So you just formatted a hard drive and later realized you had some precious files saved on the disk, and you wondered if it’s still possible to “unformat” the drive to restore your data?
Whether you used an external hard drive, a memory card or a USB flash, it doesn’t matter.
The quick answer is – no, there is NOT such undo-formatting function on any digital device. Once you reformat a disk drive, everything on the disk is erased and you’ll release full storage space immediately.
BUT, your data stored on the drive will not be gone immediately.
What do I mean?
Keep reading to learn more as I’m going to show you why it is possible to retrieve the data and more importantly, how to get back the “missing” files by using unformat software, step by step.
Note: if you are using an SSD (solid-state drive), once you format it or delete something out of it, the data will be permanently erased right away. This is due to the way how SSDs organize files (learn more from this or this post). You can’t recover the data unless you have backups.
What Happens When You Format a Hard Drive?
For a standard hard disk drive (HDD) or memory card that’s initiated with FAT or NTFS file system, when you perform a quick format or complete format via your computer or a digital device e.g. camera, the formatted data are still stored on the disk but become “invisible” or inaccessible.
What happens is that only the header information related to these files are removed by the file system, and the system indicates the space those files previously taken are now set free to be written over (by new files). However, the data contained in those lost files are still intact unless you keep generating new files.
First, Stop What You Are Doing
As we see, the key to whether the files are recoverable or not depends on if the “space” is overwritten. So, it’s critical that you should immediately stop using the computer or device once you format the drive. The more you use it, the higher the chances you’re generating new data that could occupy the “space”. Next, follow the guide below to “unformat” (aka, recover) your data.
Best Unformat Software
There are lots of third-party data recovery tools out there in the market, many of them are designed to undelete (i.e. recover deleted files) thus not good at recovering formatted hard drive. During our testing and review of the best Windows and Mac data recovery software.
We found EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard especially effective in rescuing data from a disk drive that’s re-formatted. We believe it’s also the best unformat utility available on the market. The best part about this program is that it offers a free version that allows you to scan and recover 2GB data for free. Both a Windows and Mac version are provided.
How to “Unformat” and Get Back Data from a Formatted Drive
Step 1: Connect your external drive (HDD, USB, memory card, etc.) to a PC or Mac computer. Make sure the device can be recognized by your computer.
Step 2: Get our recommended unformat software and install the program on your PC or Mac.
Step 3: Open the program, read the instructions as shown on its interface accordingly and let the program scan your formatted drive.
Step 4: Once the scan is complete, navigate through the found file list to check if your lost items are there. Then recover and save them.
Note: the scan process can take some time if your disk has a large volume (e.g. it can take a few hours to a 500GB external HDD). Be patient.
I hope you find this guide helpful. It’s definitely frustrating once you accidentally formatted a disk drive (or you have to because of some weird formatting errors) and thus lost precious data. Though there is no such unformat or reverse option, it’s often possible to get the data back as long as you act quickly and take proper steps.
Once again, before you use any unformat software, DO NOT attempt to save more files to the formatted drive to avoid decreasing chances of recovery due to data overwriting.
Jessica is the co-founder and content manager. She has been fascinated by the startup culture in Silicon Valley and she loves building things from zero to one. When she is not writing, she loves getting close to nature and shoot photos with her iPhone and Canon EOS 80D.