Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Can I recover data after I accidentally formatted my hard disk?

I formatted by hard disk yesterday and forgot to back to a very crucial
folder with crucial files for our operation. How do I recover these
files?

By definition, the act of formatting a hard disk erases
everything on the disk
, so the knee jerk reaction is of course to
say no.

However, sometimes you can get lucky. Stop using the drive
immediately, to increase your chances of luck.

But first we have to review the basics.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

You mentioned that you forgot to backup a crucial folder. The first
lesson you should walk away from the experience with is simple: backup. And
I don’t just mean because you were about to reformat; I mean regular,
periodic backups.

Let’s face it: if your hard drive had died you also would have lost
those crucial folders.

Hard drives do die, and regular backups can save your assets.

“Hard drives do die, and regular backups can
save your assets.”

Second, in preparation for reformatting, you obviously did a backup
where you pick and choose what files to copy off. As you’ve discovered,
you can miss things. When performing a one-off backup for any reason, I
once again recommend using a backup or imaging program to backup
everything. Even if you never need 95% of it, that time when
you need something in the 5% will make this step well worth it.

Now, as I said, a reformat by definition erases your hard
disk. All of it, at once.

As it turns out, there are two common types of format: “normal” and
“quick”.

A “Quick” format simply erases the hard disk’s root directory,
twiddles a couple of other things, and you’re done. Note that it did
not actually go out and overwrite files.

A “normal” format actually goes out and overwrites all of the data
on the disk. You’ll know you’re performing a normal format as it takes
a long time.

If you’ve done a quick format, then there may be hope. You’ll need
to investigate “unformat” utilities or file recovery software. Normal
“undelete” utilities will probably not work, as they often assume that
you’ve simply deleted a file. Here you’ve deleted everything. A utility
like GetDataBack might be called for.
(There are others as well. This isn’t something I’ve done a lot of, so perhaps readers
will chime in with some utilities that have worked for them.) These utilities actually scan your entire
hard drive and try to piece back together that which was erased. If not
a lot has changed or otherwise been damaged, you can often get a lot of
your data back.

This is why I say “stop using the drive”. The more you use it, the more
the contents of the drive changes, and the less likely it will be that
your data can be recovered.

You’ll notice I’ve focussed on “Quick” Format, and that’s on
purpose. It happens to be what most people do, which is fortunate,
since data recovery from a complete format gets much trickier. In fact,
in order to recover data from a true, data-overwriting normal format,
you’re typically talking data recovery services and a lot of money.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

33 comments on “Can I recover data after I accidentally formatted my hard disk?”

  1. I’m going to chime in with Easy Recovery Pro. I attempt data recovery often and have tried lots of things to save someone’s data. I’d say it’s your best bet. It’s not free, but has a good hard drive utility as well as other nifty stuff.
    I’ve also used R-Studio and Undelete Plus with some success.

    Reply
  2. I use GetDataBack about eight times a year (my customers are fishboats, a hard life for a computer) and can recommend it.

    Reply
  3. I had fantastic success with Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recover app just a couple of weeks ago. I had very poor results using R-Studio so I uploaded and ran the demo version of SPWDR, then purchased SPWDR when it had such good results. I had not used the logical drive/partition since the reformat and that was extremely important!

    Reply
  4. Not to nitpick..but, in regard to, ‘A “normal” format actually goes out and overwrites all of the data on the disk..’

    I don’t believe that is exactly so. A ‘normal’ format will rewrite the ADDRESSING scheme (headers on sectors and such) on the drive, but will not overwrite the previously written data fields.

    Hence..it is possible to recover data after a ‘normal’ format. It’s still THERE, you just can’t use the newly written FAT (or NTFS) on the front-end of the drive to GET to it.

    That’s where the above-mentioned type software comes in.

    Reply
  5. to get d ata back form evena hard drive format– youcan not do any better then Recover My Files data recovery software will easily recover deleted files emptied from the Windows Recycle Bin, or lost due to the format or corruption of a hard drive, virus or Trojan infection, unexpected system shutdown or software failure.

    Reply
  6. You might look into and do a free trial of BinaryBiz Virtual Lab software. I formatted a 500 gig WD external drive to NTFS. There was conciderable data on the drive which had been FAT32 formatted. The customer decided they needed data recovered. I recovered over 35,000 files. It is slow–12 hours to scan, but the lost is now found.

    Reply
  7. Speaking of backup, how do you back up data when copy and paste doesn’t work?
    The only method I find working on this system is saving as an attachment to an e-mail. If there was a way to save a copy of ~18GB of data to a reliable source (private and not likely to crash) I would like to know.
    In the event that I don’t find one…or I have to reinstall the OS(XP Home) how would I (best)pursue a path to data recovery?
    If the system is unable to boot, how would I recover data?

    Reply
  8. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    My recommendation is a backup program like Acronis TrueImage
    (or others) and an external hard drive. That way the
    external drive can be taken to another machine should it
    ever be needed.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFIcRKOCMEe9B/8oqERAgmcAJwPa69ZQJs9k/txyJPWfmEojMGavQCggRLC
    T6Q0SzjYI5EJFYKwLbA6Tes=
    =YRZE
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

    Reply
  9. From the summary: “Formatting a hard disk erases everything on it”

    There are many utilities for recovering data from drives that have been formatted.

    Personally, I have been very successful in recovering data from formatted drives. As Leo writes, there are variables. I wouldn’t be cavalier about formatting, but it’s not that big a deal to recover data. It’s pretty damned hard to really erase a disc.

    See crazyone’s list here, scroll down:
    http://www.experts-exchange.com/Hardware/Misc/Q_20650284.html

    Some of these utilities can be daunting at first – testdisk for one. However, with a little effort, the reward is great.

    Reply
  10. Nice posting. Yes, we can recover the data after formatting or accidental deletion of data. This can happen with the help of stellar phoenix data recovery software. This software works on advance algorithm, scan your hard drive and recover deleted data.

    Thanks

    Reply
  11. once question, I accidently click quick format and then completed I clicked ok. I lost all my crucial folders, thousand of my travel videos and photos. may i know what software can I buy it for recover? like any brand of photo and video recovery doctor software or any suggestion??
    please be kindly to reply me asap. thank you very much

    Shame on you for not having backups. Backups would save you from this situation.

    I start by trying Recuva. Good luck!

    – Leo
    18-Mar-2009
    Reply
  12. hi,great!! thanks for sharing this usefull information.
    i already recover my data from deleted partition in my hard drive use getdataback.
    i just follow tutorial at http://TutorialRecoverDeletedData.notlong.com
    i only can recover 80% data from my hard drive..
    and my important data cannot be recover..someone can suggest to me free powerfull software for recover my important data..thanks

    Reply
  13. hi leo, I accidently click quick format to my external freecom 500GBhard drive, and my second 500Gb Freecom hard drive had died in non reason. I have went to computer centre, they cannot repair and they tried to backup but it is nothing at all. they ask me check online for the computer specialist. so could you pls be kindly to tell me which company is reputable for repair any died hard drive, and can be able to unformat hard drive? PLEASE HELP ME :

    Reply
  14. I tried some recovery softwares but they just recovered only jpeg,doc,html files but i want video files and mp3 files….
    Can any of the software recovers avi, mpeg4, wmv and mp3 files???

    Please i need your help.

    Those programs rarely care about what type of file they are restoring. More likely is that the files you’re looking for simply cannot be restored.

    Leo
    09-Sep-2009

    Reply
  15. Hi guys,

    It is really troublesome when losing vital data when reformatted hard drives. Yerstady my sister came for help for her formatted notebook containing her vacation photos. What can I say? Hunted on the web and find solutions. I tried freeware recuva, but not the right solution for unformat. The good point is it was freeware. And I tried many other programs some find 50% files, some find 70% files. Among the most, and a program icare data recovery found 81% files which happened to be the vacation photos. Some other programs are also good recovering 86% of files but some are not the vacation photos. What can I say? program really varies and also different cases varies.

    http://www.recovery-programs.com/howto-recover-files-with-icare-data-recovery.html

    This is a tutorial I ran into.

    Reply
  16. Hi,

    I have formatted my external hard disk number of times, now i want to recover my files (flash-flv, swf)which are seved in first time after that i have formatted number of times will i get it back?

    Reply
  17. hey buddy dnt panic i hav something for u.

    Here are the steps that can help u to recover the data. You have to use some tool to recover the data.

    1. Install a recovery tool on some other system
    2. Now place ur crashed disk as a secondary disk on this other system
    3. Select ur crashed disk from the partition and scan with the recovery tool to recover the data.
    If u wanna give try then I can suggest you 1 such tool that I used once” Advanced Disk Recover”. You can try the trial version….and if satisified can purchase it.u will get it from cnet

    Reply
  18. hi guys plz help me,
    i accidentally formatted my external harddrive, Seagate Free Agent, i had all my music projects on tht harddisk every beats i made till now i’m realli in a big trouble well i tried recovering from power recovery it didnt work though i did the quick format, i had like 700gb used and only 300 gb unused…. if any one can help please please save my life….

    Reply
  19. When a file is deleted from your computer, its contents aren’t immediately destroyed. Windows simply marks the hard drive space as being available for use by changing one character in the file table. If you manage to start an undelete process before Windows overwrites that part of hard disk with new files. You can set that flag back to “on” and get your file. As I know, you can download d following software
    http://www.windowspartitionrecovery.com

    Reply
  20. hello everyone,
    i accidently format(normal format) my drive ‘d’ in my computer.
    how can i recover back all my photo and data inside as i have try many method and still cant recover back.
    really need your help cause all the photos are very important to me!! thanks!!

    Reply
  21. Hi Sir

    How can I open the recovered files from my formatted hard drive . I have been recovered already but when I try to open these files it doesn’t operate so How can I try to open it ?

    with best regard
    arkar

    Reply
  22. third party utilities are useful
    1. for deleted files free data recovery software can do
    recuva http://www.piriform.com
    data recovery wizard http://www.easeus.com/datarecoverywizard/
    recovermyfiles
    http://www.recovermyfiles.com
    2. for formatted partitions
    recuva and data recovery wizard do the best
    3. for lost partitions
    data recovery wizard is better
    i suggest each pc should do backup in case of multiple os problems or other accidents.
    good luck everyone

    Reply
  23. I got a new computer and I had alot of stuff on the hard drive from my old computer which I wanted to transfer to my new one. I bought a case for my old hard drive(cavalry) so I could transfer the data and use the old hard drive as a backup. in the process of getting the new computer to recognize the old hard drive it asked me if I wanted to reformat the old hard drive which would erase all of the data on the disk and I clicked no. When I tried to access the data on the disk it shows that the old h.d. is empty. Is there any way to get this information back?

    Reply
  24. heloo
    Any body can help me. plz One of my Hdd formatted 2 times through windows 7 with NTFS mode. But I had some important folder in that partition , i want to recovery the folder , how can i get the folder ..plz help mee..

    Thanks

    Reply
  25. Hello,

    My hard disk was asking me to format when i plugged it to my laptop. I had saved very crucial data already on that hard disk. i found out there are softwares available which can recover my lost data.

    I want to ask you, after i recover my data using that software. will that data be lost on the hard disk or would still be available unseen for future retrievals.

    i am asking this because, i want to retrieve my data in parts/portions. if i keep to scan its taking more than 6 hours. ( i know it depends on the % of data).

    Please advise on this.

    Thanks a lot.

    As long as you recover by copying recovered data to a different drive you should be safe. If you recover “in place” you definitely run the risk of losing more data the more you recover.

    Leo
    26-May-2012

    Reply
  26. hi…
    i formated my hard drive accidentally.
    and combined all the disk partitions of it…and i loss my very impotent data of it…
    so now i want to backup my all data from it…
    so plz…..give me suggestion……..

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.