Recover Deleted Files on Mac: Detailed Guide 2021

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Are you sure you want to delete “THIS REALLY IMPORTANT FILE”?

*Hits Delete*

Wait! I mean Cancel. I meant to press Cancel. I NEED THAT FILE.

Noooooo!

We’ve all been there. Inexplicably deleting a file and regretting it immediately. It sucks. It really does. But it’s not the end of the world. There are ways and means of recovering your files. More specifically, there are tools, tips, and tricks to help you recover your files.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to recover deleted files on Mac with the help of an extensive selection of solutions. They will be suitable for a variety of different scenarios that you might find yourself in when trying to recover lost or missing data.

Let’s dig in.

Common reasons leading to lost data 

Besides the human error — an example we’ve started this article with, — there are other reasons for having lost files and data on your laptop. Some of the most widespread are software corruption or critical errors, malware, and hardware failure.

While hardware failure can mean your data is unrecoverable, other types of data loss can often be reversed with various Mac files recovery techniques.

Is it possible to recover deleted files?

If you are wondering if it’s possible to retrieve a deleted file on your Mac after you’ve mistakenly removed it or there’s been a software malfunction, don’t worry, it likely is. One of our favorite solutions for undeleting files on Mac is dedicated file recovery app Disk Drill (which we will go on in detail about later in the article), but there are other ways which we shall discuss first, so read on.

The best ways to recover deleted files on Mac

From restoring deleted files from your Mac’s Trash to recovering a completely deleted file, let’s look at some of the best ways to address the recovery of your deleted files.

Check the Trash bin

This might be an obvious one, but just to be sure you didn’t miss anything, click on the Trash icon in your Dock and go through the files there. If you spot the file you need, just double-finger click on it and select Put Back menu option to restore your file:

trash put back

Retrieve deleted files with Undo command

If you’ve just deleted your file and haven’t performed any other actions on your Mac, here’s how to recover this file from Trash on Mac almost instantly.

Without exiting the folder, press Command + Z hot key combination to see your file return immediately to the folder.

That’s it, just like magic.

Recover deleted files with Disk Drill

Disk Drill is a popular solution among Macintosh users to recover deleted files. The app can help find files you’ve deleted from your Trash or that were lost in a software glitch.

To see all the files that can be restored, install the app and run the Disk Drill scan on your Mac:

recover deleted files disk drill

Browse the results or search for exact file name or extension:

recovering deleted files with disk drill

Select the files you want back and click the blue Recover button at the bottom right. Select where to put your file and you are done.

Recover files from backups on a Mac

To be absolutely sure all your data is secure, your best bet is creating a backup. You can use the built-in Time Machine option or third-party solutions like Get Backup Pro or ChronoSync Express.

All of them have their strengths and weaknesses, so let’s take a closer look and see what fits best with your style of file management and the type and size of data you work with.

To create a backup with Time Machine, open the Apple menu, go to System Preferences, and find Time Machine:

recover files with time machine

Next, connect a hard drive to create a Time Machine backup and select the files folders you want backed up. You can either back up your full machine (this takes more time and requires more space on your drive) or exclude some of the files and folders to only focus on the items you really need.

creating time machine backup

After your backup is done, you can go back to that version of your machine any time you want and select the files you’ve lost or accidentally deleted.

To do that, open Finder > Applications and double-click on Time Machine.

You’ll see a set of windows, one after the other. Click on the arrows to the right of the window stack to navigate your Time Machine versions. Once you find the correct time of the backup, browse through folders to locate your missing file:

time machine recover files

Click Restore to put it back where it originally was. The Restore button will be greyed out for the files that haven’t been deleted and don’t need restoring. And yes, this method will help you recover emptied Trash on your Mac — if the file you deleted was saved in an existing Time Machine snapshot.

Alternatively, you can use apps to create backups and sync files with more flexibility and customization.

Get Backup Pro is one such solution. The app allows you to set up backup tasks for various projects, create a backup schedule, and customize multiple elements of the process.

get backup pro setup task

Once you set up your preferences, drag and drop the items you want backed up onto the backup project you’ve customized and click the blue play button to do the initial backup.

get backup pro recovery

ChronoSync Express is a stellar synchronization option if you want to avoid multiple versions of the same files and folders. 

chronosync macos

With the app, you can sync folders, create backups, and schedule tasks:

chronosync macos

As you can see, these apps are excellent for a targeted approach with detailed backup management and syncing individual folders at the exact time you require it.

Is it possible to restore files via Terminal?

If you did a quick search for ways to recover deleted files on your macOS, you might’ve seen guides on recovering files placed in Trash with the help of Terminal.

The step-by-step tutorials suggest to open the app (Finder > Applications > Utilities > Terminal) and type in cd. Trash command. Next, to see the files in Trash, the command ls is entered. Finally, to move the file out of Trash to home directory, mv ../ is typed.

Our results with this guidance have been unsatisfactory:

recovery files via terminal

As shown on the screenshot above, we managed to open the Trash folder with the cd. Trash command but ls command did not produce a list of files in it, and the mv command did not let us move the file, returning two errors — regarding the directory and file name.

We are not sure if the reason is that this method no longer works on the newest macOS versions, but perhaps was once viable during, say, OS X era or some other version of the Mac system and could really help recover deleted files from the Trash at some point, or it never was a working solution in the first place.

The bottomline is, the solution does not seem to be working now. Then again, since this command sequence is supposed to only move files from Trash back to their original directory, we are confident you can very well perform that action using our guide in the first section of the present article on retrieving deleted files from Trash.

Explore AutoSave and similar built-in backups

If you’ve lost data while working with popular heavy-duty apps like Photoshop, Word, or Excel, you might be able to utilize the option of autosave. This built-in tool usually create a copy of your file automatically, allowing you to always have the freshest version of your file even if you did not manually save it.

Here what AutoSave looks like in Excel:

autosave files

You do need to turn it on in advance though (at least for Excel).

Apps like OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive have version history for their files, so if you’ve lost some data, you can try to browse your file versions to see if there’s something you can salvage there.

dropbox version history

How to protect your data in the future

Now that you know how to restore deleted files on Mac, you probably realize that some data might be lost without the possibility of retrieval or you want a more convenient way to keep track of your most important files and folders without worrying about possibly losing something.

One option is to create Time Machine backups to keep all your important info on an external hard drive. And for times when you want to have versions of files without having to connect an external drive, you can choose to backup your data to cloud storages, like Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, etc.

You can use tools like Dropshare to easily move any important files to an online storage:

dropshare online options

The app is as simple as setting up the drive you want to sync to and then dragging and dropping any file or item you need synced onto the app’s icon in the Menu bar:

As for the apps we talked about earlier, ChronoSync Express is also a great choice to facilitate scheduled backups and help protect any of your important data in the future.

Conclusion

If you’ve accidentally deleted a file or a folder, or a chunk of information has gone missing due to a system or app crash, you have a few options to try and recover your info.

Even if you think your file is not in the Trash anymore, your first step is always to double check your Mac’s Trash to see if you can retrieve your items from there. Next, you can explore options like Time Machine or third-party backups if you have them. You can also browse through file version history in some apps, like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.

Apps like Disk Drill can help you restore permanently deleted files. ChronoSync Express can help sync files and folders, while Get Backup Pro is an excellent tool to create and schedule targeted backups of your data. Dropshare is a handy tool for placing files onto cloud storage and sharing.

The mentioned apps — Disk Drill, Get Backup Pro, ChronoSync Express, and Dropshare — along with over 210 more can be found in app suite Setapp. If you already have a subscription, you can try these apps right now and make sure none of your info gets lost. And if you are not a Setapp subscriber yet, use Setapp’s free 7-day trial to try out all these apps plus dozens more hand-picked productivity solutions.

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