Recover lost files on Windows 10

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If you can’t locate a lost file from your backup, then you can use Windows File Recovery, which is a command line app available from the Microsoft Store. Use this app to try to recover lost files that have been deleted from your local storage device (including internal drives, external drives, and USB devices) and can’t be restored from the Recycle Bin. Recovery on cloud storage and network file shares is not supported.

Note   This app requires Windows 10 build 19041 or later (See which version of Windows 10 you have).

Important: If you want to increase your chances of recovering a file, minimize or avoid using your computer. In the Windows file system, the space used by a deleted file is marked as free space, which means the file data can still exist and be recovered. But any use of your computer can create files, which may over-write this free space at any time. 

Windows File Recovery - Winter 2020 release

  1. If necessary, download and launch the app from Microsoft Store.

  2. Press the Windows key, enter Windows File Recovery in the search box, and then select Windows File Recovery.

  3. When you are prompted to allow the app to make changes to your device, select Yes.

  4. In the Command Prompt window, enter the command in the following format: 

    winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/mode] [/switches]

  5. There are 2 basic modes you can use to recover files: Regular and Extensive. 

    Regular mode examples  

    Recover your Documents folder from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive. Don’t forget the backslash (\) at the end of the folder.  

    Winfr C: E: /regular /n \Users\<username>\Documents\ 

    Recover PDF and Word files from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive. 

    Winfr C: E: /regular /n *.pdf /n *.docx 

    Extensive mode examples  

    Recover any file with the string "invoice" in the filename by using wildcard characters. 

    Winfr E: C: /extensive /n *invoice* 

    Recover jpeg and png photos from your Pictures folder to the recovery folder on an E: drive. 

    Winfr C: E: /extensive /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.JPEG /n\Users\<username>\Pictures\*.PNG 

    The source and destination drives must be different. When recovering from the operating system drive (often C: ), use the /n <filter> switches to specify the user files or folder. 
    Microsoft automatically creates a recovery folder for you called, Recovery_<date and time> on the destination drive. 

  6. When you are prompted for confirmation to continue, enter to start the recovery operation. Depending on the size of your source drive, this may take a while. To stop the recovery process, press Ctrl + C

The following information can help you decide which file system you have and which mode to use. 

File systems

File system

Examples

FAT and exFAT

SD cards, flash or USB drives (< 4GB)

NTFS

Computers (HDD, SSD), external hard drives, flash or USB drives (> 4GB)

There are several file systems supported by Windows that vary depending on the storage device or operating system. Recovering files from non-NTFS file systems is only supported by extensive mode. To see which file system you have, right click a drive in File Explorer and select Properties

Deciding which mode to use

Use the following table to help you decide which mode to use. If you are not sure, start with Regular mode.

File system

Circumstances

Recommended mode

NTFS

Deleted recently

Regular

NTFS

Deleted a while ago

Extensive

NTFS

After formatting a disk

Extensive

NTFS

A corrupted disk

Extensive

FAT and exFAT

Any

Extensive

General syntax

The following table summarizes what each advanced switch is used for.

Parameter / switch  

Description

Supported mode(s)

Source-drive:

Specifies the storage device where the files were lost. Must be different from the destination-drive.

All

Destination-drive:

Specifies the storage device and folder on which to put the recovered files. Must be different from the source-drive.

All

/regular

Regular mode, the standard recovery option for non-corrupted NTFS drives

Regular

/extensive

Extensive mode, a thorough recovery option suitable for all file systems

Extensive

/n<filter>

Scans for a specific file by using a file name, file path, file type, or wildcards. For example: 

  • File name: /n myfile.docx

  • File path: /n /users/<username>/Documents/

  • Wildcard: /n myfile.*

  • /n *.docx

  • /n *<string>*

All

/?

Summary of syntax and switches for general users.

All

/!

Summary of syntax and switches for advanced users.

All

Advanced syntax

The following table summarizes what each advanced switch is used for.

Switch

Description

Supported modes

/ntfs

NTFS mode, a fast recovery option for healthy NTFS drives using the master file table

NTFS

/segment

Segment mode, recovery option for NTFS drives using file record segments

Segment

/signature

Signature mode, recovery option for all file system types using file headers

Signature

/y:<type(s)>

Recover specific extension groups, comma separated

Signature

/#

Signature mode extension groups and supported file types.

Signature

/p:<folder>

Saves a log file of the recovery operation in a different location than the default location on the recovery drive (for example, D:\logfile).

All

/a

Overrides user prompts, which is useful in a script file.

All

/u

Recovers undeleted files, for example, from the Recycle Bin.

NTFS
Segment

/k

Recovers system files.

NTFS
Segment​​​​​

/o:<a|n|b>

Specifies whether to always (a), never (n), orkeep both always(b) when choosing whether to overwrite a file. The default action is to prompt to overwrite.

NTFS
Segment​​​​​

/g

Recovers files without primary data streams.

NTFS
Segment

/e

To keep your results manageable and focus on user files, some file types are filtered by default, but this switch removes that filter. For a complete list of these file types, see the information after this table.

NTFS
Segment

/e:<extension>

Specifies which file types are filtered. For a complete list of these file types, see the information after this table.

NTFS
Segment

/s:<sectors>

Specifies the number of sectors on the source device. To find sector information, use fsutil.

Segment
Signature

/b:<bytes>

Specifies the cluster size (allocation unit) on the source device.

Segment
Signature

File extension filter list

The following file types are filtered from results by default. Use the /e switch to disable this filter or the /e:<extension> filter to specify file types not to filter.

_, adm, admx, appx, appx, ascx, asm, aspx, aux, ax, bin, browser, c, cab, cat cdf-ms, catalogItem, cdxm, cmake, cmd, coffee, config, cp, cpp, cs, cshtm, css, cur, dat, dll, et, evtx, exe, fon, gpd, h, hbakedcurve, htm, htm, ico, id, ildl, ilpdb, iltoc, iltocpdb, in, inf, inf_loc, ini, js, json, lib, lnk, log, man, manifest, map, metadata, mf, mof, msc, msi, mui, mui, mum, mun, nls, npmignore, nupkg, nuspec, obj, p7s, p7x, pak, pckdep, pdb, pf, pkgdef, plist, pnf, pp, pri, props, ps1, ps1xm, psd1, psm1, py, resjson, resw, resx, rl, rs, sha512, snippet, sq, sys, t4, targets, th, tlb, tmSnippet, toc, ts, tt, ttf, vb, vbhtm, vbs, vsdir, vsix, vsixlangpack, vsixmanifest, vstdir, vstemplate, vstman, winmd, xam, xbf, xm, xrm-ms, xs, xsd, ym

Can you give some tips to help me use the correct syntax?  

  • Always use drive letters in the source and destination path, don’t forget the colon (:) after the drive letter, and make sure there is a space between the source and destination.

  • When you specify just a folder name, such as /n \Myfolder\, add a backslash (\) at the end of it.

  • If a file or folder name has spaces, surround it with quotes. For example:

winfr C: E: /regular /n "\Users\<username>\Documents\Quarterly Statement.docx" 

What does <username> mean in the command examples? 

In the File Explorer address bar, enter C:\users to see a list of potential users on your computer. There may be several users on your computer, including you, the administrator, and the default account. When you see <username> in a file path, it is a placeholder for the current username on your computer. 

Why am I getting this message: "Source and Destination cannot refer to the same physical partition?" 

The source and destination drive or partition path should not be the same. If you only have one drive, use a USB or external hard drive as your destination path. Don’t create a partition after losing data, because this reduces the chance of a successful recovery. 

Why does the recovery operation take so long? 

​Depending on the size of the disk, it may take some time to recover the file, especially if you are using Extensive mode. 

Why are additional files recovered from my operating system drive? 

Behind the scenes, Windows is constantly creating and deleting files. By default, Windows File Recovery filters out these files, but some slip through. To prevent this, use the /n <filter> as per examples in this article. 

What is the $Recycle.Bin folder? 

For NTFS and segment modes, you may also see lost files recovered from the Recycle Bin (files either in the recycle bin or that were permanently deleted) with the name $files.xxx and stored in a folder called $RECYCLE.BIN. 

What happens if the destination drive is full? 

If you see the following message: "Destination disk is full, please free up space before resuming: (R)esume, (S)kip file, or (A)bort," free up drive space on the destination drive, and then choose one of the options. 

I was not able to recover the file, now what? 

If you used Regular mode, try again in extensive mode if the file type is supported. It's possible that the free space was overwritten, especially on a solid-state drive (SSD). If you need help, contact your administrator. 

Windows File Recovery - Summer 2020 release

  1. If necessary, download and launch the app from Microsoft Store.

  2. Press the Windows key, enter Windows File Recovery in the search box, and then select Windows File Recovery.

  3. When you are prompted to allow the app to make changes to your device, select Yes.

  4. In the Command Prompt window, enter the command in the following format:

    winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/switches]


    The source and destination drives must be different. When recovering from the operating system drive (often C: ), use the /n <filter> and /y:<type<(s)> switches to specify the user files or folder.

    Microsoft automatically creates a recovery folder for you called Recovery_<date and time> on the destination drive.

    There are three modes you can use to recover files: Default, Segment, and Signature.

    Default mode examples

    Recover a specific file from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

    winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\QuarterlyStatement.docx


    Recover jpeg and png photos from your Pictures folder to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

    winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.JPEG /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.PNG


    Recover your Documents folder from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

    winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\


    Don’t forget the backslash (\) at the end of the folder.

    Segment mode examples (/r)

    Recover PDF and Word files from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

    winfr C: E: /r /n *.pdf /n *.docx


    Recover any file with the string "invoice" in the filename by using wildcard characters.

    winfr C: E: /r /n *invoice*


    Signature mode examples (/x)

    When using signature mode, it's helpful to first see the supported extension groups and corresponding file types.

    winfr /#


    Recover JPEG (jpg, jpeg, jpe, jif, jfif, jfi) and PNG photos from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

    winfr C: E: /x /y:JPEG,PNG


    Recover ZIP files (zip, docx, xlsx, ptpx, and so on) from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

    winfr C: E:\RecoveryTest /x /y:ZIP

  5. When you are prompted for confirmation to continue, enter Y to start the recovery operation.

    Depending on the size of your source drive, this may take a while.

    To stop the recovery process, press Ctrl+C.

The following information can help you decide which file system you have and which mode to use.

File systems

There are several file systems supported by Windows that vary depending on the storage device or operating system. Recovering files from non-NTFS file systems is only supported in signature mode. To see which file system you have, right click a drive in File Explorer and select Properties.

File system

Examples

FAT and exFAT

SD cards, flash or USB drives (< 4GB)

ReFS

Windows Server and Windows Pro for Workstations

NTFS

Computers (HDD, SSD), external hard drives, flash or USB drives (> 4GB)

Deciding which mode to use

Use the following table to help you decide which mode to use. If you're not sure, start with the default mode.

File system

Circumstances

Recommended mode

NTFS

Deleted recently

Default

NTFS

Deleted a while ago

Segment, followed by Signature

NTFS

After formatting a disk

Segment, followed by Signature

NTFS

A corrupted disk

Segment, followed by Signature

FAT, exFAT

Recovery file type is supported (see following table)

Signature

Signature mode extension groups and file types

The following table summarizes the extension groups and the supported file types for each group when you use the /y:<type(s)> switch 

Extension group

File type

ASF

wma, wmv, asf

JPEG

jpg, jpeg, jpe, jif, jfif, jfi

MP3

mp3

MPEG

mpeg, mp4, mpg, m4a, m4v, m4b, m4r, mov, 3gp, qt

PDF

pdf

PNG

png

ZIP

zip, docx, xlsx, pptx, odt, ods, odp, odg, odi, odf, odc, odm, ott, otg, otp, ots, otc, oti, otf, oth

General syntax

The following table summarizes what each basic command line parameter and switch is used for.

Parameter or switch

Description

Supported modes

Source-drive:

Specifies the storage device where the files were lost. Must be different from the destination-drive.

All

Destination-drive:

Specifies the storage device and folder on which to put the recovered files. Must be different from the source-drive.

All

/r

Uses segment mode, which examines File Record Segments (FRS).

Segment

/n <filter>

Scans for a specific file by using a file name, file path, or wildcards. For example:

  • File name: /n myfile.docx

  • File path: /n /users/<username>/Documents/

  • Wildcard: /n myfile.*
    /n *.docx
    /n *<string>*

Default
Segment

/x

Uses signature mode, which examines file types and works on all file systems.

Signature

/y:<type(s)>

Scans for files with specific file types. Separate multiple entries by using commas. For a list of extension groups and corresponding file types, see the table, "Signature mode extension groups and file types" in the section, "About modes and file systems".

Signature

/#

Shows signature mode extension groups and corresponding file types in each group.

All

/?

Shows a quick summary of syntax and switches for general users.

All

/!

Shows a quick summary of syntax and switches for advanced users.

All

Advanced syntax

The following table summarizes what each advanced switch is used for.

Switch

Description

Supported modes

/p:<folder>

Saves a log file of the recovery operation in a different location than the default location on the recovery drive (for example, D:\logfile).

All

/a

Overrides user prompts, which is useful in a script file.

All

/u

Recovers undeleted files, for example, from the Recycle Bin.

Default
Segment

/k

Recovers system files.

Default
Segment​​​​​

/o:<a|n|b>

Specifies whether to always (a), never (n), orkeep both always(b) when choosing whether to overwrite a file. The default action is to prompt to overwrite.

Default
Segment​​​​​

/g

Recovers files without primary data streams.

Default
Segment

/e

To keep your results manageable and focus on user files, some file types are filtered by default, but this switch removes that filter. For a complete list of these file types, see the information after this table.

Default
Segment

/e:<extension>

Specifies which file types are filtered. For a complete list of these file types, see the information after this table.

Default
Segment

/s:<sectors>

Specifies the number of sectors on the source device. To find sector information, use fsutil.

Segment
Signature

/b:<bytes>

Specifies the cluster size (allocation unit) on the source device.

Segment
Signature

/f:>sector>

First sector to scan on the source device.

Segment
Signature

Can you give some tips to help me use correct syntax?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Always use drive letters in the source and destination path, don’t forget the colon (:) after the drive letter, and make sure there is a space between the source and destination.

  • If a switch has a colon, such as /y:, don’t add a space between the colon and the rest of the value.

  • When you specify just a folder name, such as /n \Myfolder\, add a backslash (\) at the end of it.

  • If a file or folder name has spaces, surround it with quotes. For example:

    winfr C: E: /n "\Users\<username>\Documents\Quarterly Statement.docx"
  • To stop the recovery process, press Ctrl+C.

What does <username> mean in the command examples?

In the File Explorer address bar, enter C:\users to see a list of potential users on your computer. There may be several users on your computer, including you, the administrator, and the default account. When you see <username> in a file path, it is a placeholder for the current username on your computer.

Why am I getting this message: "Source and Destination cannot refer to the same physical partition?"

The source and destination drive or partition path should not be the same. If you only have one drive, use a USB or external hard drive as your destination path. Don’t create a partition after losing data, because this reduces the chance of a successful recovery.

Why does the recovery operation take so long?

​Depending on the size of the disk, it may take some time to recover the file, especially if you are using signature mode.

Why are additional files recovered from my operating system drive?

Behind the scenes, Windows is constantly creating and deleting files. By default, Windows File Recovery filters out these files, but some slip through. To prevent this, use the /n <filter> switch in default and segment modes and the /y:<type(s)> switch in signature mode.

What is the $Recycle.Bin folder?

For default and segment modes, you may also see lost files recovered from the Recycle Bin (files either in the recycle bin or that were permanently deleted) with the name $files.xxx and stored in a folder called $RECYCLE.BIN.

What happens if the destination drive is full?

If you see the following message: "Destination disk is full, please free up space before resuming: (R)esume, (S)kip file, or (A)bort", Free up drive space on the destination drive, and then choose one of the options.

I was not able to recover the file, now what?

If you used default or segment mode, try again in signature mode if the file type is supported. It's possible that the free space was over-written, especially on a solid state drive (SSD). If you need help, contact your administrator.

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