How to recover lost or deleted data

Learn how to recover data from formatted disks, lost partitions, permanently deleted files and more

By Hanu Prateek Published Date
16 - Dec - 2013
| Last Updated
29 - May - 2014
How to recover lost or deleted data

In today’s world, almost every bit of information is becoming electronic. While on one hand, this helps make life easier, simpler and faster; on the other hand, if proper care isn't taken you'll have hell to pay if your data is lost. Losing important files and data, be it business documents, important photos of friends and family or even personal media like movies and songs can be very stressful, to say the least. In most cases, data is lost forever. There are still ways by which you can retrieve data or replace it with a backup taken in advance.

Prevention is better than cure
It might seem intuitive but first and foremost, the best way to recover data is to already have your important data backed up on another storage device. Care needs to be taken about how often you back up because this entails the requirement of additional storage space and time for frequent backups. You can take a backup on the same computer (same drive or a different partition), a network server or on the internet (an external server or the cloud). In case of any data loss, recovery then becomes a simple matter of copying back the files. In the worst case scenario of your computer crashing, you'll just have to reinstall your applications and replace user data which has been backed up. 
Recovering your lost data
Fixing your hardware
In case of an unavailability of such a backup and hardware problems with your disks, there are specialized organisations and service providers that can retrieve data from damaged computers and disks. This usually involves them having to move the drive to a working computer, or opening it and replacing its internal parts such as read/write heads, actuator arms and chips. Sometimes, the platters are removed and placed into another drive. Of course, these types of recovery cost you a bomb on a per MB basis! Fear not though, Digit's looking out for you and we've included a DIY in the following pages detailing how you could recover data yourself. 
Back up your data
Retrieving deleted files 
Recovering a file that has been deleted recently is a relatively simple task. There are dozens of undelete utilities available that help you do just that. But two software we'll try and explore in this article are Photorec for photos and Recuva from Piriform, for just about anything. Recuva is free and very simple to use offering sector-based recovery.  It's also available in a lite portable version.
External services can fix your hardware
Sector-based recovery
When you face a hard drive crash, or your PC keeps producing error messages and problems like not being able to boot into your operating system, you need more than just a simple undelete utility. First check if the crashed drive is visible in the Windows Disk Management console, and is still spinning and working (not making any weird sounds). In this case you may still be able to retrieve your data with a sector-based utility. Unfortunately, most  sector-based recovery utilities aren't available for free. When using a sector-based recovery utility keep in mind that it shouldn't be installed on the hard drive or partition from where you're trying to recover the data. You might accidentally end up overwriting that particular data.
If you have a recent backup of your data and need to recover only one small important file, you can use Easeus Data Recovery Wizard. Its demo version can recover one file for you irrespective of its size. It's probably one of the easiest recovery programs to use. R-Studio is another utility which works with almost every file system out there, including Linux and Mac. The demo comes with its own boot CD in case you need to recover from a machine that can't boot to its OS. "Active File Recovery" is another software with a very user-friendly and simple interface making it easier to see what files have been recovered compared to R-Studio. In most cases, after restoring a partition you should be able to boot to the OS again failing which you'll at least be able to copy files to recover your data. For doing this, you'll probably have to boot your computer using a live CD. Any versions of Linux that will run from a CD, such as Slax or Ubuntu are adequate and they're free.
Recovering data from smartphones
Smartphones today with their improved hardware can perform similar to conventional computers. They also have the option of adding in external memory and come with as much as 8-16 GB of internal memory to begin with. But with this extra memory we have to realize that we also grow very dependent on them to store our data and personal information. We keep piling data onto them or the memory cards and generally forget to keep any backup either. 
A lot of pictures and videos taken  on a smartphone have a knack for being misplaced or accidentally deleted. A smartphone can be connected to your computer and be used as an external drive to recover lost files. But again the older the files, the lesser the chances of actually successfully recovering them, as data on a smartphone is constantly overwritten on the media. For best results, try recovering files as soon as possible and take the media card out of the device if you've accidentally deleted an important file.
Using Recuva to recover deleted files
Using software like Recuva is a good  first step in data recovery considering the case where no backup is available. Make sure you understand that Recuva is not an alternative for a service that can extract data from a drive in just about any state or condition. It's simply a handy tool for recovering deleted data in simple situations. 
Recuva has a very user-friendly interface and filters results based on either the file name or its type. It gives you different views like lists and trees. The best part about Recuva is that it's portable and can be run from a USB pen drive without any need for installation. You can restore most of your documents, images, video, music or email. It supports most popular file systems like FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, NTFS5 and NTFS EFS. It can restore files from removable media such as smart media cards, secure digital cards, memory sticks including Sony ones, digital cameras, compact flash cards, and mobile smart phones. It also lets you restore files from pen drives, and external hard drives.
There are just six simple steps to using Recuva and recovering your lost data.
Recuva: One of the best data recovery software from Piriform
Step one: Getting the installer and setting up the utility. Installation of Recuva is extremely simple and intuitive. You can download the latest version of its installer from the internet and run it. 
After the installation process, Recuva will immediately start a first-time wizard.
Step two: Choose the file types you want to recover. The Recuva wizard will ask you to select the types of files you want to recover. In the case where you're unsure about which file type you want to choose, simply select "Other" and click on the Next button.
Step three: Select the location of the files.
You can allow Recuva to choose from any of the drives including local and removable media. If you're unsure about where the files were originally located, just click the "I’m Not Sure option" and click on the Next button.
Step four: Scanning your drive for deleted files. On the final screen of the wizard, there's an option for you to enable a Deep Scan. A deep scan is a very intensive scan which would take a lot longer but give you more results than just the superficial files. In comparison to a standard scan, a deep scan can come up with 1,000 times more results and recoverable files. But still, this can take hours for a big drive.
Step five: This step involves recovering the required files. On completion of the scan, Recuva will show you a list of all the recoverable files. On this screen, you can select the files you want to recover. Then press the Recover button and a new window will open where you must select a location for saving the recovered files. 
You can select as many files as required but the more you select the more time the recovery process will take.
Step six: Verify your files. Recuva may not always work. If the data was damaged or overwritten numerous times, the recovered data will most likely be damaged and won't work. Also if the data being recovered is located on a drive that has been damaged, Recuva might not be able to recover it. It only works properly for files that were either accidentally deleted or lost. Instead of installing Recuva you can also download the portable version and unzip it onto a pen drive or portable device and use it directly from there on any computer to recover lost data. 
Recuva Wizard Screen – Choose the required file type
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