I have personally had several unpleasant experiences over the years with accidental file deletions and unexpected file corruption. Disaster can strike at any moment and generally when you least expect it.

 

Here is a list of mostly free file recovery programs. Some require installation and some can run as a standalone program. Some specialize in photo recovery if that is what you are looking for.

These are not placed in any particular order of preference. Recuva is highly rated and free. It is worth taking a look at.

 

Piriform Recuva
free, one of the better ones, requires installation, easy, very user friendly, handles photo recovery special, has a file shredder

Puran File Recovery
free, requires installation, can recover lost partitions

VirtualLab
$100 for 500GB, requires install, handles photo recovery special

Glary Undelete
free, requires install

CGSecurity TestDisk/PhotoRec
free, does not require installation, works with partitions, handles photo recovery special

Pandora Recovery
free, requires install

SoftPerfect File Recovery
free, very easy

PC Tools File Recover
$30/yr, requires install

Restoration
free, very simple, does not need to be installed, has a file shredder

Avira UnErase Personal
free, ultra simple to use, needs install

FreeUndelete
free, nice folder view to recover files

ADRC Data Recovery Tools
free, does not require install and super small program

Ubuntu Rescue Remix
free, photo recovery special, does not require install, can be complicated

 

Be prepared. Have one of these programs already installed on your computer ahead of time. Note that when you install something after a file deletion has occurred, there is a chance that the program you are installing overwrites some of the files you are trying to recover.

Also backup, backup, backup!

 

57 Comments
  1. I have had disasters like this in similar situations and while this method does not work every time, having this preinstalled on your computer can be a lifesaver. From what I heard, preinstalling a utility like this will increase the odds of recovering the deleted file.

    • What kind of errors have you encountered? Also what program worked best? I’ve never actually had a file go corrupt on me and have mostly dealt with accidental deletions, so I’m interested as to how it worked out for you.

      • Well, I don’t remember the name of the program, but I downloaded it from CNET, It was a freeware program and I’m not sure if it was good as Recova. During the restore process, the file being restored ended up being completely corrupt. I ended up having to retype everything.

        • Most likely the disk drive re-used some of the same allocation in disk which used to be storing your deleted file. Which causes a corrupted file when part of the file allocation is missing.

          Yea I learn that the hard way too, accidentally deleted some huge HD video file which didn’t even go into the trash bin cause it too big. When I try to recover it, I cant even open it anymore. =(

  2. Are these services primarily for backup, recovery, or both? I’ve had great experiences with Recuva and it has gotten me out of a lot of tough situations with accidentally deleting work. Before trying any of these I would have to recommend that you also look into backup services as well since file corruption is not as rampant as blatant file loss. I would also download a multitude of these applications to see which one fits my needs best. All in all great information and it’s good to see that there are a large variety of options to fit my needs.

  3. I have to admit this has happened to me on a single occasion but I simply just had to rip all my CD’s all over again, which was annoying but it has to be done. It was my music folder on an XP system years ago.

    I use a FreeBSD system now and I am paranoid so I have modified the configuration files to state you cannot delete files with the delete key, but you have to right click and select the delete option and then verify you want to delete them before it goes into the “Rubbish Bin” which works like Window’s Recycle bin. We can simply restore them from there before we erase the data.

    • I had the same problem myself and now I have an external hard drive to backup all my music. It was quite saddening that one time I accidentally deleted all my music, for one they did not ask for verification, second I could not undo, and third they didn’t go tot he recycle bin for last confirmation. How I consoled myself was that, if I really loved them that much, I am bond to come across them again (given I don’t remember songs by name but by melody).

      • I also lost all of my music in a similar incident. That was a painful experience. I’ve learned like you did and bought an external hard drive. That certainly made life easier when my next computer went kaput. I tell everyone that is a computer novice that they should always buy an external hard drive when they begin to accumulate important data on their main computer’s hard drive. It’s like an insurance policy.

  4. This happens to me way to often – luckily, so far I’ve never lost very important data or projects that couldn’t be remade in a short amount of time. Best way to prevent this is to make a backup every once a while…. which reminds me – I probably should back up my hard drive again soon.

    • If it happens to you that often, perhaps you should consider if there’s a virus? Or perhaps you were saving incompletely? Were you using a USB or directly onto your hard drive? Of course, backing up is always the best choice but if there are only minor changes, it seems overkill. It used to be that you could save versions of your work, but that feature might now have been popular enough to be continued.

  5. I have a SSD that I have an image of my entire computer basically that I update once every 2 months. I haven’t tried programs like you mentioned though. Can someone explain to me how they work? I just install them and they backup my files? Or do they make the chance of saving the files more likely?

    • Typically when a file is “deleted” on a computer, the first character in the filename is removed. The file is still on your hard drive however your computer doesn’t “see” it. The space that the file is occupying can be allocated to other files you create / copy / move. Therefore it is very important when you delete by mistake to immediately stop what you are doing. This increases the chances for file recovery. You do not want a different file to suddenly appear over where your deleted file resides on your storage media. Therefore if you have a file recovery program already installed, you have greatly increased the chances of recovery. This is not a backup program. You should be running backups as well. However this information in case something goes bad and you need to attempt file recovery.

      It is VERY enlightening to try one of the programs above on your computer right now and see the amount of files you thought were deleted.

      • I’ve tried Recuva in the past and wondered how it worked and why on earth it was able to pull up files I deleted. Even more puzzling to me is that sometimes the program could recover my files and sometimes it couldn’t. I see now I should have stopped working and immediately tried to recover my deleted research paper. I wish I had known this tip in college!

  6. Thank you for these wonderful programs. Sometimes disasters happen like power outage, and we can lose very important documents. This will help me in recovering them, if it happens. Although, I still think the best way to save documents, is to backup your computer on a weekly basis.

    • I second what this guy says about a backup. Backups are underrated once, and never againa, never.

      Thanks for all this info mr Papp. It can’t hurt to know about all these fil recovery programs.

  7. I wasn’t aware so many programmes like this existed – what a great list! Although I have yet to accidentally delete a really important file completely (touch wood), I’m going to bookmark this article for future reference. You never know when disaster might strike!

  8. Ah, I’m actually so glad you posted this. Just a while ago I had the (mis)fortune to have my whole USB drive corrupted and wipes clean. I wonder if any of these can help me get anything back. And maybe next time I accidentally delete music off of my mp3, I can get it back… Did you know they don’t ask you to make sure when deleting music files?
    Thanks again, David!

  9. We’ve been looking into a lot of disaster recovery options where I work. I can’t talk about it very much because the security people would flip out (they do that), but there’s an art to recovering data. Our oldest technician has gotten data off a drive that was destroyed with a hammer. That’s why we let him sit in the big chair.

  10. Recently I was getting a BSOD just about every day so I freaked out and backuped everything using just external drives. I have put hours of work into music and to lose those files would be utterly devastating. I have used cloud storage sites like soundcloud in the past but never recovery software. I like Avira software in general so I will have to check that one out. Thanks for the info.

    • Avira software is very nice. I use it regularly, as I’m often scatter-brained and delete things I actually want to keep. It’s accuracy is wonderful, you’d hardly even know it’s a free program.

      Of course, when you start to get used to have a safety net, you start taking a few too many risks, and then something slips through the cracks that you immediately realize you can’t live without. I guess it helps to also be proactive about how to not lose files in the first place.

  11. Recently, an external hard drive that my friend had died. He had his ENTIRE graduate school portfolio on there and is supposed to graduate in the next month. Unfortunately, he did not back up his files on multiple drives or websites like dropbox. In a desperate attempt to save his work, he paid $250 to TRY to have it restored. The company, Western Digital in this case, said that they would need another $800 to try some deep restore to try to bring back the files. Needless to say, he said no thanks. The point of that story is to definitely back up your important files to multiple storage units and online. You don’t want to end up in a situation paying ridiculous amounts of money.

    • I don’t really understand why things like this happen. I mean, I have a cousin who had the same problem, except it only involved a few but very important files. I know she knows about backups but she never bothered setting it up and she wasn’t able to recover anything at all. I remember when we didn’t have cloud storage, my backups are just files I email to myself.

  12. Once again nice try and helping material. few months ago I lost my hard drive due to system error and it was crashed. I was doing my masters thesis that time, and i have to store all my data on that hard drive. It cost me round about 100 USD to recover it.

  13. Oh Wow! It is sure that I try it!
    I have always sought solutions for data I lost.

    But I have a question: Does the lost before the installation of the program files can be recovered?

    Can is what it means that the files will never be deleted?

    Anyway, I’ll probably try it to see his performance!

    • Deleted files still exist on a computer and can be recovered. However the more you use it, the more you increase the chance that it will be overwritten and no longer recoverable.

  14. I already have an external hard drive as a backup. However I was wondering if you thought that there would be some benefit to having one online as well? Also the free vs. purchased do you see a quality difference? What really makes the difference in product?

    • You can’t have enough backups. Murphy always bites us at the worst times. I have frequently seen situations where the backups didn’t work, are corrupt, or some other issue has occurred. There are other online backup services such as mozy.com and idrive.com – generally free vs paid is in the features and not quality. Depends if you need the additional features.

      • It is true that backup is never enough. I remember six months ago when I mistakenly deleted a folder containing my personal website templates. When I found out what I did, I wasn’t really moved ’cause I believed I’d the same folder on my flash drive. But on inserting my flash drive into my computer, the flash drive just wouldn’t work, it was broken. Now, thinking about it, one of these file recovery software would probably have helped save the situation.

        Note: I used a system restore program some years ago which actually solved the problem but was complicated in a way. The system restore would take the system back to a previous date which you’d get your deleted file(s) but may lose others that was/were not already on your system at that particular date.

  15. We are in the middle of a hard drive crash on my daughter’s laptop. Unfortunately, she did not do a back up and has probably lost her portfolio she started for university next year as well as her photos. I will be visiting the Apple store to see what can be recovered and am sure it will cost me a lot.

    I know she’s had corrupted files before and am grateful to you for the list above. When and if they can revive her laptop I will download a few of the above to cover her for the next time a file corrupts or she accidentally deletes something. Thank you for the information.

  16. I want to thank you so much for this article! Losing files can get so frustrating especially when you really need it. I have had an incident happen in the past where my laptop just froze and when it was restarted, the screen never made it past the startup page. I brought it into a store to get it fixed. However, they ended up reformatting my entire laptop and I lost every single file! It’s so comforting to know that there are viable options out there in case any future disasters like this were to happen again.

  17. Much gratitude for the article. I’ve lost recordings of important moments of my life in the past and I hope it won’t ever happen again. These days a large percentage of important information in people’s lives is electronically stored and backing it up can be an excellent solution.

  18. For most people around the globe nowadays, computers are already considered massive storage houses. People’s professional and personal lives are being contained in them, that’s why to lose them is worse than anything else. In my case, I back up my files for like every five days, but unfortunate events really happen once in a while. I’m thankful that I’ve only had a couple of file deletions and corruptions. But, I should be ready for anything bad that’s going to happen to my precious files. I’m gonna check them out.

  19. Is this only possible before you empty your recycle bin or even after. I know that I have had several situations where I had lost a lot of memories by my hard drive crashing with all my photos on it.

  20. Recuva and other similar programs are very helpful in file recovery. I still consider backup the best prevention to permanently losing files. Some time ago, my cousin’s hard drive got corrupted and they’ve tried recovery programs on it to no avail. I’m sure there are people who can probably retrieve files from that hard drive but it can be very expensive.

  21. I just used Recuva and boy am I impressed! It found 11,366 files in 17 seconds! I can’t believe it found so many! I had files from 2011 that could be recovered! I think there were more than 500 in an “Excellent” state which means they can be recovered.

    I first tried to recover 3 files which were in an “Excellent” state. It did recover all of them, yet only the excel document and the mp3 worked. I also had an image file from 2011 which it says it can’t open. Nonetheless this is pretty good for a free program.

    Second try: fully recovered 1 file from 3. 2 were partially recovered. The recovered file was in an “Excellent” state and it was a video file which is working perfectly now. The other two were in a “Poor” state and I can’t use them.

    It’s very fun to play around with Recuva! Thanks for this great post, David!

  22. These types of tools are greatly appreciated, thanks for the listing. You don’t realize how attached you’ve become to your data until some type of disaster happens.

    Last year, I had a hard drive failure and it was quite devastating. I had backups but they weren’t complete because I became lazy in my file management. Plus, I had files backup in multiple places. To this day, I still have things to sift through, and it’s been about a year!

  23. Several months ago some of my files got corrupted, if i had one of these it would have helped a lot. I now frequently backup my files. I am gonna install one of these and see how well it performs. Thanks for the list.

  24. I prefer the stand alone installation programs. Also if you’ve had some pretty bad crashes in your time, then you may want another external hard drive with just the tools for recovery on them with its own boot-able system on it. That way if your experiencing a total crash you can hook that external drive on and get yourself instant recovery. If you don’t know what I mean, take it to a professional. You will see they have another computer or drive they hook-up to access yours and run diagnostic tools through.

  25. Thank you for making a detailed list of all of these programs. I have had disaster strike my computer/files on more than one occasion, and it’s great to know about these. I know I don’t backup my computer enough, and this was a great reminder of why I should do it more often.

  26. Thank you for your suggestions. I do not have any file recovery software installed yet but I do have 2 back ups – I upload stuff in iCloud and I save a version in my external drive. For bigger files, I backup in Dropbox. I know how it feels to lose work or worse pictures and videos that can never be replaced that’s why I back-up my important stuff all the time.

  27. Man, I wish I could have seen this article when I accidently installed another partition of windows on the wrong drive. The drive my buddy lent me. Of course that disk happened to be full of important information on it of course. We managed to save the data but this bolg post would have saved us lots of time.

  28. I almost lost a whole bunch of savegames the other week when Ubisoft’s game manager, uPlay, decided to re-install over itself and remove all the saves in the process.

    Luckily, I had the whole folder backed up a couple days beforehand, so everything was fine. I’ve definitely experienced that feeling of dread when you know you’ve lost data, though.

    The worst thing is when you know a hard drive’s going, and certain files won’t open and then your PC won’t start up… argh! It’s painful just thinking about it.

  29. Man, I wish I had come here before rewriting my term paper! LOL, live and learn I guess. It is great to know about these resources, because you never know when disaster may strike again. Still, I had to write, research, and site sources for a twelve page paper from scratch because I didn’t have this information.

  30. I’ve had my fair share of problems with files I needed to recover. Unfortunately there is no software out there that is perfect, but piriform recuva comes pretty damn close. I’ve used both recuva and pandora recovery and as you stated, recuva comes out on top of it.

    But even with recuva, I’ve had some unrecoverable files or files that were recovered by damaged so that they became useless.
    Best trick I use nowadays is just to make sure I have a copy of my most important documents somewhere in the cloud either dropbox or just mail it to myself every time I’m working on it.

    • Yeah, that’s the worst file loss problem I can think of, having a damaged storage disk. My aunt even tried putting her hard drive in the freezer because she heard it works if you do it that way. I think I’ve also read that somewhere but it sounds too weird to work.

  31. This is a really helpful list of programs. I’ve used Recuva in the past and I must say it’s rather useless in an emergency. All it’s really good for is recovering files you accidentally deleted from your Recycle Bin. However, Ubuntu Rescue Remix is amazing.

    • Have you tried PhotoRec? There are some guides available that can give you a step by step walkthrough of the recovery process. It can recover more than just photos, despite what the application name says.

  32. I have had many problem with my computer and needed a backup for things. This one time, i had to write a paper for this course that was around 25 pages long and my computer died on me. Lucky I had given it to my friend ahead of time but i don’t want that panic attack to happen again. So right now, after reading this, I am using Virtuallab just in case something happens, because I don’t want my picture and paper to disappear one day.

  33. Thanks for this post! This has happened with me so many times. Either a file gets infected with virus and I love most of my data or something else.

    This could definitely help me in those times, if they strike again.

    I really should start following some data protection practices.

  34. And yet again another useful list of must have programs! I had several similar craches in the past, on my old laptop. But it seems I haven’t learned my lesson well, as I don’t have a recovery program on my new one either! I back up most of my important files on a separate 500 GB flash memory and I guess this gives me a false sense of security. but thruth it that anything can happen and it’s better to take precautions.

  35. We’ve been using Recuva with great success. It’s a Piriform product, and has a pretty decent track record in my experience.

    Another product that I’ve used is PhotoRec. It’s a little lower level and doesn’t recover quite as elegantly, but you can be sure that if the file is on the volume, even if “deleted”, that you’ll find it with this.

  36. Does anyone know if Recuva can recover a file that’s been messed up with a virus? Just curious since I’ve lost some documents that way before when I used a USB flash disk in a public computer.

  37. Well thank you for the links to these free programs. I, too, have lost many important files due to random uncontrollable disasters. I will have to pre-install one of these programs on my computer so that it can save my hide when a disaster inevitably strikes. This blog post could be a life saver for several readers!

  38. I must say David that this website is very handy. I have deleted important information before and especially something I have been working on for quite a long time and I know how it feels so this will be a life saver to have.

  39. Recuva is my best bet on file recovery. Granted that your drive isn’t all broken up and written with zeroes you can pretty much recover every file that was put in there of course not all, most of the files are copied over but still it’s a really great application.

  40. Recuva is my choice on recoveries. I once had a flash drive that got infected by a nasty Windows XP virus which tuns every file into a shortcut and when you open up the short cuts it spreads the virus. I had to reformat the drive but I forgot that some of my files are there so just out of a desperate attempt I tries to recover it and I was surprised it was still there.

  41. I have used ubuntu before and it got the job done. I was very relieved. Now I’m a bit more cautious about backing up regularly. I have a lot of work files that would be quite terrible to lose.

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