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How to get back deleted or lost files

Why should I stop using the disk?

Let’s assume for a moment that the problem that has caused files to be lost has not caused the computer to become unusable. For example, imagine you’ve simply deleted files that you need by mistake. What has this actually done to the information stored on the disk?

Because data is constantly being saved to the disk, files end up spread all over the disk, wherever space is available. So the computer knows where the file is when you want it, an table exists on the disk to tell the operating system (OS) where each file is located, like an index in a book. When a file is deleted the file itself is not removed from the disk, the item in the index referring to that file is simply removed, and the OS is told that it can reuse the space.

What this means is that we have an opportunity, until the point that the information is overwritten, to simply restore the file. The down side is that we have no way of knowing when the disk space that contains the information we want will be overwritten. While it’s being booted, used, or simply shut down, Windows almost constantly writes information to the disk. Surfing the internet creates temporary files, recent versions of Windows will automatically defrag the disk from time to time, and so on. Hence the only safe course of action is to stop using the disk completely.

The size of the file you want to recover is important when considering how long it will remain recoverable. There are no guarantees when the file space will be reused, but the larger the file it’s reasonable to suggest that the higher the chance that some part of that file will be quickly overwritten.

Common Mistakes

A poor understanding of what’s needed to recover files is often the cause of files that were recoverable being lost forever. The following are things to avoid.

  • Installing recovery tools onto the media containing the files to recover. I refer you to the GOLDEN RULE!
  • Delay in attempting to recover the files. Again, see the GOLDEN RULE!
  • Attempting recovery without a solid understanding of the risks.

Next page – How files get lost…

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