Can You Recover Files after Formatting a Drive
One of the
hardest lessons learned about disk management is that
formatting completely erases all data on the drive. A
hard drive can go from gigabytes worth of important
records, treasured memories, and personalized settings
to a (seemingly) blank slate in a matter of minutes,
thanks to a format. But in some cases, you can get your
files back. Read on to learn more.
What kind of
There are three common scenarios when it comes to
formatting a drive:
In addition to formatting, a hard drive can also be
partitioned, or the existing partitions can be resized.
Repartitioning is often destructive (erases all data,
similar to a quick format), but some disk utilities can
resize and split partitions without erasing data.
However, editing partitions can put your disk at risk of
corruption so that it is no longer bootable or mountable
by normal means.
format. A quick format does not actually
erase the data. Instead, it only creates a new file
table so that new data can be written to the volume.
The old data is left almost completely intact.
format. A normal format will usually do a
bit more than a quick format, depending on the
operating system. In a full format, the file table
will be deleted and some or all of the data may be
overwritten. Some operating systems perform a
“secure format” which overwrites the entire drive
with 0s. You’ll know this is happening because it
will take a very long time.
with operating system reinstallation.
Formats often happen concurrently to the
reinstallation of an operating system. These are not
always full blown “secure” formats, but the fact
that a large amount of new data has been written to
the disk will reduce the chances that your files
will be recoverable.
Recovering Lost Files from a Formatted Drive or
Whether you’ve performed a quick format, full
format, OS reinstall, or repartition, data recovery is
always worth a shot. Even if the disk is not bootable or
has been reformatted multiple times, you can still scan
the raw data for recognizable files. Unless the data has
been overwritten, it should still be there. The only
challenge is finding it. This is where
software comes in.
While most major operating systems won’t have a built-in
file recovery or undelete utility, third-party programs,
such as R-Studio, will work on any platform.
The actual steps you’ll take to recover data from a
formatted disk will vary depending on the program you
use (for example, see the "unformat"
how-to for R-Studio). But no matter what you
program you use, you’ll want to follow a few general
While not all formats are reversible, an
inadvertent or premature reformat is not the end of the
world. Keep the information and tips above in mind as
you proceed and you will at least reduce your chances of
worsening your problem.
- Perform your data recovery from another
system disk. If you’ve just reinstalled your
operating system, don’t boot into the disk. Instead,
mount it on another computer (either via a USB
enclosure or by installing it as a slave in one of
the internal hard drive bays) and analyze it with
- Never write data to the disk you are trying
to recover from. If your file recovery tool does
find your lost data, do not save it to the same disk
that you are trying to recover it from. You may end
up overwriting the very data you are trying to
- If the disk is failing or corrupt, create an
image of it. By imaging a disk, you take a snapshot
of its state before any more damage can be done. Run
your file recovery search on the disk image instead
of the disk itself.