How to Recover Files Deleted from a Windows PC

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Hands on a Computer Keyboard

It doesn’t take much effort to accidentally delete a file on a computer: just a wrong click of a mouse or an incorrect keyboard command and all the selected items will immediately leave your sight. Although there is no magic button to undo the mistake, you can still attempt to get the lost files back. In some cases, it will be sufficient to use the embedded features of the operating system while others may require additional software. However, you may still face circumstances that make the information irretrievable even by professionals. Try the following methods one by one and see how it goes.

Magic Keyboard Command

There is no magic button to undo the mistake if a file disappears, but the 'undo' keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Z may bring your file back from wherever it has been - give that a go first.

Check the Recycle Bin

The second thing you should do is to have a look into the Recycle Bin, as depending on the settings, it may still keep the recently deleted files. To make the search easier, sort the files by the date of their deletion or use other criteria of your choice. The keyboard shortcut to open the View menu is Alt+V. You can also utilise the search box at the top right corner of the Recycle Bin window. However, you should have in mind that more advanced methods of deletion, like Windows prompt commands, the Shift+Delete shortcut and utilities like CCleaner or File Shredder, make it impossible to recover files from the Recycle Bin.

Try the Previous Versions feature

The 'Previous Versions' option is built into Windows 7 and later releases of the Windows operating system as part of System Restore. When enabled, this mechanism creates Restore points any time substantial changes take place in the system. Right-click the folder in which the deleted files were located and choose 'Restore previous version'. The opened window will show you the list of available versions of this folder. Choose the needed version based on the date and press the 'Restore' button to recover the data.

However, if the 'Previous Versions' feature has not been enabled before the accidental deletion takes place, then the files are not able to be recovered this way.

Use Data Recovery Software

If the files weren't deleted a long time ago or if the hard disk hasn’t been actively used since then, it is likely that the files may still be able to be recovered. The system usually marks the space they occupy as free for new data and keeps them free until something is written over them. Specialised utilities are capable of 'catching' such 'free' files and allowing you to save them to another location.

In this case, you can get the deleted files back by means of data recovery software such as Stellar Phoenix or UFS Explorer. It has to be noted that the NTFS file system (applied on most internal hard disks operated by Windows) is characterised by a relatively low level of fragmentation of data blocks and thus provides very high chances for the recovery of deleted files that were not overwritten. By contrast, the recovery of data from the FAT file system, which is usually employed by external storage devices, may not give a 100% successful result.

However, there are again some situations in which files can be recovered neither by data recovery software nor in specialised service centres:

  • Files that were overwritten due to the operations performed by the user or as a result of the system activity
  • Files that were deleted using specialised shredding or erasing software
  • Files that were deleted from a Solid State Drive (SSD) with the 'trim' command enabled - the trim wipes data blocks immediately after deletion
  • Files that were deleted from encrypted disks whose encryption key was lost or destroyed.

If you are dealing with files that are at risk of any of these things happening, prevention is the only option - be very careful with your mouse and keyboard, and think twice before saying 'Yes' to any messages asking, 'Are you sure you wish to delete this item?'


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