How to Recover Permanently Deleted Files

If you want to recover permanently deleted data, the good news is that it might not be as “permanent” as you think.

When you delete files from a hard disk drive running Windows, the files are removed and placed into the Recycle Bin. At any time, they can be restored to their original location with the click of a mouse. Until you empty the Recycle Bin, the space that data occupied will still be marked as used; emptying marks it as free. This is what you might describe as “permanently deleting” data, but in actual fact, this isn’t what has happened at all, and if you act fast, this data is still recoverable.

So what actually happens when you delete data from a hard disk drive, and how is it possible to recover data that is permanently deleted? When you delete files and empty the Recycle Bin, you’re not actually deleting the data per se. What you’re actually deleting is the master file table reference. This is essentially a map that directs your OS to the data, which is stored as a series of 0s and 1s, known as binary code. When the master file table reference is deleted, the portion of the drive where the data is stored is marked as free. From here, any data that is written to the hard drive may overwrite this space. As long as new data isn’t written to the portion of the drive in question, then data recovery via software will be possible. The only way to permanently delete data is to overwrite it with new data, which is how data sanitisation software, designed to safely erase hard drives, works.

If you want a chance to recover data that has been deleted from the Recycle Bin, you need to act fast, as your OS will constantly be writing data to your hard drive, and may overwrite the portion of the drive where your data is stored. For this reason, we’d also suggest having a copy of a data recovery tool on your machine, installed and ready to use should you need it. Even better would be to install a piece of data recovery software onto a bootable USB flash drive, ensuring the chances of a successful data recovery are maximised.

There’s loads of great data recovery software out there, some free, and some paid for. We’ve previously written a post detailing some of the best data recovery software, and our top picks include EaseUS, Disk Drill, Wise Data Recovery and Puran File Recovery.