In this guide, we are going to show you how to recover your deleted or lost files from a flash drive, no matter what data loss scenario you are facing.
To make it easier for you to browse, we break down all USB data loss situations into 8 different scenarios, so you can quickly match your situation and find fix solutions.
Issue 1: Accidentally Deleted Files
You may have removed some files from your disk, thinking they would go to the Recycle Bin or Trash. But the fact is those items will bypass the Recycle Bin or Trash. When you delete something from a flash 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 (see Issue 6 below). Beware that recovery software can only recover your deleted files that are not overwritten yet, meaning you should stop using your flash drive immediately.
Issue 2: Formatted Your Flash Drive
Sometimes you want to free up more disk space, so you formatted the USB 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 a USB data recovery software (see Issue 6 below). A quick disk formatting won’t erase the data stored inside immediately. In fact, the data will remain intact there for quite a while depending on how large its volume is and how quickly you generate new data. Similar to accidental deletion, these formatted files are recoverable only when they are not fully over-written.
Issue 3: All Files and Folders Became Shortcuts
If all your files become shortcuts when you connect your flash drive to a PC, most likely your drive has been infected by certain viruses or malware. All the folders and items are now turned into shortcuts, usually a few kilobytes (KBs) in size. This has been a known issue for years, but you can restore your folders and files in a couple of steps.
How to fix: we’ve covered this in another article how to fix file folders become shortcuts, go check it out there.
Issue 4: Disk Shows Formatting Error
If you plug your USB drive into a Windows 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”, it’s very likely that your flash drive is corrupted or crashed.
How to fix: refer to this article how to fix USB not formatted error for detailed instructions on recovering your data and making the device work again.
Issue 5: USB Drive Not Recognized
There are two main reasons for this: the file system or device driver issues, or your USB is physically damaged. Either way, you may still be able to make it work again and access the data normally. However, be prepared to spend a bit more time.
How to fix: first follow the guide in this 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.
Issue 6: USB Data Recovery Software
Note that you’ll need to rely on a computer to run the recovery software 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.
- If you are using a Windows PC, see the best data recovery software for Windows 10.
- If you are on a Mac machine (MacBook, iMac, etc.), check out our best Mac data recovery software review.
Issue 7: USB Data Recovery Guide
- Turn on your computer, open a web browser such as Edge, Chrome or Safari. Get a USB data recovery program we recommended above and install it on your computer.
- Now 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 can be recognized.
- Now launch the data recovery software. Follow its instructions on the screen to select the right drive or file types to conduct a scan. The scanning process can take several minutes depending upon your disk volume.
- When the scan is complete. Preview the found files and recover those items you want.
Issue 8: Additional Tips
- If you’ve deleted files from USB drive or formatted it, stop using the device right away. Any additional data writing activities to the disk may overwrite the old files thus decreasing the recovery rate.
- 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 that will happen, backup is king to keep your data safe.
- Try not to plug your USB key to a computer that you’re not familiar with, especially those in public places. You never know if the computer has a virus or not.
While it’s super convenient to carry a USB flash drive and access the data whenever we need, it’s also easy for the small storage device to go wrong. Hope you find this USB data recovery guide useful. Good luck in recovering your lost items. If you have any further questions or suggestions, leave a comment below and let us know.
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.