It’s pretty easy to permanently delete files on a modern Mac system if you’re not paying attention. You drag ’em into the Trash and empty the Trash. Then realize “OMG! I needed that file!”. Sorry, too late. Or is it?
In the early days of computer systems, deleting a file was a one way journey. Recover it? That would have been like pulling a fragile glass sculpture out of the trash compactor after it’d been run! Not so good. Modern user interfaces improved on that with a staging ground for files that the user wanted to delete, offering up a “trashcan”, “rubbish bin” or even “recycle bin” where “deleted” files would sit around for a few weeks before really vanishing from the system. All well and good, except lots of people manage disk space manually by emptying their trashcan on their computer.
There are a lot of places you can undo an action, but when you empty that trash can on your MacOS X system, that’s still a one-way journey. There’s no “oops” button, no “rewind”, no nuthin. You empty the trash can and you’re done. Sayonara files.
Except the way that the actual file system works behind the scenes on a Mac means that it’s not the file that’s deleted, but the information about the file. Imagine a notebook with millions of pages. Most have little tabs that specify title, owner, date written, etc, but there are also plenty of pages without tabs, ready to use as needed. Rip off a tab and that page doesn’t change, it just moves into the pool of available pages for later use. The Mac file system is remarkably similar, which means if you’re fast enough, you can often recover a completely deleted file with the right software.
One program that fits the bill is the amusingly named iBoysoft Data Recovery Pro. There’s a free version for basic recovery tasks, but I’ll be working with the Professional version that’s $99 for a two-Mac license.
To start out, a sight you’ve seen thousands of times while working on your Mac: A full trashcan:
You no doubt already know that you can double click the trashcan to open it up and see what’s inside:
See that file named Important Document.pdf? Yeah, that’s the one I’m going to ‘accidentally’ delete and then recover. It’s on a flash drive, but goes into the same trash and is deleted just as surely as it would be on the boot drive. Since I work a lot with video content (see my YouTube channel for lots of fun reviews and tutorials!) I am constantly fighting for disk space. When it’s getting slim, I empty the trash to free up some of that space.
And yes, I get this warning window:
I mean, the Mac does warn you. There’s nothing equivocating about “You can’t undo this action”, right? Still, I’m often on auto pilot and just click on the blue Empty Trash button without even processing what I’m doing. My mind’s on something else and it’s about two seconds after that click that I realize “Oh &*(^$#$#! I shouldn’t have done that!”
But sadly, it’s too late. Open up the Trash and it’s just a barren wasteland. You can almost imagine the tumbleweeds rolling past with the latest zephyr…
V. sad. I know. But download iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac Pro, however, and we can let it do the heavy lifting of recovering the accidentally deleted file. Download and the first time you launch the program, you’ll be prompted to grant it full disk permission. It can’t rummage around in your file system without it, so pop into System Preferences and grant it “Full Disk Access” in the Privacy tab:
Now you can launch the program properly, at which point it’ll show you all the file systems, drives, and removable media connected to this particular Mac system:
You can see that my root drive is a 1TB SSD (and yet, I still wrestle for more disk space!) and that I have a SanDisk external 256GB flash drive plugged in too. The latter has connected with the dull name of “NO NAME”, but that’s the drive I want the program to examine. A click to select it, another click to unselect the option at the bottom of “Deep scan: Find more files, but will take more time.” and I can click on the blue “Scan” button.
Within a few seconds it’s figured out what’s going on and presents me with a list of potential files to recover:
If you’re finding it’s going super slow and showing you a 1%…2%…3% progress wheel, it’s because you’re starting with the deep scan. Definitely worth quitting the program and starting up again, this time unchecking that box. That deep scan is slow. Really slow.
In my case, a click on “Yes” reveals the list of recoverable files:
Phew. Top of the list is “Important Document.pdf” and you can see in the tiny preview pane that it has content (the “Items for Attention” is from within the PDF itself).
I can click on the Preview button, but I’m too eager to recover the document to be sidetracked. A check adjacent to that file name in the list, and a click on the blue “Recover” button and…
Great, but… did it work? I double click on the file and Preview reveals that yes, it is indeed intact!
[I’ve redacted a lot of information for my own privacy. It really is an important document]
You can see it worked, worked quickly and was a breeze to use and get great results. Solid stuff!
One thing to realize is that the longer you wait to try and recover a deleted file, document, photo or video, the lower the chances of success. Once those notebook pages lose their tab, the system will tap them for new content that you create. After even a few hours of heavy file usage, it could be too late, so if you need to recover a file immediately quit all other programs until you’re done trying to recover your own data or files!
And that’s it. Props to iBoysoft Data Recovery Pro for Mac. It works, and works well.
iBoysoft Data Recovery Professional for Mac. Free version, $99 Professional version for two Macs and $299 Technician edition for up to 5 Mac systems. Also available for Windows systems. All at iboysoft.com where you can also find a useful article on additional ways to try and recover accidentally deleted files too.
Disclaimer: iBoySoft sent me a license for the Pro version for the purposes of this writeup. Thanks, iBoysoft!