How to recover missing, lost, or deleted files

Updated: 05/02/2021 by Computer Hope
Computer hard drive

Before reviewing the below recommendations and suggestions, verify that the files are deleted. In some cases, the files may have moved. You can search the hard drive for the files you believe to be missing by running find or search on the computer.

Restore from Recycle Bin or Trash

If you are running Apple macOS or Microsoft Windows and the file was recently deleted, it may still be in the Trash or Recycle Bin.

If present in this area, it can be recovered by right-clicking the file and selecting Restore in the menu.

Recover file from backup

If the file was backed up to floppy disk, CD, USB flash drive, or cloud storage we recommend the file be restored from that backup if the file cannot be found.

Download freeware program or purchase a program

When a file is deleted (even when removed from the Recycle Bin), the space used by the files is marked as available. However, the data in that space is not immediately overwritten with new data. Assuming no other file has overwritten the deleted file on the hard drive, a recovery program can recover deleted files. Below is a list of freeware file recovery programs that help recover lost data.

  1. Recuva
  2. Restoration
  3. Disk Drill - for Mac and Windows
  4. Undelete Plus
  5. FreeUndelete
  6. Photorec
Tip

In Windows, if you're prompted to run a program as an administrator, such as Restoration, right-click the executable file and choose Run as administrator.

Note

If other programs were installed or data was moved on the hard drive since a file was deleted, it cannot be recovered using these programs.

There are also several companies who have created programs designed to recover your lost data. For example, PowerQuest makes the utility Drive Image that in some cases can recover data from a hard drive.

Utilize a service from a company that specializes in recovering lost data

Utilize the service of a local data recovery company or an out-of-state data recovery company. One word of caution is that these services can sometimes be very expensive. We recommend they be used only if the data is critical or data cannot be read from the hard drive. Below is a listing for a few of the major data recovery companies.

There are also several companies that specialize in the service of recovering files or documents that are password protected. Below is a listing of some of the companies that provide this service.