Files get accidentally deleted on Mac computers all over the world every day. It can happen for various reasons, but all of them are resolvable in the same way.
By knowing how to recover deleted files on your Mac, you can quickly respond to an accidental deletion event.
You can also use this skill to recover documents, photos, videos, spreadsheets, and more when your storage develops bad sectors or other potential errors.
Why Is It Possible to Recover Deleted Files on Mac?
When you delete a file on Mac, the information isn’t lost forever. It gets directed to your Trash folder for future management.
Unless you have the option turned on to delete files after 30 days of being in the Trash folder, the deleted sits there until you take action. That means you have the chance to recover it.
If you deleted a file from an external HDD or USB flash drive, each one has a separate Trash folder you can check. These items are hidden by default, so you’ll need to make them available to macOS interaction before continuing.
Even if you delete files from the Trash folder, you can still reacquire them with a targeted recovery tool, such as Disk Drill for Mac.
How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac
If you recently realized that you need to know how to retrieve deleted files on macOS, the first step is to take a deep breath. You’ve found the necessary resource to help you manage this stressful situation.
Once you’ve got the adrenaline under control, these methods offer high success rates to help you with Mac files recovery in virtually every situation.
1. Recover your deleted files from the Trash folder
The first stop on your journey to recover deleted files on Mac is the Trash can in your Dock. It sits to the bottom right in the current macOS version, but it might be in other places if you’re using older software.
- Use a long click on the trash can icon to pull up its menu.
- Select the Open option that appears.
- This process brings up a Finder window that lets you locate and restore your missing files.
That process works for your Mac’s internal drive. If you have an external HDD or SSD, including USB flash drives, the Trash folder is different.
Each drive has a different one you must access, and macOS keeps it hidden by default.
On macOS Sierra (or later), you can use the SHIFT+COMMAND+PERIOD key combination to see your hidden files. On older operating systems, you’ll need to use Mac Terminal.
Once you’re into the .Trashes folder, you can restore the deleted files.
2. Use Mac Terminal to recover deleted files on Mac
If you have older macOS versions on your computer, you’ll need to use Mac Terminal to access your hidden trash folders. This method can also work if your system isn’t displaying the primary Trash folder for some reason.
- You’ll need to navigate to the Terminal icon. You can do this easily through the Spotlight feature or go through Launchpad and the Utility icon set.
- Once you launch mac Terminal, you’ll need to copy and paste this command line into the prompt.
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
- This command should enable you to see and interact the .Trashes folder.
When you are finished with your file recovery, type the same command line into Mac Terminal. Replace “TRUE” with “FALSE” to hide the folders once again.
3. Use Undo options to retrieve deleted files on macOS
Apple offers a helpful Undo feature for many commands and actions you can take within macOS and your various apps and software choices.
If you realized that you just moved a file to the Trash folder, you could Undo that action.
- Open a Finder window.
- Select the “Edit” option from the top menu bar.
- The first choice will let you “Undo Move [File Name].”
You can also use the COMMAND+Z keyboard shortcut on Mac computers to initiate the Undo command.
Even if you’ve moved a few other files to the Trash folder after the one you want to recover, this methodology still works. You’ll be restoring access to the other data first until you reach the specific item you wish to recover.
4. Time Machine backups can restore access to a previous file version
If you have Time Machine active on your Mac, you can use it to recover a previous file if no other method is available.
- You can find Time Machine by using the Spotlight feature on your Mac. It’s also available through Launchpad and your Utilities.
- Once Time Machine opens, you’ll need to click the folder where your deleted files used to reside.
- Next, click the arrow to the right of your window to scroll through your backup disk images until the information you want to recover appears.
- Use the Command button on your Magic Keyboard or laptop to select all of your targeted files. Click the “Restore” button to save them back to your Mac.
5. Use other backups to restore file access
When you aren’t using Time Machine, other backup services can help you get the access you need to those deleted files.
Using iCloud for backup storage is a top pick for Mac users. It’s free up to 5 GB, uses your Apple ID for access, and lets you get your files anywhere you can find an Internet or data connection.
You can also use other services, such as Disk Drill for Mac, to provide similar outcomes.
Since you are retrieving a backup copy in this recovery method, keeping the most recent version saved to your preferred provider is essential. If you’ve made several recent updates before the deletion without syncing the file, your work most recent work could be lost.
6. Use third-party software solutions to recover deleted files
When you cannot locate your missing files using the other methods listed in this information recovery guide for Mac, a third-party software solution can still find the missing data.
Disk Drill for Mac is a practical solution that scans your hard drive for any files you have queued for overwriting. It safely locates the information, recovers it on your behalf, and restores access to your preferred location.
If the Quick Scan feature doesn’t locate your files right away, try using the tool’s deep scan option to see if your missing information is still recoverable.
You’ll want to have a secondary storage option in some situations (corruption, bad sectors, physical damage) to ensure your file saves appropriately.
7. Use data recovery services
When none of the recovery options have worked to retrieve your missing files on Mac, all hope isn’t lost!
Physical file recovery is often available for the information that you must have. That means you’ll need to ship your affected drive to a laboratory or skilled specialist to have them get the missing information accessible again.
After submitting your file, a media diagnostic process occurs to determine the chances that recovery is possible. This analysis includes the current state of the drive, its problem, and the prospects for a successful outcome.
The estimation process includes a time estimation. You’ll receive this report from most providers to determine if the effort to recover the files makes sense.
Suppose you give the go-ahead for the laboratory to start working. In that case, experienced technicians begin accessing your drive in a clean room environment to ensure the recovery results happen as expected.
This method is the most expensive option for file recovery, with services often priced in the $300 to $500 range. If your drive has extensive damage, that cost could triple.
If possible, try to get at least three estimates (with one from a local provider) before choosing the best file recovery service to meet your needs.
How to Protect Your Files on Mac
The best way to protect your files on Mac is to keep regular backups. You have two macOS options that might not cost anything to accomplish this task.
Time Machine is a built-in macOS utility that handles file backups in the background automatically. You’ll want an external HDD or SSD to control the information, but it can ensure that you get the protection you need against accidental deletion.
Another option for protecting your files on Mac is to take advantage of your iCloud resources. Apple provides users with 5 GB of free storage in 2020, which means you can transfer files from external drives, SD cards, USB flash drives, and your internal storage up to that limit for no cost.
Apple lets you store documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, GIFs, image files, CAD program files, music composition files, and much more. If you can save it to a Mac and sent it to iCloud, it’ll get safely stored there.
If you need more storage, you can get an additional 50 GB for only $0.99 per month.
Third-party backup solutions are also available. Companies like Disk Drill or CrashPlan provide complete backup solutions through your ISP connection to ensure you experience minimal data loss.
You can also take these steps to prevent having your files accidentally deleted in the future.
- Password-protect your critical folders on Mac so that you get a two-factor authorization method whenever moving items from that area to the Trash.
- Wait until macOS notifies you that it is safe for a USB flash drive or external HDD/SSD to get removed after ejection.
- Turn off the automatic deletion feature that takes files out of the Trash folder after 30 days.
- Encrypt your disk using FileVault.
A Final Thought: How to Retrieve Deleted Files on Mac
File recovery on Mac computers only takes a couple of minutes to complete in most situations. Even if you’ve moved items out of your Trash folder, third-party recovery tools like Disk Drill can scan and locate this information to restore it.
The only way you cannot access a deleted file is if the storage sector was written over, effectively terminating access to the data because different information is now saved in its place.
That’s why it is essential to stop using your Mac immediately if your missing files are anywhere other than the Trash folder.