7 Free Tools to Recover Deleted Files

Category: Hard-Drives

Have you ever lost important files because of a finger fumble, brain freeze, software error, or computer crash? I know I have. But fortunately, 'deleted' doesn't always mean 'gone forever' -- and there are tools that can help you recover those lost files. Some of the best file recovery tools are free. I strongly recommend adding one or more of these to your toolbox, BEFORE you lose a file...

How To Recover Deleted Files - For Free

So you lost an important file. Ouch. If you simply deleted the wrong file, you can usually get it back by opening the Recycle Bin (on Windows) and restoring it. On a Mac, you'll look in the Trash Bin. Linux users, check the Trash folder. The happy secret here is that in most cases, deleted files really aren't gone at all. They're just moved into the Recycle/Trash bucket, and can be restored to their original folders with a few clicks.

If that doesn't do the trick, here's a little secret that may help. When you delete a file, it's not actually removed from your computer's hard drive -- at least not right away. The operating system simply marks the space occupied by that file as available disk space. So unless another file is written to that space, it's still possible to recover it, with the use of software tools that are designed to scour your drive for files that are marked as 'deleted' but not actually gone. Try one of these free tools to do the heavy lifting.

recover deleted files

Piriform's Recuva (pronounced like "recover" with a hipster accent) will help you to find files and images on your Windows computer that were deleted by human error, including those deleted from your digital camera memory card or MP3 player. Recuva can also restore files deleted from the recycle bin or those that were deleted by a bug, virus or crash. This is a free Windows application that includes a support forum. A paid version which includes support and automatic updates is also available. Recuva comes from the same people that developed the popular CCleaner, so the reputation is rock solid.

PhotoRec is a free undelete utility for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Despite the name, it can recover almost 400 different file formats (not just photos) including ZIP, Office (Word/Excel/Powerpoint), PDF, HTML, TXT, and JPEG. Photorec can recover files from a variety of media, including hard drives, CD/DVDs, digital camera memory cards, and USB flash drives. It can also be used with portable devices (including the iPod) and many digital cameras. Photorec doesn't even require that the drive be partitioned, formatted or mounted with a drive letter.

A companion program called TESTDISK is even more powerful, with the ability to fix partition tables, recover deleted partitions and boot sectors, and rebuild FATs (file access table) and MFTs (master file table). It sounds geeky, but TESTDISK saved my bacon once when I thought my hard drive was completely hosed. It appeared that all my files were gone, but actually just the partition table was mangled. TESTDISK scanned the drive, rebuilt the partitions and all my files reappeared!

More Data Recovery Tools

Losing a file due to an accidental click or keystroke is bad enough. But losing your entire hard drive to a hardware failure, virus, flood or fire can be devastating. And no simple undelete utility will fix that. But backing up your hard drive will help in both the "Oops, I deleted a file" problem as well as the "Oh no... my hard drive died!" scenario. See my article Free Backup Software Options for tips on how to get the job done.

Disk Drill is billed as "The most friendly data recovery app for Windows," and it claims to recover lost files from hard drives, flash drives, camera memory cards, and almost any other storage device you can throw at it. After scanning your disk for deleted files, you can filter the results by type (pictures, video, documents, etc.), by size, or date. An optional "protection service" claims to protect you from future data loss, by keeping a record of all deleted files. Also works on Mac computers.

GlarySoft is a trusted source for free utility programs, and Glary Undelete is another file recovery program worth a look. It's easy to use, yet powerful, with support for all versions of Windows, and image recovery from CompactFlash, SmartMedia, MultiMedia and Secure Digital cards. After scanning your disk, Glary Undelete will display a list of deleted files, along with an estimate of the probability of successfully restoring each file.

I'm including the EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard because I've tried other free tools from EaseUS, and found them to be well-designed and easy to use. The Data Recovery Wizard is free, and there are versions for Windows, Mac, Android mobile, and iOS (iPhone/iPad) users. The software guides you through the process of recovering deleted files with clear instructions, and provides the ability to search for specific file types. Only 2 GB of data can be recovered with the free version.

FreeUndelete has no charge for personal usage, although they charge for businesses. The program is spyware and adware free, works on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, and can restore files from your Recycle Bin or NTFS, FAT32 or FAT16 hard drives. Once recovered, they will be saved in a new user-selected location to prevent overwriting files.

And if you work with external media, Recovery Toolbox for CD Free can recover data from damaged or corrupted CD, DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. The same company also makes a variety of other data recovery tools, including Recovery Toolbox for Outlook, Outlook Express, Word, Excel, Zip and other applications to recover damaged or deleted data. They're not free, but you can get a free trial to see if it'll do the job.

Do it Now...

Obviously, all of these tools are most useful if you install them BEFORE you lose the data, because downloading a file can possibly overwrite the very file(s) you want to recover. I recommend that you check out a few and download them to a flash drive or other portable storage, so you'll be ready in case you do need to recover lost files. Oh, and did I mention that if you backup your hard drive, you won't need ANY of these tools? (See the sidebar above for some backup tips.)

Do you have a favorite deleted file recovery tool? Have you tried any of the above? Post a comment below and let us know...

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Most recent comments on "7 Free Tools to Recover Deleted Files"

Posted by:

10 May 2016

I had a disk fail and the partition information was lost. I had backups but they were a few days old. I also had nightly online backups which I could use to get files but that was going to be a pain to get all the latest stuff. So it was going to be a lot easier if I could just recover the latest stuff from the disk. Using EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard and EaseUS Partition Master I was able to get all the stuff back and put it on a new disk.

Posted by:

10 May 2016

Hello Bob, I don't have a good reason why, but I have not yet thanked you for the years that you have been giving advise to people like me. From me, Thank you very much. I have followed you for many years now. You have always given solid advice. I'm sure glad your still around. I hope others will or have thanked you also. There's nothing worse than having a thankless job. So, from me, Thank you, Thank you.
best of times for you.
John P.

Posted by:

10 May 2016

Hello Bob, I don't have a good reason why, but I have not yet thanked you for the years that you have been giving advise to people like me. From me, Thank you very much. I have followed you for many years now. You have always given solid advice. I'm sure glad your still around. I hope others will or have thanked you also. There's nothing worse than having a thankless job. So, from me, Thank you, Thank you.
best of times for you.
John P.

Posted by:

Ralph Tucciarone
10 May 2016

Hey Bob, I like your articles and would like to set up a file and save them for future reference. Promise I won't re-publish. What happens is simply it's great information but I don't need it right now. Would like to set up a file for that "just in case event". Can that be done?

Posted by:

Tom Plain
10 May 2016

Thank you for these suggestions Bob. I may have missed it or misunderstood, but the biggest, most frequent problem I have is when, after working on a Word document or Excel file, the dialog box asks "Do you want to Save Changes?" And I accidentally click no.
Or if I open an attachment on a sent email and make changes and save it, it saves to some invisible temp file I can never find.
Would any of these tools help find one of the these "unsaved" files?

Posted by:

Bob Pegram
10 May 2016

Ralph Tucciarone -
Just copy and paste into a word processing document. Clean it up a little and you have it. I do that with various websites in case I ever need the info.

Posted by:

Mike Davies
10 May 2016

I just save the e-mail in a dedicated folder, the links within them have always stayed live so far.

Posted by:

10 May 2016

Thanks for free solutions: Recuva and Disk Drill

Posted by:

11 May 2016

@Ralph Tucciarone -
Let me second Mike Davies' comment about saving the emails. I just checked an email from January 2013, AskBob - Is Java Safe and Do I Need It? - January 14, 2013, and it came up perfectly.
And since I am an electronic pack rat, I have those emails. I even have his Tourbus emails, but since the site isn't updated anymore (you have to visit his archives), I don't revisit those emails.

Posted by:

11 May 2016

Do any of these programs recover the files with their original names? I have used a variety of programs in the past but those that worked best assigned their own names, usually some alphanumeric string which was meaningless to me, and it was then necessary to open each file to find out what it actually was. A program that could get the actual original name back would be most helpful.

Posted by:

Sam H
11 May 2016

Do any of these recover say Thunderbird address book and emails lost when M$ tried to force W10 and I panicked. Did recovery and lost this program and had to reinstall it and all browsers etc which it deleted and had said may not work well if I did recovery. True. I will be able to re-build but takes time which older I get shorter seems to me to get.

Posted by:

11 May 2016

HI Bob, I can't do a hipster accent. Not sure what it is. Can I still use Recuva? :)

Posted by:

john silberman
11 May 2016

I have had good luck with UFS Explorer.

Posted by:

Greg C
13 May 2016

Thank you for this and many, many other informative articles. In the past I have used TESTDISK with great success, but also with great difficulty. The first problem is that it has to run from an OS. Not so good if the boot sector is hosed. Of course it is possible to move a laptop drive to a desktop- if you have an adapter handy. Luckily, I was able to find a "live" CD with this program available. Real techies can create their own live CDs, but us lesser mortals cannot.

The second problem is that the program is very difficult ( for me ) to understand & use. It took more than one attempt to sift through the arcane menu.
Yes it was worth it and solved all my problems.

Posted by:

24 May 2016

Hey Bob, amazingly informative post! However, I had Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery installed on my system (paid) and undoubtedly it does its job pretty well (Photo Recovery). Also, I am thinking to try "Recuva' on my next project venture after reading this post.
read more on Photo Recovery

Posted by:

20 Jul 2016

Thanks for sharing such a useful information about the product. However, for me, I used a great tool to recover my all deleted data: file, music, photo...etc. It's called Advanced Disk Recovery; you should try it http://goo.gl/dBjcMz

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