When Microsoft introduced the Recycle Bin in Windows 95, it immediately became a failsafe for many users. If you delete a file and realize that you actually need it, you can recover it easily by doing the following:

  • Open the Recycle Bin by double-clicking on the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop (or you can go to the Recycle Bin folder in Windows Explorer).
  • Find the file you want to recover and click to highlight it.
  • Go to the File menu and choose the Restore option (or right click over the filename and select Restore from the context-sensitive menu).
  • The file is now back on your computer in its original place.

While the Recycle Bin is a great utility, there are times that a file is not placed in the Recycle Bin when you delete it. These include files from removable storage such as flash memory and Zip disks, files deleted from within some applications, and files deleted from the command prompt. Also, there are times that you will empty the Recycle Bin and then realize that there was a file you wanted to keep.

A common misconception is that the data is actually removed from the hard drive (erased) when you delete a file. Any time that a file is deleted on a hard drive, it is not erased. Instead, the tiny bit of information that points to the location of the file on the hard drive is erased. This pointer, along with other pointers for every folder and file on the hard drive, is saved in a section near the beginning of the hard drive and is used by the operating system to compile the directory tree structure. By erasing the pointer file, the actual file becomes invisible to the operating system. Eventually, the hard drive will write new data over the area where the old file is located.

There are several hard disk utilities that you can find on the Internet that allow you to recover "deleted" files. What these utilities do is search for data on the hard drive that does not have corresponding pointer information and present you with a list of these files. Your chances of fully recovering a file diminish the longer you wait after you deleted the file since the probability that the file has been overwritten increases. Sometimes you can recover portions of a file that has not been completely overwritten.

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