How do I recover data from a FAT file system

The FAT file system derives his name from its main component: the File Allocation Table. This file system has been around since the 1980s. Microsoft promoted it through its DOS and Windows operating systems.

How Does The FAT File System Work?

Originally, using 8 bits per entry, it has evolved into versions FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32, each using 12, 16 and 32 bits respectively. Usually, Microsoft doesn’t differentiate between the older versions, and refers to them as FAT.

fat data recovery

The main element of this file system is the File Allocation Table (FAT), which is allocated at formatting time. The FAT system divides the storage space into clusters. The FAT table contains entries for each cluster. For used clusters, each entry contains the number of the next cluster, or an end-of-file marker. Otherwise, it differentiates between unused and reserved clusters. Reserved are special clusters used by the operating system.

Directories are described in the same table. In the case of the root directory, the FAT table contains the number of the first cluster of each file in that directory. Using it, the operating system can build a cluster chain until it reaches the end-of-file marker. Sub-directories are treated in a similar manner.

The FAT32 file system has maximum file size of 4G limitation, which is due to the length of the entry in the directory table.

Overall, the FAT file system architecture is simple, efficient and has passed the test of time. It is still in use, being the default file system in many removable storage devices, such as USB sticks, flash and solid state memory cards, and many more.

Basically all operating systems consider it. Apple computers, using the MacOS X operating system, support it on volumes other that the boot disk. FAT is thus, the most widespread file system architecture.

How Do I Recover My Lost Data?

Deleting a file in the FAT file system simply means removing it from the FAT table. The data remains untouched until the clusters are overwritten by another file. As a result, deleted data can be recovered with some FAT recovery software, such as Disk Drill, before the storage space is used again.

Disk Drill is available for Windows and Mac computers. The Basic version is available for free download. The full version is commercial.

Disk Drill data recovery app

How Do I Recover My Data with Disk Drill?

Disk Drill can be efficiently used to retrieve lost files from a storage device using the FAT file system. There are two options, which are accessible through the menu:

  1. Quick Scan
  2. Deep Scan

Quick scan can be tried first, for example, after a recent deletion. Deep scan offers the possibility of searching for old lost files.

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FAT Quick and Deep Scan.

Once either Quick or Deep Scan is selected, Disk Drill proceeds with the fat 32 data recovery process. The results are presented results together with a menu with options to select different file types. In addition, it can filter according to size and date.

Fat 32 data recovery. The scanning can be paused at any time and continued later (PAUSE option). The session can also be saved for later use (SAVE SESSION option).

How Do I Narrow The File Search?

Fat data recovery with Disk Drill can be done more efficiently by using the Preferences option. This option permits narrowing the search by selecting a specific file type.

How Do I Prevent Data Loss?

Data loss can be easily prevented by using the Protect option and turning on the Recovery Vault.

The Recovery Vault is basically another layer added to the Recycle Bin. It provides another line of defense against data loss.

Alternatively, Guaranteed Recovery (GR) is an option for Macs. If enabled, it keeps a copy of any file sent to a specified folder, such as the Trash.

How Do I Create A Back Up With Disk Drill?

In the Extras menu, Disk Drill has a “Back up into recoverable disk image” option. This selection provides data back up in three different file formats: img, dmg and iso. The files can later be retrieved with Disk Drill or any other file image application.

Arthur Cole

Arthur Cole is a freelance content creator. He also has a more than 10-year experience in program development for macOS, Windows, iOS, Android. Arthur Cole is a writer with deep expertise in programming, who can easily...

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Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.