What can I do to recover deleted files from Windows?
Every Windows user knows that deleted files and folders can normally be retrieved from the Recycle Bin. However, this handy feature won’t help when an item has been removed using a more advanced method of deletion – like the Shift+Delete keys combination or a Windows prompt command. Also, files deleted from a portable digital medium usually bypass this container, let alone that the bin itself may get emptied afterwards. Fortunately, owing to the peculiarities of this OS, in most cases files remain recoverable by means of other options.
As a matter of fact, Windows simply marks the sectors occupied by a deleted file as free while its content remains on the storage device. Restoring a deleted file is possible until new data is written over it. The FAT/exFAT file systems used on external drives wipe the information about the location of the file clusters but preserve its name, size and start position. NTFS, which is commonly applied on internal drives, keeps a record for a file with all allocation information. Also, the Microsoft's newest ReFS file system performs all updates using the copy-on-write feature, never overwriting the live data without creating its copy within unused blocks. Special techniques allow finding this information, interpreting it and utilizing to recover deleted files.
Note: The mechanisms employed by FAT/exFAT, NTFS and ReFS to store data are described in more detail in the basics of 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. Such a point 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 several 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.
Recover deleted files from the FAT/exFAT, NTFS or ReFS file systems of Windows
SysDev Laboratories recommends UFS Explorer Standard Recovery as an effective software able to recover deleted files from FAT/exFAT, NTFS and ReFS along with many other file systems. Yet, please note that when it comes to deduplucated Windows volumes, a more advanced tool – UFS Explorer Professional Recovery is required.
Download and install UFS Explorer Standard Recovery. Don't use a storage (partition) which keeps the deleted files 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.
Hint: If you have any difficulties with the installation of the utility, please refer to the installation manual for UFS Explorer Standard Recovery.
Launch the program. If necessary, modify the software settings in the settings pane.
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.
Hint: Please rely on the instructions if you need to attach your hard disk drive to the motherboard or сonnect the HDD externally using a USB to SATA/IDE adapter.
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. After that, 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.
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.
Hint: More information about configuring the scan can be found in the instruction on scanning a drive with UFS Explorer.
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.
Save the selected files to a storage other than the disk from which the deleted data is being recovered.
Hint: If you are going to save the recovered data to a network storage, please check the provided guide.
To see the whole process 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.
Last update: August 09, 2022