We’ve all done it – Hit the “Big D” button or even worse – “Shift + Del” combo on a selected file or folder only to find out that we need it back! So, the big question is how do you undelete files in Windows even after permanently deleting them?
Is the File or Folder Really Gone Forever?
Well, before assuming the worst, the first thing to do is check whether the file is indeed permanently deleted, or its simply misplaced somewhere on your hard drive. Start by performing a search in File Explorer, and if that doesn’t unravel the lost file/folder, perform the same “Search” function in the Recycling Bin.
If your Recycling Bin is loaded with files and folders, you can easily sort through by right-clicking on the window, and then choosing Sort By > Date Deleted to view recently deleted files. Take note that certain programs such as CCleaner tend to empty the Recycling Bin when you run them, so make sure to disable them when trying to recover files from the Recycling Bin.
If your PC is connected to any cloud storage options such as Microsoft’s SkyDrive or Google Drive, chances are great that they are synced automatically to the cloud. With that said, login to your account on the cloud service’s website, and look around for the files you’ve misplaced.
Using Windows File History Tool to Undelete Files
For users who haven’t made backups using these free (limited) cloud services, this may be a good time to sign up and back your important files and folders regularly. You can even use the Windows 8 and 10 inbuilt File History tool to back up your data.
Contrary to what its name may suggest, the File History tool does more than just restore previous versions of files, but also serves as a feature-rich backup tool. It was first introduced in Windows 8, and after setting it up, can be linked with an external drive to backup files from your PC.
Unlike any complex backup tools, setting up the File History utility is easy, where you first connect the external storage drive to your PC, fire up the Settings app from the Start menu, and navigate to Update & Security > Backup. Now add the external drive by tapping on “Add a drive” option, and select the drive where you’d like to store your backups.
Magnetic Hard Drives vs. Solid-state Drives
If you’re reading this far, our best guess is that you haven’t been able to restore the files you’re looking for, so your next viable solution is to use a file-recovery software program to get the file back. But before you buy hard drive recovery software, it is important to understand that it may not be possible on some computers.
Magnetic hard drives and solid-state drives although built for the same function of storing data work differently. To explain briefly, files deleted from a magnetic hard drive aren’t immediately wiped out from the disk, but are only unmarked to indicate that they can be overwritten. In this case, scanning the drive may unravel leftover data, and you could possibly undelete files that haven’t been overwritten.
In the case of SSD’s, files deleted are immediately erased with the TRIM command to free up space, and to make the drive run more efficiently. Long story short – you can’t undelete files from solid-state drives, unless you have an older SSD and version of Windows such as Windows Vista that don’t support the TRIM function.
If you’ve deleted a file from a magnetic hard drive, and you’re still using that PC, shut down the computer immediately to prevent overwriting of data with new installations and updates. You can now do one of two things – boot from a USB drive, file-recovery live CD or remove the hard drive completely and install it in another PC as a secondary drive.
It is now safe to use hard drive file recovery software to scan the drive, and try and restore the deleted files or folders. You have a higher chance of recovering a file if it was recently deleted as opposed to one that was deleted a couple of weeks ago, because it may have been overwritten with new data.
The Riskier yet Quicker Way to Undelete Files in Windows
If the file you’re trying to recover isn’t extremely important, and you don’t want to put too much effort into the recovery process such as with using a live CD, the Recuva file recovery tool from the makers of CCleaner can help.
When installed properly, this tool will scan your hard drive for deleted files, and restore the one you’re looking for, if its available. The reason this method is risky business is because you are downloading and installing new software, so you could possibly delete the file data with the program data.
Professional Data Recovery
However, if the file is extremely important to you, and you haven’t made any backups, professional data recovery is worth considering. Again, it is important to shut the computer down immediately to prevent overwriting of data.
Professional data services generally deal with several different recovery and hard drive-related issues including repairing hard drives and restoring overwritten or deleted files. On the downside, these services can be pricey, some even costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, and most do not guarantee a 100 percent recovery rate.
Deleting files can cause you to panic, but there’s no reason to break a sweat just yet, because there are several ways to undelete files that you think are gone forever. But just like the saying goes “Prevention is Better than the Cure,” it is wise to safeguard your data by creating regular backups, and retrieve it from the cloud when you need it.
Backup services are much cheaper to use compared to professional data recovery services, and some of them such as Windows integrated File History tool is free to use, so there’s no reason not to use it. If you don’t have an external hard drive to store File History backups, using one of the many free cloud storage options to backup important files in real time will save you from the heartache of losing a file (s) forever.