Perhaps you're giving a presentation at work or writing a paper for class and suddenly the realization sets in: you or someone else has accidentally deleted your file. Depending on the circumstances of the file's deletion and how much time has passed, you can possibly recover that lost file. "Deleting" a file simply removes the path, or the file's "address," from the computer's file directory but not the file itself. Therefore, in the worst case scenario you can still sometimes recover deleted files.
In a best-case scenario, sometimes you can find your deleted files in the Recycle Bin of your computer. Go to your computer's desktop and right-click on the Recycle Bin icon. You will see an "Open" or "Explore" option but ensure you don't choose the "Empty" option, as that will delete all files in the Recycle Bin. Choose either one and you can sift through the contents of the Recycle Bin to locate your file. If found, right-click the desired file and select "Restore." This will send the file back to its original location on your hard drive, such as the My Documents or My Pictures folders. Alternately, you may simply left-click the file and hold, and then drag and drop its icon onto the Desktop.
If you've deleted a system file or a file contained in the My Documents/My Pictures/etc. folders of your Windows user profile, Windows' System Restore feature can potentially restore your files. Go to the My Computer folder, right-click on the main hard drive or the drive on which you saved the file and choose the "Restore Previous Versions" option. Windows will open a menu that shows you the properties of the computer drive. Select the "Previous Versions" tab and choose an appropriately dated backup from the list. To prevent going through the System Restore process, right-click the applicable backup and choose "Copy." You may then select or create a new folder to copy the contents of the backup and can search for your deleted file within. Please note that this option will not work if you've previously deactivated System Restore.
Perhaps the most reliable way to recover your files remains vigilance in backing up vital documents. You can employ various methods of file backup, from using professional software to using free and simple methods. Regularly cloning a hard drive, or making an exact copy of the hard drive, can save you from headaches not only in the event of deleted files but also if spyware or viruses strike and destroy files on your computer. You can also save extra copies of files onto USB flash drives, store your files online by emailing copies to yourself, save copies to CDs, DVDs or Blu-Ray discs and more. Backing up your files regularly remains the best way to recover an accidentally deleted file.
If all else fails, you may still have hope in recovering a deleted file. Since a file simply loses its "address" on the computer and doesn't actually disappear when you delete it, some utilities may help you recover those files. Once you realize you've accidentally deleted a file, do not save any new files to your computer if you can help it. Since new files write over "old" space that no longer has any associations or "addresses" with the computer's file directory, you may inadvertently save over your sought-after file. Free and paid utilities exist to help you recover everything from lost pictures on a flash memory card to files from a damaged hard drive.
- University of Richmond; Using the Recycle Bin; Kathy Monday
- Riverdale Country School: Restore Deleted or Corrupted Files and Folders
- Whitman College (Washington): Backing Up Critical Files
- AumHa; Recovering Deleted Files; February 2006
- Maxwell School of Syracuse University: Restoring Your Deleted Files or Restoring a File to a Previous Version (Personal Restore)
Software for the Recovery of Deleted Files
Documents can be lost for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, files are deleted accidentally, but many times file loss is the...