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  • Predicting Success of Common Data Recovery Cases

Important notice: We assume in this article that your storage device is working properly. If not, you need to bring the failed device to a reputable data recovery professional. Tampering with such a device may result in complete data loss.

We also recommend for you to read our article File Recovery Basics: How Data Recovery Works if you want to understand the principles and process of data recovery more deeply.

3 factors affect the outcome of file recovery: the quality of data recovery software, the correctness of file recovery actions, and how severe data is damaged on the storage device. We put maximum effort into providing you with the best file recovery software and you may find the correct actions in our Data Recovery Guide, but the last factor remains out of anyone’s control. This factor is most important because when the data has been damaged beyond any recovery, even the best software and fully correct actions cannot recover anything. Such damage occurs when the new data overwrites the old. Our article Recovery of Overwritten Data explains why once overwritten data cannot be recovered.

The good thing is though that such a catastrophe happens quite seldom. Only disk wiping or writing a large number of new files to the storage device can inflict such a damage. In most typical data loss cases only information about files becomes damaged while the content of the original files remains intact. That is why unfragmented files can be recovered at least as raw files, that is, files without their original names/paths and other attributes.

Below is our estimation for file recovery results for most typical file loss cases. Our conclusions are based both on the theoretical reasoning and thoughtful tests of our data recovery programs and software from our competitors.

Damaged file systems on a disk
A file system on a storage device may be damaged by many accidents: improper disk disconnections, system crashes, accidental interruptions of file copy operations, etc. Each case is unique and makes random damage to the file system making it impossible to predict the file recovery results even for typical cases. They can vary from full success to partial success to complete failure. That is why we cannot predict file recovery results for such cases.
Recovery Example: Data Recovery from an External Disk with a Damaged File System

Deleted Files
When deleting a file, some file systems (FAT/exFAT and NTFS being an example) just mark the file as deleted and leave the information about it and its content intact. In this case deleted files can be successfully recovered with their names/paths and other attributes.

Some other file systems, like HFS+ and ext fs, completely destroy all the information about a deleted file, but file content remains untouched. In this case unfragmented files can be recovered as raw files only, that is, without file names/paths and their attributes.

Other file systems, like APFS, delete information about files only partially. In this case, some deleted files can be recovered with their names/paths and other attributes, some only as raw files.

Files deleted without Recycle Bin

Windows:

NTFS Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful.
exFAT Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful.
FAT32 Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

Files moved to Recycle Bin/Trash, then it was emptied

Windows:

NTFS Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.
exFAT Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.
Recovery Example: So, what do you have to do to get deleted files back?

macOS:

APFS The original folder structure can be partially recovered. Most files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful.
HFS+ Only raw files can be recovered without original names and other attributes. The original folder structure cannot be recovered at all. Large files are at the greatest risk.
exFAT (under macOS) Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

Deleted partitions/logical disks
When a partition is deleted, information about it is removed from a certain disk place where the partition layout information is stored. The file information from the deleted partition remains intact. That is why everything, including the folder structure and file names/attributes, can usually be recovered.

Windows:

NTFS The original partition/logical disk can be found. The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.
exFAT The original partition/logical disk can be found. The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.
FAT32 The original partition/logical disk can be found. The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

macOS (no security options are enabled):

APFS The original partition/logical disk can be found. The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.
HFS+ The original partition/logical disk can be found. The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.
exFAT (under macOS) The original partition/logical disk can be found. The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.
FAT32 (under macOS) The original partition/logical disk can be found. The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

Formatted partition/logical disk
The outcome of file recovery depends on how new data has been written to the disk. Usually, when the partition is formatted to the same file system, the data of the new file system overwrites that of the old file system. At best, the folder structure and file attributes will be recovered only partially, at worst files will be recovered as raw files only, that is without their names/paths and other attributes.

If the partition is formatted to a different file system, the data of the new file system can leave the data of the old file system untouched, or can overwrite it partially or completely. In the first case all files will be recovered with their names/paths and other attributes. In the second case some files will be recovered with their names/paths and other attributes, the others as raw files. In the third case files will be recovered as raw files only, that is, without their names/paths and other attributes.

Windows:
Original partitions/logical disk: NTFS
Formatted to:

NTFS Most files can be recovered only as raw files without their names and other attributes. Only some parts of the original folder structure can be recovered.
Recovery Example: Data Recovery from a Reformatted NTFS Disk
exFAT Almost the entire original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

Original partitions/logical disk: exFAT
Formatted to:

exFAT Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful.
Recovery Example: Data Recovery from a Re-Formatted exFAT/FAT Disk
NTFS Almost the entire original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

Original partitions/logical disk: FAT
Formatted to:

FAT The original folder structure can be partially recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful. Files from the device root folder can be recovered only as raw files without their file names and other attributes.

macOS:
Original partition/logical disk: APFS
Formatted to:

APFS Most of the original folder structure can be recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Files from the device root folder can be recovered as raw files without their file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful.
Recovery Example: Data Recovery from an Erased APFS Disk
HFS+ The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

Original partition/logical disk: HFS+
Formatted to:

HFS+ Most files can be recovered as raw files without their names and other attributes.
Recovery Example: Data Recovery from an Erased HFS or HFS+ Disk
APFS Most files can be recovered as raw files without their names and other attributes.
exFAT (under macOS) The original folder structure and files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes.

Original partition/logical disk: exFAT
Formatted to:

exFAT (under macOS) The original folder structure can be partially recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful. Some files from the device root folder can be recovered only as raw files without their file names and other attributes.
APFS Most files can be recovered only as raw files without their names and other attributes.
HFS+ Most files can be recovered as raw files without their names and other attributes.

Original partition/logical disk: FAT32
Formatted to:

FAT32 (under macOS) The original folder structure can be partially recovered. Almost all files can be recovered with their original file names and other attributes. Recovery of large files may be unsuccessful. Files from the device root folder can be recovered only as raw files without their file names and other attributes.