Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]

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recover deleted filesIn June I switched over from a combination of Windows and Linux to pretty much using OS X solely, and being largely familiar with Windows software (and painfully aware of the lack of many Linux alternatives) I had to replace a few oft-used programs with Mac-friendly alternatives. At some point I realised I was bereft of a file recovery tool and it was at that point I discovered PhotoRec.

Previously I’ve resorted to Recuva and written about Pandora Recovery, neither of which play nicely with OS X. PhotoRec overcomes this by being compatible with just about every major OS including OS X, DOS and Windows 9x, modern Windows, Linux and even NAS drives. The source code is also available for compiling on other systems, if you’re that way inclined.

PhotoRec & TestDisk

Despite the name, PhotoRec isn’t just a photo recovery tool – though it performs this function better than any other I have encountered. In reality PhotoRec is capable of recovering more than 390 file types including documents, archives, video files, executables and even disk images. If you’re after an exhaustive list of supported extension then check out the wiki which lists each any every one.

PhotoRec comes bundled with another, more advanced recovery tool called TestDisk. For now we’ll be focusing on PhotoRec which will suit most data recovery tasks. TestDisk is on another level of data recovery and capable of recovering whole partitions which is overkill when all you want to do is recover accidentally deleted digital camera snaps.

I’ve used PhotoRec a few times in the past, mostly to test what it’s capable of. Only this morning did I truly need it, after realising I had deleted hundreds of photographs that were stored on a USB stick (and nowhere else). This is a foolish error I’d urge you not to make, but if you have to then at least make sure you have a tool like PhotoRec to hand. For those of you looking for “proof” of the software’s effectiveness then I’ll give you a little insight into my recovery options.

recover deleted files

In a recent article I ran over the process of installing Amahi home server using Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. I had to “burn” an .ISO to USB in order to install Ubuntu, though one thing I didn’t mention in the article is the fact that I accidentally downloaded Ubuntu 12.10 first. It was only during the install procedure did I notice I had the wrong version, so I then had to download 12.04 LTS, “burn” it again and carry on. A few hours later I realised my mistake of not checking the USB drive for precious data first.

I resigned myself to the fact that recovery was highly unlikely. It was only out of curiosity I thought I’d give PhotoRec a go.

Recovering With PhotoRec

The software uses the console, so there’s no flashy GUI to click or prod at. For the purpose of this article I’ll be using OS X, but the process is virtually identical on other operating systems.

how to recover deleted files

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First download PhotoRec and extract it to anywhere except the drive you want to recover deleted files from. Don’t forget, the more data you write to a volume you’d like to recover from, the more data you are potentially destroying. Execute PhotoRec and you should see a window appear in your default console app (Terminal for OS X and Ubuntu users, Command Prompt on Windows).

how to recover deleted files

PhotoRec requires root (admin) access to your PC, and OS X users will see the screen I’ve included above. At this prompt on a Mac system simply hit enter to restart, input your password and you’re good to go. On Windows, you will need to run PhotoRec from an administrator account and on Linux you will need to do this from the command line using the sudo command, e.g. “sudo testdisk-6.13/photorec-static” followed by your administrator password.

how to recover deleted files

Once you’ve got PhotoRec running it’s a case of simply following the on-screen commands. First choose the device you would like to recover deleted files from, in my case it was the 2GB drive listed in the screenshot above.

restore deleted files

Next you’re prompted to choose a partition, along with a few options along the bottom of the screen. The Options screen has preferences for keeping corrupted files and enabling additional controls, while File Opt allows you to omit certain file types from the recovery process.

restore deleted filesIf you’re simply out to see what you can recover, I’d recommend leaving everything as default and hitting Search. The next screen asks whether you’re using an EXT2/EXT3 file system, or something else. For NTFS, FAT, HFS+ and other drive types choose Other.

restore deleted filesNext up you’ll be prompted whether to scan the whole volume or just unallocated space. On large drives a whole partition scan will take a long time, though on USB drives and memory cards it’s probably worth waiting a couple of hours if it means regaining lost data.

The final prompt asks where you would like to recover the data to. The only really important thing to remember here is not to recover to the volume you are recovering from! I made a folder on my desktop and let PhotoRec go to work. Hit C to start the process, then let PhotoRec do its thing.

I was lucky this time, I managed to recover more than 600 photos, despite erasing and writing to the volume twice. PhotoRec is an invaluable free tool to have at your disposal, especially on Mac OS X where so many companies charge for file recovery software.

recover deleted filesHave you had any close calls with data loss? Have you used PhotoRec or TestDisk in the past? Share your “oops!” moments in the comments, below.

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Comments (29)
  • Anonymous

    Thank goodness for this app. Managed to recovered deleted photos from my SD card. But is there any way to get the full resolution photos? Mine was like, pressed. All in all, still thankful those are recovered.

  • Merry Joseph

    When you accidentally delete files from your computer then this situation can be miserable situation for you thus in this situations you can make use of Remo Recover which can easily recover all the lost data or deleted data within minutes..

  • Mark Williams

    There are some other good recovery software that work very well for the Windows as well as Mac OS. Stellar photo recovery software is one of them. I used it to recover lost files from my hard drive due to virus attack. It worked very well and able to recover almost all of files. Demo version of the software will help you to see the preview of the lost photos.

  • prasanth vikkath

    Its a great I started using it and. Recuva is also great.

  • David Hallengren

    I’ve done this a couple times, but the program was coming up with some copies of pictures that seemed like thumbnails. It was a real pain to sort out the real pictures from the thumbnails. It would be great if this supported recovering files only over certain sizes, eg, 1 mb and higher.

    • Tim Brookes

      But you could just sort by size afterwards and discard any image filetypes under a certain size? It’s software designed to recover as much as possible and when you really need this sort of thing you probably won’t care too much about spending 5 minutes tidying up results afterwards!

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.