How to recover deleted files
There are many ways to lose computer files, but they all end the same way — with that horrible feeling you get when you realize an important file is gone. It would be great if you never had to go through that. But if you do, here are a few tips that might help you recover your accidentally deleted computer files and photos.
How to recover accidentally deleted files
It takes nothing but a keystroke or mouse click to accidentally delete a file. And while there's still no "undelete" button on your keyboard, there are ways to recover deleted files. In some cases, file recovery software might work, but it's not always necessary, and it has some risks. You might get your data back easier if you try a few tricks you might not already know about.
Depending on where the file was located and how long it's been since you deleted it, you might be able to recover that file with relatively little hassle. If you've simply sent it to a trash folder, for example, all you've really done is mark the space on your hard drive where the file was stored to be written over with new data by your computer. Until then, nothing actually happens to the file. If there's been a lot of activity on the computer since the file was deleted, and if a lot of time has passed, it's more likely that the file has been deleted. But if you catch it in time, you might be able to get the file back.
How to recover files on a PC
If you're using a PC, you may be able to recover the file using the built-in File History feature in Windows. File History is a backup tool that saves previous versions of files to a backup device, such as an external hard drive. To use it, you first have to enable it under Settings and select a drive to use as backup. Remember, make copies of all of your local files and back them up in the cloud. Once you have File History configured, you can recover files by navigating to Settings, selecting "Update and Security", then "Backup" and "More options". Scroll down and select "Restore files from current backup". You can then browse your backed up files and folders to find the on you're looking to restore.
How to recover files on a Mac
Recovering a file on a Mac computer or Powerbook is a similar process. First, check the recycle bin. Also try searching for the file using Apple's search feature, Spotlight. Just click the magnifying glass icon at the top of the menu bar to open the search window. Then type in as much of the file name as you can remember. If the file is still anywhere on your computer, Spotlight should find it. If it's not on your computer, check to see if you're using Apple's built-in backup software, Time Machine. Similar to File history in Windows, Time Machine backs up files and folders to an external hard drive, like Apple's Time Capsule. With Time Machine, you can revert to previous versions of files or folders. You might find an earlier version of the file in a previous backup
It goes without saying that it's easier to recover files if you're already using some form of backup, like File History in Windows, Time Machine for Mac — or Carbonite for both.
But what if, like a lot of people, you're finding out the hard way and you didn't use backup? Then you're going to have to get a little more resourceful. Think about what you've done with the file since you created it. Did you email it to someone else? If so, you might find it in your sent mail folder. Did you upload it to a hosting service like GoogleDrive, Dropbox or OneDrive? Even though these services are not true forms of backup, some people use file hosting or sync and share services to save an extra copy of important files.
In the event of an accidental file deletion, check any file sync and share or cloud storage services where you have an account and search your folders for the document. Even if you deleted it with a file sync and share service, you might get lucky and find the file in your trash folder. These services sometimes take longer to empty the trash bin than a computer.
File recovery software
There are also file recovery tools you can install on your computer. There is some risk with these because they require you to download the file recovery software to your computer. In some cases, the new software could overwrite the file you're looking to recover. But if you're willing to take the chance, you might have success with file recovery software such as Recuva.
A lot depends on how soon you realize the file is missing. If the file is very important to you and you absolutely must have it back, your safest bet is to shut down your computer as soon as you realize the file is missing and take it to your data recovery service. Any additional computing activity since you deleted the file increases the likelihood that the file has been written over and permanently deleted.
Get your data back every time
If you've tried everything with no success, chalk it up to a learning experience and use it as motivation to start backing up all your important files so you never have to worry about losing them again.