How can one recover data from a USB flash drive?
Despite their small size, USB flash drives offer plenty of storage space to keep massive amounts of data. In addition, owing to the ubiquity of USB sockets, they make it incredibly easy to transfer files between different computers. They can be read by many other electronic devices as well: music players, game consoles, digital photo frames, projectors and smart TV.
Along with much higher privacy, security and availability than any cloud service could ever offer, this type of digital media is considered fairly durable. However, the valuable information it is trusted with may be still put at risk. Improper operations or other issues with the drive may make it corrupt. Besides, the files deleted from it are immediately removed and cannot be found in the Recycle Bin/Trash. Fortunately, when there has been no physical damage to the device, one can restore the lost data with a high probability.
Note: Unsafe removal of a pen drive from the computer can provoke both logical and physical problems. In case of physical damage, data recovery is possible only by a skilled and properly equipped service provider. DIY-repair efforts pose a risk to destroy the storage.
Recover files from a USB flash drive formatted with FAT (exFAT) or any other file system of Windows, macOS, Linux, Unix, BSD
In fact, it doesn't really matter whether the files were deleted from a jump drive or the OS is not able to find and recognize its file system, the actual data doesn't vanish from the storage. That’s why it can be easily brought back by a data recovery program. Still, beware that such a software can only regain the information which has not been overwritten. Thus, you should stop using the drive as soon as you realize that data loss has taken place. Also, avoid saving anything to it, including the recovered files.
There are several other situations when the chances for successful data recovery are very slim:
- low-level (full) formatting resets the drive to its factory defaults. This wipes the whole content of a storage – the file system and the data;
- some operating systems deploy "delayed writing" – a file may not be immediately written to the drive but wait until other operations will be completed. Abrupt disconnection of a drive irreversibly erases all the information pending to be written;
- file shredding utilities write zeros or some other data patterns over the files making them unrecoverable;
- pen drives protected by encryption software, like BitLocker To Go, become utterly inaccessible after the loss of an encryption key.
In other circumstances, SysDev Laboratories recommends UFS Explorer and Recovery Explorer as reliable data recovery solutions suitable for a wide variety of data loss scenarios, including the ones related to thumb drives managed by FAT (exFAT) or any other file system of Windows, macOS, Linux or Unix/BSD. The programs perform an extensive analysis of the drive's logical structure to locate the missing files and offer the user to copy the restored data to any safe storage.
Note: Before making attempts to recover data, try inserting your pen drive into another PC to ensure that the problem was not caused by incompatibility or a defective port.
Hint: To learn more about FAT and other file system types, please, refer to the basics of file systems. If you want to assess the possibility of a successful data recovery operation, familiarize yourself with the articles describing the specifics of data recovery depending on the OS and chances for data recovery.
In order to accomplish USB flash drive recovery using the Standard edition of UFS Explorer, take the following steps:
Download and install the application onto the computer. Ensure that the version of the program fits the operating system your machine is running.
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 software and, if needed, change its settings in the corresponding pane.
Plug the USB flash drive into the computer’s USB port. If possible, opt for USB 3.0. or higher rather than USB 2.0 – this will substantially speed up data access/reading/scanning operations. Turn on the power switch, if available.
Warning: Once attached to the computer, your thumb drive may throw an error or ask for a format. Don’t try to fix anything until you finish up recovering data. This may lead to serious difficulties or even permanent data loss.
Select your USB flash drive in the list of attached devices in the left pane and scan it for lost data using the corresponding button or the storage context menu option.
Set up the preferable scan parameters. If you know which file system type you deal with, deselect the superfluous ones. After that, press "Start scan" and wait for the process to complete.
Hint: More information about configuring the scan can be found in the instruction on scanning a drive with UFS Explorer.
Browse through the file system reconstructed by the program. Provided that the "Set up displaying of file status" tool is activated, all files will be presented with circular icons that correspond to their state: a green icon implies a "good" file that has a valid header; a red one indicate a "bad" (zeroed) file; a gray icon may appear when a file has been partly damaged or its integrity cannot be verified in view of the format’s specifics. The undeleted folders and files can be recognized by the red color of their names. You may also sort the files by name, date, size, employ quick or advanced search and preview them in the embedded viewer to decide which ones you need. After that, click "Define selection" and check off the items you want to copy.
Hint: The information provided in Evaluation and saving the results of data recovery may facilitate your work with the obtained folders and files.
Choose a destination folder for these files. Make sure you are not copying them back to the problem USB device.
Hint: If you are going to save the recovered data to a network storage, please check the provided guide.
Last update: August 09, 2022