How to recover a lost or deleted file

By Steve Thomson 06 Apr 2018
file recovery

Now and again, stuff happens. Like accidentally deleting files, for example. Sooner or later, almost everyone that uses a computer knows the panic of that happening.

Whether you can recover the file depends on a few things, but if you're here because you've lost a file, we'll show you a few ideas on how to get it back.


Stop what you're doing!


Before you go any further, stop what you’re doing on your computer. Don’t close any apps or browse the web on that computer unless you have to.

Your computer could write data to the hard disk, which might damage your file making it difficult to recover. Here's why.

How file systems work

Computers keep track of every file, and on which parts of the hard disk (called 'sectors'), they’re stored. When you delete a file, the computer removes it from the index and assumes the sectors it was stored on are now empty. The file’s still there though so it could be recovered.

If the computer writes information to the hard disk, here’s a chance it could use the space the deleted file was on, writing new data over the file making it difficult to recover.


Check the bin


The bin (W10: Recycle Bin, MacOS: Trash) is temporary storage for deleted files before they are permanently erased.

It's one of the last places most of us check when we lose something at home, but it's the first place to start looking on your computer when you can't find something.

Click the Recycle Bin/Trash icon on your computer to open it, and look for your file. When you find it, right-click and Restore or Put Back the file.



If you know what the file’s called, or at least what the filename started with, then you might be able to find it on your computer by using Explorer (MacOS: Finder).

Use the search box in the top-right corner, and if you’re not sure of the name just type the first few letters. You’ll probably get more results, but you’ll also probably find your file.


Restore from a backup


It’s always a good idea to back up your files regularly, and almost every computer comes complete with a program to help you. You can only restore from a backup that’s already been made, so if you haven’t done it yet, check out our guides to setting up Windows File History or Apple’s Time Machine to help keep your data safe.

To recover one of your backed-up files, connect the backup drive to your computer, and run the software to find your file.


Free file recovery tools


If you’ve tried these steps already and haven’t found your file, it’s probably been deleted, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Fortunately, there are plenty of free file recovery apps around you can try, like Recuva.

These tools are designed to find and recover files of any type (including pictures, video and music) from almost any media source, as long as none of the file fragments has been overwritten.

As long as it hasn’t been too long since the file was deleted, you should have a good chance of getting it back.


Data recovery services


If you’ve been through everything we've covered and you still can’t get your file back, Team Knowhow might still be able to help you. Our Data Recovery service is available through every one of our 900+ stores.

We use state of the art recovery software, and we can even recover data from damaged drives, as well as those with component failures. Pop into your local Currys/PCWorld store to speak to an expert and find out more.


Hopefully you've found your missing file and things are back to normal, but you can contact an expert from Team Knowhow if you need any more help.

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