Just had an “oh no” moment? Hope might not be lost.
We’ve all had that “oh no” moment before. You just added the finishing touches to a weeklong project, and you could have sworn you saved, but the file is nowhere to be found. Then you begin to sweat profusely, and hastily devise a backup plan to fake your own death to avoid repercussions.
But before you freak out, know that there may be a way to get your data back.
First, Look in the Recycle Bin
Hypothetically, if the lost items were in the trash or recycle bin, you could simply highlight those items, right-click and hit “restore file” or “put back” depending on whether you’re using a Windows operating system or a Mac. Either way, you could also just drag and drop the files onto your desktop.
Alternatively, you may want to check other locations for the file. Is the file anywhere in your email? Did you save it to an external memory? Is it actually right where it’s supposed to be, but somehow you didn’t see it the first time? That last one happens to me all the time when I’m looking for the ketchup in my fridge. My eyes just skip right over it, I guess.
Deleted Files Aren’t Immediately Erased From Your Hard Drive
If your files were recently deleted, there’s still a great chance you can recover them. When Windows deletes a file from the hard drive, it doesn’t immediately erase the data. The Master File Table is simply altered so that the areas of the disk that were previously occupied by that file are now marked as reusable, and subsequent data may overwrite the deleted file.
The deleted files may be excavated by digging into the Master File Table, as long as the data has not yet been overwritten.
So How Do I Find These Lost Files?
Well, you could have a professional computer mage perform his arcane magicks to retrieve the lost data through a summoning ritual, but that usually requires a (financial) sacrifice.
Or you could download data-finding software. We recommend a free program called DiskDigger to scan your hard drive for all files that can be recovered. DiskDigger requires no installation, and works swiftly to present a list of the data you can retrieve. You might be surprised at the amount of stuff you can still find on your computer, which is why DiskDigger allows you to filter your results by name or file type.
If none of those options work, you might just be out of luck, and we weep for your loss. There’s still a chance your cat might have simply renamed your files by jumping on the keyboard while swatting at your mouse, though. Cats love mice.