Ask A Scientist

If you delete something on a computer is there a way to get it back?

Asked by: Ben Kondrup
School: St. John Evangelist School
Grade: 7
Teacher: Mrs. Garbade
Hobbies/Interests: video games, computers, and computer games
Career Interest: Video game designer or computer engineer

Answer from Oren Levi

Information Services Manager


So you deleted a file or folder by mistake, now what do you do?  First thing first, don’t panic! Start by checking the Recycle Bin (Trash if you have a Mac) on your desktop. If the deleted item is not there and is extremely important, I suggest seeking out professional help. On the other hand if you are adventurous keep reading. One important rule you should follow is to stop using the computer. Computers use hard drives that store bits of information. As you use the computer, data is being read and written to the hard drive. You want to minimize these writes, so it’s probably a good idea not to shut down the computer as well. The computer stores information in such a way that it really never deletes data, only pointers on where and what files are kept. The more you use the computer after a deletion the higher the chance of the deleted area being used again.   So as long as the data region is not overwritten by new data, it should be possible to recover what you are looking for. There are also free programs that will help you locate and restore deleted files (see links below). It is best to run one of these programs off a USB thumb drive, again to minimize the writes to the hard drive. At this point it’s probably a good time to talk about best practices that will prevent the accidental deletion of files. First, make sure your Recycle Bin is enabled.  This can be done by clicking on the icon and selecting properties. Make sure you do not press the shift key when deleting, this will override the Recycle Bin. After you press the delete key, the Operating System will tell you that you are about to delete a specific number of files, make sure that number is correct and did not unintentionally select multiple files. As always make sure you have backups, it’s better to have a 2 months old backup than to lose it all. Below are some suggested free programs I suggest you get familiar and comfortable with before disaster strikes.

Last Updated: 3/1/17