How to recover deleted files from external hard drive

Have you accidentally deleted some work documents from your external hard drive and are you desperate because you don’t know how to recover them? Don’t be alarmed (or at least not right away!)… with a bit of luck, you might be able to fix the problem. You may not know it, but there are several software out there for the purpose in question: using them you may be able to recover deleted files from an external hard drive .

If that interests you (and under the circumstances I assume it does!), read on to find out more. In the following lines, in fact, I will go deeper into the subject by illustrating some of those that, in my humble opinion, represent the best data recovery software for Windows and macOS (both free and paid).

In most cases they turn out to be quite simple to use even for those who, a bit like you, don’t exactly consider themselves a “geek”. Fantastic, right? Obviously I can’t give you the most absolute certainty that in the end you will be able to recover your files (if the space on the disk that housed the data of your interest has been overwritten by other data, alas there isn’t much to do) but trying doesn’t hurt . Good continuation and good luck for everything!


  • Preliminary information
  • How to recover deleted files from external hard drive for free
    • PhotoRec (Windows/macOS/Linux)
    • Disk Drill (Windows/macOS)
    • Recuva (Windows)
    • Other solutions to recover deleted files from external hard drive for free
  • How to recover deleted files from formatted external hard drive

Preliminary information

Before getting to the heart of the tutorial by explaining how to recover deleted files from an external hard drive , there is some preliminary information that it is my duty to provide you to allow you to have perfectly clear ideas on what to do.

First of all, considering that, as anticipated at the beginning, recovering deleted files from an external hard drive is feasible only if the areas in which they resided have not yet been overwritten by other data , to increase the chances of being able to access again to what you are interested in it is essential to minimize the use of the reference disk.

If then, unfortunately, the portions of memory on which the files to be recovered were hosted have been occupied by other data, unfortunately there is nothing to be done, except to contact specialized centres .

How to recover deleted files from external hard drive for free

At this point, I would say that we can finally take action and find out what software is available to recover deleted files from an external hard drive for free and how to use them. You can find them listed below, with instructions for use.

PhotoRec (Windows/macOS/Linux)

The first of the useful tools to recover deleted files from external hard drive that I recommend you try is PhotoRec . It is a free and open source software, which allows you to recover photos, videos, documents, compressed archives and various other types of files from various types of drives. It is compatible with Windows, macOS and Linux, but has a graphical interface only on Microsoft operating systems, in other cases it is necessary to intervene from the command line.

Note that it is distributed in conjunction with TestDisk , which is also a data recovery software, but it works only from the command line and is indicated in situations where you want to recover lost partitions or want to make disks that are not bootable they are plus, as a result you don’t need them at the moment.

To download PhotoRec to your computer, visit its website and click on the link for the operating system you are using located in the TestDisk & PhotoRec xx (month day, year), Data Recovery section .

When the download is complete, if you are using Windows , extract the .zip archive obtained in a position of your choice and start the qphotorec_win.exe file found inside.

In the window that opens, press the Yes button , use the drop-down menu at the top to select the unit in relation to which to act, click on its primary partition and select the FAT / NTFS / HFS + / ReiferFS and Free options .

After that, click on the Navigate key and indicate the folder where you want to save the files once recovered. Then click on the File Formats button , indicate the file formats you are interested in recovering and press the OK and Search buttons to start the procedure.

If you are using macOS , instead, open the downloaded tar.bz2 archive on your computer, extract its contents in a folder of your choice and start the photorec file which is inside it, by right-clicking on its icon and selecting the Open item from menu that appears.

Via the Terminal window that now appears, use the right arrow on your keyboard to select the Sudo option, hit the Enter key, and type your Mac admin password .

After completing the above steps, select the unit you want to intervene on, indicate the reference partition , select the file system with which this is formatted and decide whether to scan only the space marked as free or to check in depth the whole unit.

Finally, specify the folder in which you want to save the recovered content, press the C key on the keyboard and wait for the data analysis and recovery process to start and complete.

Disk Drill (Windows/macOS)

Another great tool that you can use to recover deleted files from external hard drive is undoubtedly some Disk Drill . It is a software for Windows and macOS that allows you to recover deleted data from external and internal hard drives, but also from pen drives, memory cards, cameras, camcorders and various other devices. It supports all file systems, allows recovery from lost partitions, formatted disks, unformatted disks and RAW data. Its advanced algorithms also allow you to restore and rebuild photos, videos, music and other types of files. It’s free, but allows you to recover up to a maximum of 500 MB of data.

To unlock all the available functions, you need to switch to the paid version of the program (which costs 106.84 euros). On Mac it is also included in Setapp , a service which by paying a small monthly or annual fee (after a 1 month free trial) allows you to have many paid applications for Mac (and also iPhone/iPad with the most complete plan) without having to purchase licenses individually. More info here .

To download Disk Drill to your computer, if you’re using Windows , head to its website and click the Free Download button . When the download is complete, open the .exe file obtained and, in the window that you see appearing on the screen, click on the Install , Yes and Restart buttons . Next, start Disk Drill on your computer, press the Yes and Continue buttons , decide whether to activate the Recovery Vault data protection function and/or whether to share anonymous usage data with the program developers and click on the Let’s start button .

If you are using macOS , however, you can download Disk Drill by connecting to this other section of the program’s website and clicking on the Download for free button . Once the download is complete, open the .dmg package obtained and drag the Disk Drill icon to the Applications folder of your computer, then right-click on it and select the Open item from the context menu, in order to start the program by bypassing the desired limitations from Apple to non-certified developers (operation that must be carried out only at the first start).

Now that you see the Disk Drill main screen on your desktop, accept the terms of use, follow the initial presentation, press the Start button , enter the Mac administration password and grant the necessary permissions in Settings / System Preferences .

Now select the drive and the partition to analyze, expand the drop-down menu on the right, indicate a recovery method among those available and click on the Search for lost data button .

Once the scanning process is complete, help yourself in identifying the files to be recovered by filtering them by type from the left sidebar, choose the type of view from the View menu at the top right and press the Filters button to filter the results.

Subsequently, locate and select the data of your interest, click on the Recover button at the bottom left, select the destination path you prefer by clicking on the folder icon and pressing the OK button and wait for the process to complete.

Recuva (Windows)

Another excellent tool, which works only on Windows , which you can decide to turn to is Recuva . It is a data recovery software, very easy to use and in Italian. It allows you to recover deleted files from external drives and other media using a simple wizard. It’s free, but possibly also available in a paid Pro version (it costs €19.95) which offers premium support.

To download Recuva on your PC, connect to the program’s website and click on the Download button located in the Free column .

When the download is complete, open the .exe file obtained and, in the window that appears on the screen, click on the Yes button , select Italian from the drop-down menu for choosing the language located at the top right, uncheck the box for installation of any additional programs and press the Install and Start Recuva buttons .

Now that you see the software window on your desktop, click on the Next button and select the type of file you wish to recover. To be able to intervene on all types of files, leave the check on All files . Then press the Next button .

After completing the above steps, select the item In a specific location , press the Browse button and set the unit relating to the external disk on which you want to work in the field below. Then click on the Next and Start buttons , wait for the list of recoverable files to be shown and select the ones to restore, then press the Recover button , select the output folder and wait for the process to complete.

Note that only files with a green dot next to their name can be 100% recovered, while those with an orange dot may be damaged. Those with the red dot , on the other hand, are almost completely unrecoverable.

Furthermore, if you deem it necessary, before recovering certain files you can preview them by pressing the Switch to advanced mode button located in the upper right part of the Recuva window and selecting the files of your interest.

If then among the files found by the program you can’t find those that you intended to recover, you can try to fix it by selecting the Enable in-depth scan option before starting the recovery process, in order to perform a more in-depth scan of the hard disk.

Other solutions to recover deleted files from external hard drive for free

Are you looking for other solutions through which you can recover deleted files from external hard drive at no cost? Then take a look at the ones you find in the following list. I sincerely hope they are able to satisfy you.

  • EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard( Windows / macOS ) — is one of the best data recovery software. It is compatible with all popular editions of Windows as well as macOS and is capable of recovering data from hard drives, SSDs and external drives in just three steps. It also supports data recovery from deleted, hidden, lost or RAW partitions and is compatible with all popular file systems. Basically it’s free, but you can recover up to 2 GB of data. To get around this limit you have to switch to the Pro version which is paid (with prices starting from €66.69).
  • MiniTool Power Data Recovery( Windows / macOS ) – it is a software usable on both PC and Mac, and specifically designed for data recovery. It provides users with five options for recovering files, partitions, photos and videos on external drives and data from damaged partitions. Basically it’s free, but it allows you to recover up to 1 GB of data. To get around this limit, you need to upgrade to the paid version (it costs $69).
  • Wise Data Recovery( Windows / macOS ) — additional software that allows you to recover deleted files from external and internal drives and USB sticks, all quickly and easily. It supports Office documents, photos, videos and many other file types. It is in Italian, free and is compatible with both Windows and macOS. There is also a paid Pro version (with prices starting at $79.95) which offers additional functions.
  • Lazesoft Mac Data Recovery( macOS ) — it is a free program capable of recovering deleted files from the internal drive of the Mac and from the external ones. It is very easy to use and has proven to be quite effective.

How to recover deleted files from formatted external hard drive

What you would like to understand is how to recover deleted files from formatted external hard drive ? The answer is much simpler than you might imagine: using the software that I have already pointed out to you in the previous lines .

The data removed following the formatting of a hard disk are in fact recoverable like an unformatted hard disk, provided however that, as I explained to you in the initial chapter , the areas in which the data resided are not overwritten.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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