NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2007
Recovering Files from a Hard Drive
By Vinny La Bash, a Member of the Sarasota PCUG, Florida
labash@spcug.org (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

Have you deleted a file that you need and you don't know how to get it back? The first step is to make absolutely sure that it has been deleted. Open your Windows Recycle Bin and double-check. Is it in there? If so, simply right-click on the file and choose Restore.

If you have emptied the Recycle Bin the next step is to restore the file from your latest backup. You do back up your data regularly, donít you?

Unfortunately, there is no native ďUndeleteĒ command in Windows XP. This is a mystery because Microsoft had a nifty undelete feature in Windows 3.1 which somehow disappeared in Windows 95 and subsequent versions of the operating system. This is abysmal for Windows users, but profitable for third party software developers.

Itís important to understand that when a file is deleted it is not actually removed from your system. Windows deletes only the first letter of the fileís name and replaces it with a marked for deletion character. This makes the file ďinvisibleĒ to windows, and if Windows needs the space for something else, it has no qualms about overwriting your valuable data.

What this means is that if you accidentally delete a file, you have a limited amount of time to recover it before windows stores something else over the same space. It may not happen right away, but it will happen eventually.

Since there is no way within XP to recover a lost file, you have to turn to a third party solution. The good news is that there are several excellent programs that will do the job easily. The even better news is that these programs are free. Isnít that nice?

Use Google or your favorite search engine to find FreeUndelet, PC Inspector File Recovery, or Undelete Plus. All of them work well though you may find one easier to use than another. Thatís a matter of personal preference.

You need to be cautious about this. If you download the utility directly to your hard drive, you run the risk of storing the undelete program over the very data you are trying to recover. If you have a second hard drive, you can download to that or better yet, download directly to a thumb drive. That avoids all danger of losing important data, and it has the additional advantage of immediate portability.

The programs all work similarly. Direct any of the programs to a specific disk and you will get a list of all deleted recoverable files on the drive. You may also get a description alerting you that the file(s) may be wholly or partially recoverable. Thatís good to know.

Direct any recovered files to an external hard drive if you have one. Donít save anything to your hard drive until you have recovered everything you need. Use Windows Explorer to manage the recovered files. Group them into categories to sort or group the files so you can easily determine if they are program files, data files or something else. Some files may have data missing if Windows overwrote some of the sectors where it was stored.

If after all this you havenít been successful, your best alternative is to consider a data recovery service. These can be a devastating drain on your wallet, so donít use these services to recover saved game files.

Do some comparison shopping as rates can vary considerably. Good luck and watch those sticky fingers when they hover near the delete key.

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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