word: Rejected
Does Word refuse to show anything from your document? Even then you have a few possible options. Try opening the file in another word processor, such as LibreOffice Writer. Or you try to load the document in an alternative way. Start Word with an empty document, go to the menu Insert and click the section at the bottom right Text the arrow on, at Object. Here you choose Insert text from file.
Still nothing? Then just like this: go to File and choose To open / To leaf through. In the drop-down menu at the bottom right, choose Recover text from any file (*.*). Word will now try to extract all recognizable pieces of text from your moody document – albeit at the expense of your original layout, but that's better than nothing.
By the way, it can be even more 'experimental', at least with a .docx format. Rename the extension to .zip and open the archive with the free 7-Zip, for example. Then open the extracted folder named Word and load the document.xml file into a text editor. Between the tags and you will find all the text. In the extracted subfolder Media you will find all inserted images. So much for our tricks to recover Word files.
Tip: Find many more tips for Microsoft Word in our Tech Academy's Word course.
09 Google Drive: Erased
So far we have mainly talked about data (recovery) on local storage locations. If you make full use of a cloud storage service, problems can arise there too. Most of those services allow you to recover deleted or even overwritten files. For example, there is then a recycle bin available, or even some form of version management is supported. Here we take the popular Google Drive as an example.
Files that you accidentally delete on the Google Drive site or in your local sync folder are placed in the Google Drive trash by default. On the site in the left panel, open the item Garbage can and optionally arrange the files chronologically by the column Last modified to click. Select the desired files, optionally by holding down the Ctrl or Shift key when clicking. Then right-click your selection and choose To recover. The items are immediately returned to their original location in your Drive.
10 Google Drive: Overwritten
In Google Drive, you can also revert to a previous file version – by default, you can go back up to 30 days. Navigate to the appropriate file and right click it. Choose Manage version, scroll to the intended version and click on the button with the three dots. Here you choose To download, and the file will be sent to your PC.
Note that here you also have the option Always keep finds. This option ensures that this file version is not automatically deleted after 30 days. Keep in mind that the file size of older versions of non-Google documents will depend on your total storage space. This is not the case for files in Google formats.
Physical Sector Editor
If you are unable to recover lost files with any technique or (free) tool from this article, some advanced users can still resort to a so-called physical sector editor. For example the free HxD. Install the tool and preferably run it as an administrator. Go to the menu Extras and choose Open disc, where you double-click the desired logical or physical drive. For safety's sake, leave the check mark at Open as read only.
You are now looking directly at (the hexadecimal representation of) the disk contents, as it were under (the explorer of) Windows. Through the Searchmenu you can then search for text pieces from the lost file. You can then select it, for example, and paste it into a document via Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. Monk's work no doubt, but you may well be willing to pay for it.