Recover Missing Files

Yvonne asked the Answer Line forum for help recovering missing files.

If you accidentally delete one or more important files, or if they have otherwise gone missing, you just might be able to get them back. But there's no guarantee.

But do not use your computer for any other purpose until you have either successfully recovered the files or given up. Every time you write to your hard drive, you lessen the chances of successful recovery.

I'm listing several recovery options in order of ease and expense. Try the first one. If that doesn't work, go to the second, and so on.

1) Check the recycle bin

Windows doesn't actually delete files; it sends them to the Recycle Bin, where eventually they'll be deleted. You'll find the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop. Double-click it and look for the item you want. If you find it, right-click it and select Restore.

2) Restore it from your backup
If you have a good, regular backup routine, you can't possibly lose more than one day's work. Since I don't know what backup software or hardware you use, I can't give you exact instructions, but there should be a way to recover specific files.

And if you don't back up your files, you have just learned an important lesson the hard way. See 7 Backup Strategies for Your Data, Multimedia, and System Files to help start some good habits.

3) Try free recovery software
I warned you above against writing to your hard drive when you're hoping to recover lost files. In order to follow that warning, you need not only a file recovery program, but a portable file recovery program that you can run from a flash drive without installation.

And the free program I'm recommending is Recuva Portable. The program is fast, simple, can preview image formats, and works reliably most of the time.

But one extra piece of advice (that also applies to step 4): When using recovery software, do not restore the files to their original location, or even their original drive. Restore them to another drive, such as the flash drive you're running the software from.

4) Pay for some software
If Recuva can't recover what you need, consider File-Rescue Plus. This $40 program can do some very deep scanning of your hard drive and may be able to pull up stuff that Recuva can't get to.

First try the free demo version, which can recover up to five files. If you like File-Rescue Plus and need more than five files recovered, shell out the $40 for a registration key.

Strictly speaking, File-Rescue Plus isn't portable, but there's a work-around. Install it onto another PC, then copy the program file, FileRescuePlus.exe, to your flash drive. This will work--as the demo version. To make the full version portable, use Notepad to create a file called key.ini, containing nothing but the license key sent to you after you bought the program. Place key.ini on the flash drive, in the same folder as the program.

If that doesn't work:

5) Go to a professional
There's a point when it makes more sense to go to someone with experience in this sort of job. The best-known, most highly-regarded data recovery companies, Ontrack and DriveSavers, are very expensive. And if your drive itself is still working properly, they're probably overkill.

Ask friends to find a nearby computer repair shop with a good data recovery reputation.

Read the original forum discussion.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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