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Recovering deleted files

Recovering deleted files
This page topic still 'under construction'.

Can I recover files I have deleted ?

Yes, even if you have emptied them from the Recycle Bin.

How is it possible to recover deleted files ?

When a file is 'deleted', to save time, all that Windows has ever done is 'mark' the entry as 'deleted' in the Directory. In the old days, Windows would immediately re-use the disk space, however from Windows 2000 on, it keeps a list of the 'deleted' files in the Recycle Bin.

When you 'empty' the Recycle bin, Windows removes the file's name from the list, however it is only when Windows needs to 'reuse' the disk space that the file data is actually overwritten.

How can I maximise my chances of recovering a file ?

A1. Don't keep emptying the recycle bin :-). It's a bad habit to get into, and sooner or later, after clicking 'Empty Recycle Bin' you will kick yourself when, 'Confirm file delete', you 'automatically' reply 'Yes'.

You should never remove the 'Confirmation dialogue' option in the Recycle Bin 'properties' and never be tempted to select 'Do not recycle, remove immediately'.

A2. Windows will be using C: for all sorts of 'house keeping' data = so if you keep all your data on a DIFFERENT 'drive' (partition, eg D:), Windows won't be overwriting your deleted files during normal operations.

You can put the Virtual Memory 'swap file' on your data disk. The 'swap file' is a 'reserved' area of disk, so Windows won't be overwriting your deleted files with swap data (unless it has to increase the 'swap file' size).

A3. Windows will reuse the deleted files space when free disk space starts 'running out'. So if you have lots of free disk space, your deleted' files will be around for a long time. If you drive is almost full, Windows will be reusing every byte it can find.

Of course the BEST way to recover 'deleted' files is to have a BACKUP :-)

How can I get (non-backed-up) my files back after I empty the Recycle bin ?

A1. STOP using the computer immediately. The more Windows writes to the hard disk, the more likely the deleted file's space will be re-used and the actual file overwritten. 'Shutting down' results in lots of C: disk activity as Windows 'saves user settings' = so if the file is on C: and it's really vital, pull the power plug.

If you pull the power plug you risk corrupting Windows (and any other file(s) that are 'open') when power is lost.

If the file is on another 'drive', just go find an Open Source 'undelete' utility.

If the file is on C:, you will have to use another computer to find a 'Live CD' undelete utility (which can be 'written' to a bootable CD so you won't have to risk overwriting your files when Windrows boots).

Be aware that some well 'recommended' software (such NTFSundelete) is neither Open Source nor 'free' (it will promise it can recover your files but only if you pay the registration fee :-) ). ANY software that says 'Free Download' means NOT FREE to use. If it does not say Open Source 'on the tin', expect to be held to ransom.

Of course, the best time to find and prepare a bootable 'Live CD' undelete utility is NOW (before you really need it).

What 'undelete' utility do you recommend ?

Be aware that many commercial software vendors litter their web pages with the words 'Open Source' in order to fool Search Engines (such as Google) into presenting their proprietary garbage as the 'top hit' to some-one looking for Open Source :-). The best place to find real Open Source software is Wikipedia Open Source lists.

I suggest downloading Recuva and trying it out now. It works on both FAT and NTFS disks (including USB devices that appear as 'drives' or with directories (such as mp3 players) and memory cards (CF, SDHC etc))

How do I recover photo's from corrupted memory cards etc. ?

If the directory is totally corrupted (or a 'quick format' has been performed that simply overwrites the directory, not the file space), it is often still possible to recover many of your photo's. This is because image files have 'defined' formats - JPG, for example, can be identified by a specific 'signature' at the start of the file. Further, camera's typically record images 'sequentially' - so all the 'undelete' utility has to do is find the start of any image which it will typically recover completely along with all the 'directly following' images

Of course if you delete photo's in the camera, the card becomes fragmented and the recovery software has a much harder time - so make a habit of FORMATTING the card in the camera after saving all the images to your 'photo archive'. You should, of course NEVER 'write' to a camera card using Windows (and that includes 'browsing' it - doing so will generate 'thumbnails' that Windows will 'splatter' all over the card and may result in it becoming unreadable by both your camera and Windows ..).

There will be a reason why the media is 'unreadable' by Windows - typically because the writing of an image was 'interrupted' by pulling the card out or by a power-failure. So don't expect to get everything back ...

If the same card becomes unreadable twice (and all your other cards always read OK) throw it away - memory cards do not last 'forever' and one that's becoming 'unreliable' will, sooner or later, fail completely taking hundreds of irreplaceable wedding / holiday photo's along with it ..

The best Open Source software for this task is PhotoRec.

Once again, the best time to download PhotoRec and experiment with file recovery software is now, before you really need it :-)

How can I make an exact copy of a 'bootable' SD/CF card, USB stick etc ?

Use the HDD Raw Copy tool

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