5 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 Brooklyn 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.

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.

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!

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.

More Data Recovery Tools

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 "5 Free Tools to Recover Deleted Files"

Posted by:

07 Oct 2014

I just had to say I liked this one on lost files, and how to recover. I read all your suggestions and love your site Bob.TNX WA9FWT

Posted by:

07 Oct 2014

You conclude, "Oh, and did I mention that if you backup your hard drive, you won't need ANY of these tools?" Certainly a good backup practice will minimize the problems, and may avoid them completely. But a file can also be lost before the next scheduled backup, even if you back up important folders every few minutes. So a good recovery program could still be useful.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2014

Oops! I didn't intend to post my comment quite yet. I was about to add that I wish something like Testdisk had been available mid-2002. Keep up the good work.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2014

People from Brooklyn do not speak strangely. You're thinking of films made in the '40s. :-P

Good column today.

Posted by:

Tom Plain
07 Oct 2014

The biggest problem I have losing files is when I open an attachment to an Outlook email (e.g an excel file), do some changes, click "save", rather than "save as" to where the file should be saved (and I can find it again). Instead the default saves it to some temp internet file with a name like "OLK6882". I have looked for this and can never find it.

Posted by:

Bob C
08 Oct 2014

Thanks Bob another fine article, but one question
What about SSD Hard Drives, with TRIM command;

Extracts from Internet....

"The TRIM command causes the SSD controller to physically clear data blocks that were used to store deleted files" --> "the controller will receive a command the very moment you delete a file"


"Older versions of Windows (before Vista) do not support TRIM"


"TRIM is not supported over USB and FireWire protocols, so your external SSD’s can be recovered"

SSD's are the best HDD, but there is always a negative with any performance gain..

Posted by:

08 Oct 2014

The first step to recover a file is to use the folder toolbar/edit and use the 'undelete' option.

Have used Recuva [with an English accent] in anger and recovered deleted files.

To Tom Plain:

You should be able to go back to the original email and open the attached file again, which should be the saved version.

If you have deleted the email, try 'saving' another attachment file and you may see your lost file in the menu.

Posted by:

David Guillaume
08 Oct 2014

Another really good article Bob, loads of info and directions to make life easy. I have a paid for Outlook Express program that will either backup or restore from a previous backup. It has saved my bacon so many times that I have lost count. As I can backup at any time I have been able to archive all my Outlook info every month and have found it very handy when wanting to look up some email that I sent 12 months ago.

Posted by:

08 Oct 2014

Tom Plain: The "OLKxxxx" folder is a temporary location, and is hidden probably somewhere under AppData/Local/Temp, depending on Windows and Office versions.
My wife often does the same thing - edits documents attached to emails, and I suppose, expects the saved document to go back into the same email. As you note, it doesn't - though MS Office 2010 seems to know you shouldn't do that. That version of MS Office makes you 'Save as' somewhere more reasonable.
So, although I hate to blame the user, don't do that! Save attachments somewhere before editing them.
Or (if you trust the 'cloud') store your documents there and just send links instead of attachments. That will work because the document isn't really in the email.

Posted by:

08 Oct 2014

Tom Plain,

>>>> I have looked for this and can never find it.

You can find the file easily by searching your system disk for all files created at a timeframe that includes the estimated time you modified the attached file.

Posted by:

Gordon Schochet
08 Oct 2014

Terrific! And I am most grateful. I had just -- accidentally, of course -- deleted all the files from an important folder on a USB drive, but only RECUVA identified them. Unless I was doing something wrong -- not impossible -- the others would / could not search my USB drives.

Posted by:

Merry Ralte
09 Oct 2014

I suggest you take the help of Remo recovery application, its an effective software and is also a free tool, which is capable of recovering deleted files.

Posted by:

09 Oct 2014

I'm from Brooklyn. I don't speak that way and none of my acquaintances, relatives, friend, or neighbors do. Please don't offend your readers.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2014

Thanks Bob, for a great article, on a topic that will affect so many computer users!!!

Listen, I can get very "brainless" at times and will delete an important file, before I realize it. If, it is only in the Recycle Bin, I can easily retrieve it, but, should the file be deleted from the Recycle Bin, then I am in trouble.

While, I don't have company business files, on my PC ... I do have a lot of personal business on my PC. Things like Lease Agreements, confirmation of payment of bills, insurance information, so on and so forth. These kinds of files are exceedly important to me and my Hubby. Some may say, why not have a paper copy in a safe, secure place? I prefer, to not have lots of paper copies. Keeping them on my computer is the best way, and when, I need a copy, my printer can do it.

Thanks for recommending GlarySoft. I happen to love their products and did not know that, there was a Recovery File program, from them. I have downloaded it and love that it is FREE!!! GlarySoft really does, have a lot of Free Versions that work great. Plus, Glary's FilePuma is safe, without any foistware on their downloads.

I also, downloaded Piriform Recuva. I also, trust Piriform products, having used CCleaner for years, without any problems. I now have the Pro version of CCleaner. Just so I can have the capabilities of doing "automatic cleanings", that can not be done with the Free Version.

Again, thank you for doing the research for your readers, Bob.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2014

Actually, could anyone recommend me the software which recovers the data from ExFAT drives and verify disk permissions as well in Mac?

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