Ever been fiddling with your camera and accidentally deleted a picture, or accidentally wiped the contents of a USB drive that you really needed? Ever deleted some files off your hard drive when you only meant to move them?
Many people have done at least one of these things. I accidentally formatted the memory card in my camera halfway through my honeymoon. My bride was not impressed until I said "Don't worry, we haven't really lost anything."
As she sat there wondering if she had just married an insane person I explained that when you format a memory card or delete a file it's not really gone, the space it occupies is just marked as available for reuse.
So what do you do if this happens to you?
Turn off the camera and removed the memory card. If you wiped a USB drive, remove it from the computer and put it aside.
This is critical. As long as nothing has overwritten the files you have a very good chance of getting them back. If you start saving new data to the memory card (by taking new pictures) or new files to the USB drive or hard drive you risk overwriting the "deleted" files and losing them permanently.
Recurva from Piriform. This great little app will search the media (memory card, USB drive, or hard drive) and provide a list of all the files it finds, even if Windows says there are no files there. At that point you have the option of restoring all the files.
The free version of Recurva recovers files from physical media, although it doesn't automatically update or support virtual hard drives. There is no technical support with the free version, but if you stopped using the media as soon as you realized what happened you likely won't need it.
The Professional version of Recurva supports automatic updates, virtual hard drives, and comes with technical support. It's a good value at $24.95 but for many people the free version will be fine.
The free version of Recurva is amazingly easy to use. (I haven't tried the Professional version)
Given the risk of accidental file loss I suggest everyone install this tool on their computers before they need it. The last thing you want to do when you've had a data accident is try to remember what software will help you. (Although if you read this blog regularly you should be fine.)
I've used Recurva many times. It completely recovered my honeymoon photos, and I have recovered lost files and photos for friends on several occasions.
Hopefully you never need Recurva, but if you do you'll be glad you had it.
-The Home Geek