It isn’t hard to accidentally delete a file. It happens to the best of us. Fortunately, having a “recycle bin” makes the problem easy enough to undo. Most accidental deletes can be remedied by a simple “CTRL-Z”. However, “permanent” deletes are not as easily fixed. That’s when a file has also been cleared from the Recycle bin or was too large to fit in there in the first place. Once files are cleared from the recycle bin, it tells the computer that the space previously reserved to hold the information is now available.
Is there a way to get the file back? Usually yes. The file must still be: intact, in the directory, and unfragmented.
What does mean? Rather than going through the technicalities of how a hard drive works, let’s break it down into some rules of thumb.
Big files need more space to store. So the larger the file that got deleted, the more tempting it is for the computer to want to fill that space quickly with new information. If that happens, (we call it “overwriting”), you could be out of luck.
What can you do? There are many “undelete” utilities out there available for download. Most are relatively inexpensive and some are even free. However, beware of getting what you pay for. Do your research on the utility before you make a purchase and definitely before running it on the drive. Whatever you do, turn off the computer the moment you discovered your mistake and by no means should you ever download a utility onto the drive in question! In the process of downloading anything, you could overwrite the data you’re looking for!
A more reassuring method of undeleting files is to bring it to a data recovery lab.
Step 1 – turn off your computer and DO NOT TOUCH. The only thing you should at this point is to remove the hard drive from the computer so nobody turns it on by mistake. The boot process alone could overwrite the sectors.
Proper labs will have recovery equipment to scan your drive properly (and often find data even if it has been overwritten, although there’s a limit to how many times it can overwrite and still be found). Without the drive reader (which does nothing to change the state of the hard drive), there’s always a risk that anything you do will comprise the deleted data.
Police use this method for finding evidence (even though criminals think they’re OK by clearing it out of the recycle bin). To give your deleted files the greatest chance of being found, find someone with proper recovery equipment and use them.
Which method should you pick?
Obviously that depends on how much that data is worth to you. If its a matter of sitting down and re-writing a few paragraphs, then maybe risking losing it forever isn’t so bad. However, if these are precious memories or business critical data then having it done professionally is probably a better route.