Hard Drive File Recovery – The Mystery of Deleted Files

Most people never think of the computer internals. They use computer to write texts, emails, to browse web, to view pictures, movies, etc. There is absolutely no problem with this approach. You don't have to know how computer works in order to use it. However, there are situations where it makes sense to understand basics, at least in principle. One of such situations is where you accidentally delete some file or you know it was there and now it seems it has disappeared. A lot of inexperienced users believe the file is lost. Fortunately, in many cases there are few simple methods that can bring back missing files. Assuming that the hard drive is not broken you can recover deleted files—there is no need to pay for data recovery service. Before we explain few simple tricks you need to know a little about the computer and how the data is stored and organized.

How The Files Are Stored

All the data you create, store and use on the computer is organized into files. A computer file is a collection of data that belongs to the picture, MP3 song, movie, text document, executable program, spreadsheet, etc. Each file has a name, some attributes and location. Having all the files at some place would not make sense—you would hardly find anything. Therefore, files are stored in a very organized way on the hard drive.

Hard Drive

A hard drive is a device that has only one function—to store data. In general, there are two types of hard drives: traditional drives with rotating disks and newer solid state disks with semiconductor (flash) memory. Both types use the same interfaces and have the same standard dimensions. They need power to operate (to read and write data) but once the data is written the hard drive it can be switched off. Hard drive data can remain there for years.


The hard drive is organized into partitions. A hard drive partition is an independent part of the drive which can have own file system. This is simply a part of the drive capacity which is dedicated for some purpose. This way you can have many partitions on the same physical hard drive.

File System

Each partition is formatted with one of popular file systems: FAT, FAT32, NTFS, HFS, ext2,  ext3, etc. File system is a set of rules that define how the data is written to the hard drive. Usually the data is organized into files which are stored in a hierarchical structure of folders. This organized data needs some tables that store the information where files are located. File system must keep track of which parts of the hard drive are used to store particular pieces of data.


Folders are locations under files system which have a name. Hierarchical organization of folders simplifies storing data as you can organize folder names according to your needs.


A computer file is a collection of data that usually represents an “object”: a text document, image, e-book, spreadsheet or whatever can be converted into digital format. Each file has a name and it is stored in some folder. This applies to all file systems under any operating system.

Now that you know what files are and how they are stored we can reveal what happens when the file is deleted. When you create a file it is written to the hard drive via operating system (DOS, Windows, Mac, Linux...) which further controls file system and stores file data to the hard drive. Beside the data itself also the name of the file is stored together with file attributes and some information which defines which part of the hard drive is used for this file.

How A File Is Deleted

You should understand that it is actually impossible to “delete” the data from the hard drive. This is a digital device—it stores bits which can be either 0 or 1. There is no other state. This means that our file with all its attributes is stored as a sequence of zeroes and ones. All you can do with these bits (zeroes and ones) is to change their value. These bits are organized into bytes which can have some meaning (depending on their position): file name, attributes, file location, file length, etc.

Therefore, to delete the file you can not remove it from the hard drive, you can only flag it as deleted. This is exactly what computer does when you delete a file! It marks a file in such a way it is not considered as a stored file. All the file data remains on the hard drive. The difference is also in how this space is now considered. Before the file was deleted a part of the file system (or hard drive) was marked to be used for this file and therefore it was unavailable for other files. Now when the file is deleted this space is available for other purposes i.e. other files. But the fact is that the data is still there! It will remain there until other new files will overwrite this space on the hard drive.

File Recovery Using Data Recovery Software

Understanding how file deletion works you can easily figure out how to recover a file. All you have to do is to restore the file flags to make it appear in the file system. Of course, this is rarely done directly, there are many file recovery software utilities that scan the hard drive and list all files that can be restored. You see your deleted files and the information on what part of the file can be recovered.

File recovery or “undelete” is not always a 100% guaranteed operation—it depends also on what has happened to the space where the deleted file was stored. If in the meantime this space was overwriten with other data then you will not be able to restore the original file. In some cases you will only get part of the file and in some cases you will not get anything.

Hard drive file recovery is in principle a simple operation but the success of actual file recovery depends on what you did after the file was deleted. If you have created many new files then the chances to recover the deleted file are pretty low. Of course, the described process applies to a working hard drive. Hard drive file recovery on broken drives uses very different approaches since you first have to make it working in order to read data.

Trash Can – Simple File Recovery

Most operating systems include a protective mechanism to easily restore deleted files. This mechanism is called a Trash can. The operation of the trash can is very simple. All deleted files are not actually deleted, they are just moved to trash can. From here you can restore them or permanently delete them. Usually the trash can is periodically emptied.

Recover Deleted Files – The Easiest Hard Drive File Recovery

The fact is that almost any deleted file can be restored. You only need some file recovery software and a little luck. Data recovery results will vary. If you have started the recovery procedure soon after the file was deleted you have chances that the recovery will succeed and you will get the original file back.

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