Last updated: Apr. 10, 2017
So you just formatted a disk and later realized that you had some precious files on the disk, and you wondered if it's still possible to "unformat" the drive to recover the 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 no such undo-formatting tool or function on any digital device, not to that I'm aware of so far.
Once you reformat a disk drive, it will be cleaned and you'll get more free storage space immediately.
BUT, your data doesn't have to be lost for good.
What do I mean?
Keep reading and you'll understand why. More importantly, I'm going to show you how to get back the "missing" files 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 gone instantly. This is due to the way how SSDs organize files (learn more from this or this post). Sadly you can't recover the data unless you have backups.
What happens when you format a drive?
For a standard hard disk drive (HDD) or flash card that is originally 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.
Important! — 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.
Recovering formatted drive: a step by step guide
- 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 a data recovery software that's capable of handling format recovery. For Windows PCs, I recommend Stellar Windows Data Recovery. For Macs, try Wondershare Data Recovery for Mac.
- Step 3: Get the software and install it on your computer. Now open it, read the instructions as shown on its interface accordingly. 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). So be patient.
I hope you find this guide helpful. It's definitely frustrating once you found yourself had 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 data recovery software, DO NOT attempt to save more files to the formatted drive to avoid decreasing chances of recovery due to data overwriting.
Influenced by the startup culture in the Silicon Valley, Jessica loves building things from zero to one and is keen on following news related to the Big Five tech giants and many SaaS startups.