At some point most people learn the hard way the importance of backups. Chances are you already have something set up, perhaps using a cloud-based program such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft's OneDrive. You might have everything routinely saved to a USB stick or to an external hard drive as well. You might even have all three in play.
However, while syncing files and folders across multiple devices makes it easy to save them, it unfortunately also makes it easy to delete them by accident. Trying to organize and rearrange folders is a great way to accidentally misplace an important file, only to realize what happened too late.
This is where file recovery software can come into their own, and while there are some expensive paid plans, we're going to list the best of the free file recovery software here. However, the caveat is that these are never going to be as powerful as the more expensive versions and are intended for situations which only require an easy recovery.
Even still, they still have their place and it's definitely a good idea to have something like any of these in place, just in case - so that the moment you realize you've make a mistake and misplaced something, you can recover it quickly and easily enough, preventing you from needing the big paid-for guns in the first place.
The best file recovery software available today is: Recuva Pro
The free version of Recuva is a superb tool that can be a lifesaver when you've lost a file, but the premium version, Recuva Pro, does even more, and is the best file recovery tool we've tested. In addition to scouring drives for missing files, it offers invaluable real-time support if you run into difficulty. There's even a money-back guarantee if your files can't be recovered.
1. MiniTool Power Data Recovery Free
An excellent free recovery tool for restoring individual files
Operating system: Windows
MiniTool Power Data Recovery Free is the only program in this round up that provides you with essential advice during the installation: do not install the software to the drive you want to recover data from, as you may overwrite files.
This version is free, but there are paid-for editions available as well, so you will realise that there are a few restrictions.
You can only recover 1GB of data, you don’t have the option of saving scan results to work with later, and a few other options are missing – but there's absolutely nothing that stops this from being a great free recovery utility, aside from the occasional ad here and there.
You can limit scans to specific files types, and MiniTool Power Data Recovery Free is capable of getting files back from partitions you are not even able to see, and there's support for removable drives including optical media.
Scans are pleasingly fast, and results are searchable to make it easier to find exactly what you're looking for. A superb piece of software that worth of your attention.
2. Disk Drill
Straightforward file recovery for both Windows and macOS
Operating system: Windows, macOS
Featuring a delightfully simple interface, Disk Drill makes file recovery very straightforward. There's no need to fiddle with complex options, and the program can be used to scan local as well as removable drives and memory cards. Performance a scan of your chosen drive and you're presented with a list of recoverable files, grouped by type, and you have the option of previewing image files in advance. It's a simple, effective tool with a high success rate.
What seems like a nice touch for anyone who is a little nervous about data recovery, is the inclusion of a quick tutorial the first time the program is run – but it is simplistic in the extreme and of little real value, and ultimately serves as an ad to upgrade to the Pro version.
Disk Drill is available for both macOS and Windows. Upgrading to Pro increases the number of computers the software can be used on, and opens up more options such as advanced scanning and wider file system support. For most people, however, the free version should cover all the usual eventualities.
3. EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Free
A quick, easy way to recover up to 2GB of lost or deleted files
Operating system: Windows, macOS
Keeping things nice and simple, EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Free is the friendly, accessible face of recovering lost files. Fire up the program and you're presented with a screen asking which drive you would like to scan for recoverable data – you then just need to hit the Scan button. There are no options to configure, but if you know exactly where a file has gone missing from, you can specify a folder to scan to speed things up.
Results are presented in an Explorer-style view which is easy to navigate, but unfortunately there is no indication of the quality of files that have been found – although a preview option is available. You can then select the files you're interested in, and restore them.
It's worth noting that the free version of the program only lets you recover up to 2GB of data (500MB by default, but this can be increased from within the program) before you have to upgrade to the paid-for version. While this is not enough for a complete hard drive recovery, it should be enough to help you to get back your most important files when you need to.
Effective file recovery for Windows, with secure file deletion option
Operating system: Windows
Something of a stalwart of the data recovery genre, Recuva has managed to build up a dedicated following – and it's not hard to see why. The program can recover data not only from hard drives and memory cards, but also your iPod.
While some data recovery tools make this easy by having a simple interface, Recuva takes things further and guides you through the entire process with a wizard. You can perform a lengthy deep scan to track down all recoverable data, or you can limit the search if you're looking for something specific – and it's nice to have this flexibility.
As an added bonus, there is a secure deletion option which does the exact reverse of the main feature of the program – it deletes files you are sure you no longer need and renders them unrecoverable.
A downside to the program is the heavy promotion of the Pro version of the app, but if you can turn a blind eye to this, you have a powerful tool on your hands – and you can probably live without support for virtual hard drives anyway!
Read our full Recuva review
5. UnDeleteMyFiles Pro
Choose a file type before you search for faster results
Operating system: Windows
Despite the inclusion of the word "pro" in the name, this program is still free; there is, in fact, no non-pro version.
The look of UnDeleteMyFiles Pro may not be particularly appealing, but don’t let that put you off too much as there are multiple tools included here, not just data recovery. Recovery can be a little hit and miss as there is no indication of the quality (or recoverability) of files – you just have to hope that the file that are found are in a reasonable state.
When it comes to data recovery, there aren't really all that many options other than the ability to search for particular types of files to reduce the size of the list you have to sort through.
In terms of extras you also get a disk snapshot tool which basically backs up your drive so you can recover data at your leisure, a secure file deletion tool, and email recovery. Worth checking out, even if this is not necessarily the best of the bunch.
Also consider these free recovery options
There are also other free file recovery software options worth considering, though consolidation in the market means some old timers have been bought up by bigger companies and repackaged, while some haven't been updated for a while but should still work well at what they need to do. Here then are some additional releases to consider for file and folder recovery:
Stellar Free Data Recovery is another Techradar favorite, providing an all-in-one recovery solution for retrieving deleted files - and of course, all for free. Stellar's software can recover documents, photos, video, audio, and email data files, even if they have been deleted from your PC's recycle bin. It can also help recover files lost by a corrupted harddrive, missing or lost partitions, as well as after a virus attack.
Active@ File Recovery is another strong platform worth considering, not least because it can work with such a wide range of different file partitions, making it useful for a range of different Windows set ups and installations. As well as being able to cover all common file types, it also supports recovery across a large number of media, such as harddrive, external disks, USB drives, memory cards, and devices such as digital cameras.
Puran File Recovery is another old favorite, and while it hasn't been updated in a couple of years, it does provide support for Windows 10. The interface itself is quite simple, but it uses a powerful recovery engine to retrieve lost or deleted files. You can chose to opt for a quick, deep, or full scan in order to recovery your files. Once found, they can be saved with their file paths still intact, which means they should return from the original folder or location they disappeared from.
Undelete 360 is another program established freeware program that hasn't been updated in a few years, but still offers the potential to recovery files not just from your harddrive but from a range of external media. This can include USB drives, digital cameras, and even floppy drives - if you're still using one. Undelete 360 can recover files and folders from a wide range of situations, and again while the interface is simple, it's a powerful little piece of software.
Glary Undelete supports a wide range of file forms and storage systems, as well as recovery for external devices. When recovering a file, results can be filtered, making it easier to find and locate the missing or deleted file you're looking for. While the free version of the software hasn't been updated in a couple of years, the paid-for version is still going strong.
- Avoid losing files at all with the best free backup software