The Complete Guide to USB Flash Drive Data Recovery (8 Chapters)

Just deleted a big batch of files from your USB flash drive? Or the files are missing for hidden? Worse yet, your USB couldn't be detected by a computer. Never fear, here we're going to show you how to recover deleted or lost files from your USB flash, no matter what situation you are facing.

We break down all types of USB data loss situations into different scenarios, so you can quickly match your situation and find respective fix solution. Do use the Table of Content below to help yourself navigate.

Chapter 1: Accidentally Deleted Files from a Flash Drive?

You may have removed some files from your disk, thinking they would go to the Recycle Bin or Trash. But the truth is those items will bypass the bin. When you delete something from an external drive, it's similar to emptying Recycle Bin or Trash on your computer. But there is still a way to retrieve them.

How to recover: the best way is to use a USB data recovery program (as we introduce below). Beware that such software only recovers deleted files that are not overwritten yet, meaning you'd better stop using your flash drive the moment you hit the delete operation.

Chapter 2: Formatted USB Flash Drive By Mistake?

Sometimes you need to release more disk space, so you just "quick format" the drive without thinking much about the data stored inside. The operation is irreversible meaning there is no such "unformat" function. Fortunately, it's still quite possible to rescue the data. 

How to recover: once again, by using USB data recovery software. A quick format on a flash drive won't erase the data inside immediately, the data will retain intact there for a while depending on how large its volume is and how aggressive you generate additional data. Similar to accidental deletion, these formatted files are recoverable only if they are not fully written over.

Chapter 3: All Files and Folders Became Shortcuts in USB Drive?

Most likely your flash drive has been infected with certain virus or malware. All the folders and items are now turned into shortcuts, usually a few kilobytes in size. This has been a known issue for years, good news is you can restore your folders and files in a couple of steps.

How to fix: we've posted another article how to fix file folders become shortcuts on Windows, go check out the step by step fix guide there.

Chapter 4: USB Disk Shows Error Due to Corruption?

If you plug it into your computer and click on it, a pop-up window shows "the disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now?" or it says "the drive can't be initiated", chances are that your pen drive is corrupted or crashed.

How to fix: refer to this article how to fix usb not formatted error for detailed instructions on recovering the data and making the device work again.

Chapter 5: USB Drive Can't Be Recognized by a Computer?

There are two mainly reasons: there are file system or device driver issues, or your USB is physically damaged due to a bump or drop. Either case, you may still be able to make it work again and access the data normally. However, be prepared to invest a bit more time. 

How to fix: first follow the guide in this MakeUseOf article to update USB drivers or partition it correctly. If you suspect that your flash disk is damaged, watch this video for how to get the files out of a damaged USB stick. 

Chapter 6: USB Data Recovery Software for PC & Mac

Please note: you'll need to rely on a computer to run such recovery program in order to retrieve your deleted or inaccessible files. And it's not 100% guaranteed that you'll get all your data back. But it's worth a try and the scanning operation is read-only, so it won't cause any damage. 

If your computer is based on Windows, try Easy Drive Data Recovery — an easy to use tool designed by Munsoft dedicated to rescuing many types of files deleted or lost from a disk drive. 

Download Easy Drive Data Recovery

For Mac OS X, go to Stellar Mac Data Recovery — the most powerful Mac data recovery utility originally developed to retrieve data from Macintosh hard drive, it also works amazingly well for external drives.

Get Stellar Mac Data Recovery

Chapter 7: Step by Step to Retrieve Files from USB Drive using Recovery Software

  1. First off, turn on your computer, open a web browser such as IE, Chrome or Safari. Download a USB recovery program we recommended above and install it on your computer.
  2. Insert your flash drive into the USB port on your computer. Open "This PC" (in Windows) or "Disk Utility" (for Mac) to check and make sure the disk is recognized.
  3. Now launch the recovery software. Follow its instructions to select the right drive or file types to conduct a scan. The scanning process can take several minutes depending upon your disk volume.
  4. Preview the found files and recover those items you want.

Chapter 8: Additional Tips to Protect Your USB Flash Drive Data

  • If you've deleted files from the device or formatted your USB key, stop using it right away. Because any additional data writing activities to the disk may significantly decrease the recovery chance.
  • Always put your flash disk in a safe environment — meaning less possible suffer statics, water damage or physical drop.
  • Backup and backup the data regularly. All digital devices will fail eventually and you never know when, backup is king to keep your data safe.
  • Do not easily plug your USB key to any computer you're not familiar with, especially those in public libraries. You never know if the computer has a virus or not.

What do you think?

While it's super convenient to carry a USB flash drive and access the data whenever we need, it's also easier for the small storage device to go wrong either with human mis-operations or device crash/damage issues. Hope you find this USB data recovery guide useful. Best of all, good luck on recovering your lost items. If you have any further questions or suggestions, leave a comment below and let us know. We'd be happy to address them for you.

Jessica Carrell

Jessica is one of the co-founders at AnySoftwareTools. She is a lover of photography, technology, teaching, and learning. Recently she's keen on following news related to tech giants and SaaS startups in bay area.

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