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What can I do to recover deleted files from Windows?

Every Windows user knows that mistakenly deleted files and folders can be easily retrieved from a special container on the Desktop called the Recycle Bin. However, this handy feature cannot help when an item has been removed using more advanced deletion methods (like the Shift + Delete keys combination, a Windows prompt command, etc.), from a portable digital medium or the bin itself has been emptied afterward. Fortunately, owing to the peculiarities of this OS, in most cases, files remain recoverable by means of other options, even in the absence of a backup.

The main reason which makes restoring deleted files possible is that Windows simply marks the sectors occupied by such a file as free while its content remains on the storage device until new data is written there. The FAT/exFAT file systems used on external drives wipes the information about the location of file clusters but preserves its name, size and start position whereas NTFS, which is commonly applied on internal disks, keeps a record for a file with all allocation information until it gets overwritten. Special techniques allow finding this data, interpreting it and utilizing to recover deleted files.

Note: The mechanisms employed by FAT/exFAT and NTFS to store data are described in more detail in Understanding file systems.

Still, there are several situations when it is not even worth trying to undelete files from Windows:

  • the files were deleted a long time ago from the storage device which has been actively used;
  • the files were destroyed with the help of shredding or erasing software;
  • the disk the files were stored on was encrypted and the encryption key is lost.
  • In other cases, there are fair chances to restore deleted files with one of the following methods.

Use the Previous Versions feature built into Windows

Previous Versions is available in Windows 7 and later as a part of the System Restore feature. A Restore point is automatically created by the system whenever key changes like software installation are made and may include copies of files and folders you’ve recently deleted.

If you know the exact location where the item in question was stored, right-click this directory and select the "Restore previous version" option. If this feature was enabled and a Restore point was created, the opened window will include the list of available previous versions with their associated dates. You can select the needed one and click "Restore" to get the deleted file back.

Use data recovery software

If the above-given method failed, files can be still retrieved from the file systems of Windows with the help of special data recovery software. As has already been mentioned, Windows currently employs two file systems – FAT/exFAT and NTFS which are normally used on hard disk drives, USB sticks, memory cards of photo/video cameras, smartphones and other devices formatted in this OS. In addition, the Microsoft's next generation ReFS file system works on some computers running Windows 10 and Windows Server starting from 2012.

Note: Recovery of deleted files is possible as long as they are not overwritten with some other information. For this reason, it is highly recommended to stop all operations with the storage from which the data has been deleted and immediately start recovering files.

FAT/exFAT or NTFS file systems of Windows

SysDev Laboratories recommends UFS Explorer Standard Recovery as an effective software able to recover deleted files from FAT/exFAT and NTFS along with many other file systems.

  1. Download and install UFS Explorer Standard Recovery. Don't use a storage (partition) which keeps the deleted files to be restored to avoid their overwriting. Ensure that the downloaded version of the software is in line with the operating system platform it will be run on.

    UFS Explorer Standard Recovery install step 1

  2. Launch the program. If necessary, modify the software settings in the settings pane.

    UFS Explorer Standard Recovery install step 2

  3. Attach the storage device which holds the deleted data you need to retrieve. If the files were stored in a non-system partition, the data recovery procedure can be performed on the same PC. However, if the data was lost from the system partition (usually drive C:), it is strongly recommended to extract the hard drive from this PC and connect it to another computer as a secondary device.

  4. UFS Explorer Standard Recovery automatically detects partitions available on a device and displays them in the left pane of the main window. Choose the needed storage from the list based on its size, file system type or content and scan it for lost data using the corresponding storage context menu option, the "Start scan" button or the "Scan this storage" tool from the toolbar.

    UFS Explorer Standard Recovery install step 4

  5. Set up the needed scan parameters. If you want the process to be completed faster, you may deselect all file systems except the ones related to Windows and disable InelliRAW. After that, press "Start scan" and wait for the results of recovery.

    UFS Explorer Standard Recovery install step 5

  6. Browse the found files and folders: you may sort them by name, date, type, use the quick and advanced search options or preview files in the internal viewer. Press the "Define selection" button and choose the ones you want to recover.

    UFS Explorer Standard Recovery install step 6

  7. Save the selected files to a storage other than the disk from which the deleted data is being recovered.

    UFS Explorer Standard Recovery install step 7

To see the whole proccess step by step, you can watch this short video guide:

Note: If the data was lost from the system partition and there is no possibility to extract the disk and attach it to another PC, you can boot the computer using UFS Explorer Backup and Emergency Recovery CD for safe data recovery. For more details, please, refer to Data recovery from a system partition.

ReFS and ReFS3 file systems of Windows

The Microsoft's newest ReFS file system provides exceedingly high chances for successful data recovery owing to its architecture and the copy-on-write feature, in particular. However, to restore deleted files from a ReFS partition a more advanced data recovery tool is required. UFS Explorer Professional Recovery is an in-depth software solution capable of working with ReFS volumes, even with ones having deduplication enabled.

The process of recovering deleted files from ReFS is similar to data recovery from any other file system:

  1. Download and install UFS Explorer Professional Recovery on a partition which doesn't contain the deleted files. See to it that the downloaded version of the software corresponds to the operating system platform it will be used on.

    UFS Explorer Professional Recovery install step 1

  2. Launch the application and modify its settings in the settings tab, if needed.

    UFS Explorer Professional Recovery install step 2

  3. Select a ReFS partition or a local disk containing it from the list of connected storages in the left pane and press the "Scan for lost data" button or use the corresponding context menu option.

    UFS Explorer Professional Recovery install step 3

  4. Set up the needed scan parameters. Make sure that Microsoft ReFS is selected in the list of file system families. Press "Start scan" and wait for the results of recovery.

    UFS Explorer Professional Recovery install step 4

  5. Select and open ReFS which will be listed among the recovered file systems.

    UFS Explorer Professional Recovery install step 5

  6. Browse the files and folders found by the program. For more convenience, sort files by different criteria or use quick/advanced search. Press the "Define permanent selection" button and choose the items you want to recover.

    UFS Explorer Professional Recovery install step 6

  7. Press "Save selection" to copy the chosen files/folders to a volume other than the one from which the deleted information is being recovered

    UFS Explorer Professional Recovery install step 7

Last update: April 19, 2019

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