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If you’ve lost a file, time is of the essence. As new information is saved to a hard drive, flash drive or memory card, old information gets overwritten.

If you didn’t realize that your file was lost right away, don’t panic — there is still a chance your file can be recovered. (You can learn more about the variables that impact file recovery here). The scanning features of Disk Drill Basic are free, so it’s always worth checking to see if it is still there.

Before You Begin

  1. Install Disk Drill: If you haven’t installed Disk Drill yet, refer to our How to Install Disk Drill tutorial.
  2. Connect Your Device: If the deleted files you wish to recover are on an external device, such as a flash drive or camera, connect it to your Mac now.
  3. Quit Applications: Quit all applications that you currently have running on your Mac, especially ones that may be trying to access the disk you are trying to recover from (i.e. Time Machine, iPhoto, etc.).
  4. For Mac Internal Hard Drives: If you need to recover files from your Mac’s internal hard drive, proceed to How to Recover Files From Your Mac Internal Hard Drive.
  5. Check for Data Protection: If you have Recovery Vault and/or Guaranteed Recovery enabled on the volume you need to recover files from, proceed to How to Use Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery.
  6. Review FAQs: Review our Scanning FAQs document for frequently asked questions about scanning and recovery.
  7. Check File Type: If you have a specific file type that you need recovered, check What File Types Can Disk Drill Recover? to see if your file type is supported.
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Launch Disk Drill

  1. Start Disk Drill by going to your Applications folder and double-clicking on the Disk Drill icon. Launch Disk Drill
  2. If this is the first time you have launched Disk Drill, you will be asked a few questions. We recommend the you leave the first three boxes checked, but uncheck the last box to skip the tour. Click Next.install disk drill for mac os
  3. Enter your admin password, which gives Disk Drill permission to scan your drive.
  4. You will be asked if you wish to upgrade to Disk Drill PRO. Click Stay With Disk Drill Basic. You can decide whether or not to upgrade after you see the scan results.

Start Scanning

  1. On the main screen, you will see a list of the drives and devices available to be scanned.
  2. If the device you wish to scan is not shown, look on the bottom-left of the screen and click on “show them” to reveal any hidden items. If you still don’t see the one you need, see Scanning FAQs.Start Scanning
  3. Click on the name of the drive that you wish to recover your deleted files from. If your drive has partitions, clicking on the drive name will reveal each of the separate partitions.
  4. This step is optional, but recommended for the best data recovery chances. Click Extras next to the volume you wish to recover files from and select Remount Volume As Read Only. A padlock symbol will appear next to the volume name. This will prevent the disk from being accessed by other apps during the recovery process.remount volume as read only with disk drill
  5. Click Search for lost data (or Rebuild) next to the volume you have just for lost data with disk drill
  6. Wait for Disk Drill to finish scanning. If you have a large hard drive or disk, this can take hours (or even days). You can pause scanning at any time to preview the results. If no files are found, refer to Troubleshooting Scan Results.wait for scan finish in disk drill
  7. Filter the results as needed by keyword, file type, file size and date. Go to Scanning FAQs for more information on filtering.filter found lost data in disk drill
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Preview Selected Files

You will want to preview the files in Disk Drill before deciding to upgrade to Disk Drill PRO. Previewing is the only way to make sure the file is actually recoverable.

  1. In the list of file results, click the “eye” icon to the right of the name of the file you wish to view. The Preview Icon
  2. You will get a message telling you that you may need to a plug-in to view those files (more on that below). Click OK.
  3. You may get another message telling you that previewing the file could cause data loss. This message appears when you are trying to recover files from the Mac hard drive that Disk Drill is installed on. When you preview a file, this causes hard drive activity and it is possible that the very file you want to recover could be overwritten during this process. See How to Recover Files Your Mac Internal Hard Drive for better options, or click YES if you are comfortable moving forward.
  4. After a brief pause, a view of the file in question should appear. There are three possibilities for the preview:

    #1 Looks good:

    If the file looks as you expect it to, this is good news! The file should be recoverable.

    restored file looks good in disk drill preview

    #2 Looks Messed Up or Is Missing Parts:

    If the preview is black or appears garbled (with strange characters or symbols) or the audio/video is scratchy or only part of it plays, then it probably isn’t recoverable. You might be able to get some bits and pieces of it, but it won’t be perfect. If you recover it, you may not be able to open it at all. restored file partially corrupted in disk drill preview

    #3 No Preview Appears:

    If just the file name, date and size appears, then you may need a Quick Look plugin. Disk Drill previews files using your Mac’s Quick Look function. To test, use Quick Look on a healthy (non-lost) file of the same type on your Mac. Does it look the same as the one you are previewing in Disk Drill? If yes, you probably need a plugin. If no, the file is probably corrupted. To find a plugin, visit and do a search for the file type you are trying to view. Install the plug-in using these instructions and then try previewing the files again.

    There are a few file types that do not have plugins. If you cannot find a plugin, then you will have to decide if you want to gamble and upgrade to Disk Drill PRO to find out if it’s file preview in disk drill

  5. Another preview option is Hex view, which will allow you to view the underlying binary code of any file. Click the Hex button (hash tag # icon) to the right of the file name to view.preview hex option in disk drill
  6. If you have identified files that you wish to recover, it’s time to upgrade to Disk Drill PRO. Follow our Upgrade Tutorial and then move on to How to Recover Files with Disk Drill PRO.
.updated: December 23, 2020 author: Jill