You’re having trouble finding a certain file on your Windows PC and you have a hunch you may have deleted it. We’ve all been there. But rather than moan and groan, you can try to recover it. Assuming you’ve already scoured the Recycle Bin and have come up empty, that’s when it’s time to turn to a good recovery tool.
Microsoft offers its own command-line recovery program, though it’s not what I’d call user-friendly. Instead, you can use free programs like Recuva and Glarysoft File Recovery Free. Here’s how they work.
How to recover deleted files in Windows 10 or 11
What if I permanently delete a file in Windows 10 or 11?
If you do permanently delete a file (press Shift+Del to do so) or empty the entire Recycle Bin, recovering a file is trickier but still doable. This mostly depends on how fast you ride to its rescue.
When you delete a file, the data isn’t physically removed from your disk. Rather, its space is marked as available by the operating system, which means the clusters allocated to that file can be overwritten by new data. If you swoop in quickly enough, the file may be fully intact and recoverable. The longer you wait, though, the greater the chances that most or all of a file’s clusters will be overwritten, reducing the odds of fully recovering it.
Using Microsoft’s Windows File Recovery
Microsoft provides a free command-line utility for Windows 10 and 11 that tries to recover deleted files. Known as Windows File Recovery, the tool supports mechanical hard drives, SSDs, USB drives, and memory cards. It also offers both regular and extensive modes in an attempt to revive a file.
A Note about Windows File Recovery
As a command-line program, Windows File Recovery can be challenging to use, requiring you to nail the proper syntax and switches (a GUI version is sorely needed). And even then, it doesn’t always find or recover the files you need.
I’ve used it several times, and it’s been decidedly hit or miss. You may want to try it as a first step, but I think you’ll find a good third-party product less frustrating.
Third-party recovery utilities
I’ve used several different third-party recovery tools and have generally had success with them. Again, their effectiveness rests largely upon how quickly you attempt to recover a file after it’s been deleted. But assuming the file is still fully or largely intact, these tools will help you revive it.
A variety of programs are available, both free and paid. Here are two free utilities worth trying.
Glarysoft File Recovery Free
Another recovery tool available in both free and paid editions is Glarysoft File Recovery Free.
The biggest drawback with the free edition is that you can recover only up to three files and as much as 2GB in size. For more, the Pro edition costs $50 per year. But if you just need to recover one or two or three files, the free flavor will do the trick.