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

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

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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.

usb1   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]

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.

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

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).

photorec1   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]

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.

photorec2   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]

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.

photorec3   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]

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.

photorec4   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]If 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.

photorec5   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]Next 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.

photorec6   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]

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.

photorec8   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]

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.

success   Recover Accidentally Deleted Files From Any OS With PhotoRec [Windows, Mac, & Linux]Have 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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27 Comments - Write a Comment



I thought only Recuva is free and best, Thank you for such a valuable information.

Tim Brookes

Recuva works fine if you’re a Windows user, for Mac and Linux then PhotoRec is one of the few free tools. I’d recommend it to Windows users too, though!


William Boggess

I have used PhotoRec on several occasions to salvage drives for friends. One time I recovered a 500GB usb drive full of photos and movies for a neighbor. The drive had been reformatted and partially written to but PhotoRec was able to recover almost all of the photos. It took the better part of a day for it to work its magic but it worked like a charm. It is probably the best recovery tool I have ever used.


Tim Brookes

Thanks for your comment. Yikes, 500GB?! That’s a lot of data to lose. Good job there are free tools like this around eh?


I know other ways of recovering data too, with paid software without buying :D


Junil Maharjan

I have been using Recuva and it is the best in my opinion. Its free and has a great gui and is also very easy to use.


armin ahmadi

PhotoRec is the best solution!

Ganesh Mobu



Thehunting Lion

Never tried, but if this wud really work, this cud be life saving app one day.. :)

Tim Brookes

You never know how valuable a tool is until you really need it, and this is definitely one to remember.


Mitesh Budhabhatti

good article.. is there any option or any other tool which can recover the filename also??

Tim Brookes


This is from the PhotoRec FAQ at the CGSecurity wiki:

“In some case, the filename is stored in the file itself, PhotoRec try to recover the filename in this case but most of the time, PhotoRec can’t. PhotoRec uses the logical sector number to create the filename, it appends the original filename or the document title when possible, the filename ends by the file extension.”

Read more:

There’s also some information here about sorting the files after using the tool:

Hope this helps, sorry I can’t be more specific! In my case file names weren’t important because it was just a USB stick full of pictures, but if it was a whole hard drive or mixed media I can see why you might want to do that.

Good luck!

Mitesh Budhabhatti

Thanks Tim, this was very much informative !!!



I have fortunately not been in need for this kind of software. But thanks for article !


Prashanth Rathore

MR.Tim brookes thanks for the info about this software this is really cool s/w……..!!


Raman Bathina

actually this software recover files but most of them are split into two or more parts.I mean if i recover mp3 songs then they are recover and available in 2 or 3 parts.


Adriel Tan

My friend deleted his entire POP work email inbox by accident….. PhotoRec saved ALL of it. Amazing.


Mac Witty

I bought Disk Drill after your review and not being lucky in the giveaway in November. Happily not have had any real use of it (yet) but have tried it on deleted files and it seems to work very well


Ramon Fletcher

Recently I reformatted the hard drive, used it as a pvr to record 4hrs of tv, reformatted it again then reinstalled bodhi linux. I then realised one word document that I had been working on for months. I installed testdisk with photorec and had recovered the file in a matter of an hour.

Its a great app and another example of open source excellence


Muhammad Rizwan

nice article…open source rocks


Salman Johnson

recuva is the best


Grace joy Nicor

i love linux as an OS because its too friendly and i didnt find it hard to use it.


Phil Botsky

I have never lost any data. Maybe its time to backup :D
Thanks for nice article.


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!


prasanth vikkath

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


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.

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