Aug 26, 2021

Free File Recovery Software For Windows, Linux and Mac

I haven't written a tech related piece in quite some time. I guess that's what happens when you transition from being in the trenches to being an officer in upper management. Well, occasionally shit will hit the proverbial fan and I have to get back in the trenches with the grunts.

This was such an occasion. We had a server that was storing lots of various documents. The systems engineers didn't configure backups for it because there was a scheduled task to RoboCopy those documents to a disaster recover server in another region, as well as a scheduled task to push those files to a cloud storage blob... Who needs backup with all that redundancy right?


Anyway, the drives on the servers were starting to get full, so they decided that anything over 60 days didn't need to be kept, and if those documents were needed, they could be retrieved from cloud storage. So they proceeded to clean up the old files. The problem was that the scheduled task that was supposed to copy these older files somehow stopped working a few months ago, and well... now those files don't exist in any location. HUGE SHIT STORM!

Anyhoo, all is not lost. The good thing about disk drives is that files aren't totally gone until they have been overwritten multiple times. Enter file recovery software! One I have been familiar with for years is the open source TestDisk! Well, turns out the same folks that brought us that gem, also created one called PhotRec that is a little easier to use in my opinion.

From their page:

PhotoRec is file data recovery software designed to recover lost files including video, documents and archives from hard disks, CD-ROMs, and lost pictures (thus the Photo Recovery name) from digital camera memory. PhotoRec ignores the file system and goes after the underlying data, so it will still work even if your media's file system has been severely damaged or reformatted.

PhotoRec is free - this open source multi-platform application is distributed under GNU General Public License (GPLV v2+). PhotoRec is a companion program to TestDisk, an application for recovering lost partitions on a wide variety of file systems and making non-bootable disks bootable again. You can download them from this link.

For more safety, PhotoRec uses read-only access to handle the drive or memory card you are about to recover lost data from. Important: As soon as a picture or file is accidentally deleted, or you discover any missing, do NOT save any more pictures or files to that memory device or hard disk drive; otherwise you may overwrite your lost data. This means that while using PhotoRec, you must not choose to write the recovered files to the same partition they were stored on.

I'm running it now using their command line version because the gui version hangs a lot. It's running on an 8TB volume, and the estimated completion time is over 40 hours... So it's not quick. Still though, if you have no other options for recovery, one can't complain about it.

Another drawback is that it dumps everything to a single recovery folder. It would be awesome if it could restore to the original location, or at least recreate the file structure. At this point though, I'm just happy we can recover the files, or at least some of them.

What file recovery tools have you used in the past? Let me know in the comments!

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