One of the biggest and common headaches of carrying all of our important files in digital media is the possibility that for some reason they are lost, in many cases because we erase them ourselves by accident or by believing that they were backed up elsewhere. When we do not have a backup to go for salvation, we only have to resort to tools that are able to recover the data.
Interestingly and although there are numerous tools available to recover deleted files, it is common for many users to believe that this is not possible, or that they have to pay large sums of money in order to get their files back safely. Today we recommend several options that are effective and easy to use.
Where do files go when they are deleted?
Before you start it is important that you understand a few things about this process. First, the reason that deleted files can recover when it comes to a normal hard drive is because the operating system does not actually remove them completely from the sectors they occupy on the device (even when you empty the recycle bin), but something similar happens that they are marked as unimportant and it is considered that the space they occupy can be overwritten.
When the system needs space for new files and ends up overwriting those where the deleted files were, that is when they will be permanently lost. While this does not happen, a data recovery program can scan the disk and find anything that has not yet been overwritten to recover it.
Keeping in mind that detail, it would make sense that when you want to recover files from a hard disk, stop using the computer or the device immediately, to avoid overwriting the space by adding new files. That is why it is advisable to install the recovery tools in a portable way on a USB drive, or if possible, to extract the hard disk from your computer and connect it to another where you have installed the software you are going to use.
What about SSDs?
Solid-state drives (SSDs) work differently than traditional hard disks. Before any kind of data can be written to them, the disk must be clean.
When the operating system clears files from an SSD it uses the TRIM command to completely clean the sectors, so the writing process in the future will be faster, and we know that speed is the great selling point of these devices. This comes with the benefit or curse, according to the eyes you see, that it will be almost impossible to retrieve data from them.
This is only valid if it is an internal SSD. If you have an external SSD, SD or USB memory, or any type of drive that works as a removable drive, the system will not completely erase the sectors, which means your files will still float there and you could recover them.
Recuva is one of my favorite programs to perform data recovery tasks. It’s free, simple, easy to use and effective. Whether it’s photos, documents, music, videos, emails, or any kind of files you can think of, with this program you can return them from the grave.
Recuva lets you recover files by selecting all the available drives on your computer, lets you filter the results by file type in case you just search for photos, for example. It lets you do deep scans in case something gets too hard to find, and also has a feature to safely delete files overwriting the disk.
The interface of the program is novice-proof, once it finishes scanning it shows green files recoverable with path and full name, and allows you to select which ones you want to recover and where to save them. The free version is more than enough for most of the cases, although it has a premium that offers greater benefits.
If you are looking for an alternative that works on both Windows and MacOS , Disk Drill can come in handy. It is capable of reading all kinds of file systems: NTFS, FAT32, EXT, HFS + and more. It works with internal and external disks and is very easy to use.
Disk Drill also lets you filter results by file type, plus by size and by date. It has fast scans and deep scans. You can connect your devices with iOS or Android to the computer and you can also retrieve files from them with the application. The only drawback is that the free version only lets you recover files of max 100 MB.
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
Another excellent free alternative that also works in both Windows and MacOS, is the data recovery of EaseUS that already has a few years between us and is well known. The free version lets you recover up to 2 GB of files, if you want to continue retrieving data you will have to buy a license. Either way, it serves an emergency.
Just like the other recommended tools, EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard also lets you scan only a few file types or all, and then you can preview them before you can recover the ones you want.
NTFSUndelete is another very old and effective recovery program. Supports FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, and NTFS5 file systems. It is compatible with all versions of Windows from XP to Windows 10.
It works with your hard drive or any type of removable media, in addition to offering recovery according to type of files, has a special and improved mode to recover photos. Unfortunately NTFSUndelete is not free, but you can download a trial version to give you an idea of how it works and decide if it’s worth paying a license for it.
Glary Undelete is completely free and very easy to use. Just like Recuva does, this is the few software tools of this type that lets you recover files without limits of size or number of uses. Supports FAT, NTFS, NTFS +, and EFS file systems.
Glary is also able to recover files that have been compressed, fragmented or even encrypted. You can filter by filename, date of creation, size and also by current state of recovery, so that you only see the data that are recoverable in the results.
MiniTool Power Data Recovery is another data recovery software for Windows and MacOS that has a free version. Promises to recover deleted files either by accident, even after formatting and even in some cases corrupt data.
You can recover complete partitions, you can do a quick scan specially designed to recover multimedia content like photos, music or videos. You can scan damaged partitions and even recover files from CDs or DVDs.
We include TestDisk in this list because despite not being precisely a tool for the newest, it remains a very powerful resource for anyone who dares to learn to use it. It is a free and open source program to recover data, lost partitions, and make a boot disk boot again if it has been damaged.
TestDisk can fix partition tables, recover and rebuild boot sectors, recover files on FAT, NTFS, and ext2 systems. They can run on Windows, Linux, MacOS, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD DOS, and SunOS.
Again, it is not a program for beginners, it does not even have graphical interface. If you want to read a step by step how to recover files with it, in the wiki there is a large and long documentation.