You might lose a file is by overwriting it. This can happen accidentally or purposefully while working with an application. It can also occur if you are sorting through files and renaming them. At some point when you are saving a file you will be prompted by the app or operating system to replace or overwrite a file with the same name. You might click Yes when you really meant No. It’s over in a second and now you have destroyed a valuable file.
You can’t take advantage of the built-in safeguards that the macOS provides to address deleted files. A file that is deleted is first moved to the Trash where it is easily recovered. This luxury does not exist for the overwritten file. You won’t find it in the Trash because the operating system only logically recognizes the newly created file that has the old file’s name.
As far as the OS is concerned, the original file no longer exists. How can you recover a replaced file on a Mac?
Can you recover overwritten files on Mac?
Yes, you can recover overwritten files on a Mac. While in some cases it may be possible to recover an overwritten item with data recovery software, the most effective method is restoring from a backup. You can use Time Machine, iCloud, or any other backup method to protect your valuable data. If you thought you were wasting your time with backups, recovering overwritten files is an example of their importance.
This article will demonstrate how to use various techniques to recover files that have been overwritten on your Mac.
#1 Recover Overwritten Files on a Mac with Time Machine
If you follow best practices you should be performing regular backups of your Mac. Time Machine, the backup and recovery tool that is part of macOS, provides an easy way to protect your data for just this type of occasion. Unless the original file was created after your last backup, you should have a copy of it in Time Machine.
To recover a replaced file using Time Machine:
- Connect the storage media that holds the Time Machine backups to your computer.
- Navigate to the folder that contained the file you want to restore.
- Click on the Time Machine icon in the Menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.
- Locate the items to be restored by using the timeline on the edge of the screen.
- Select an item and press the Space Bar to preview the file.
- Click Restore to recover the selected file.
#2 How to Recover Replaced Files on a Mac without Time Machine
If you do not have a backup that contained the file you need to recover you will have to make use of data recovery software like Disk Drill 🔧 to restore your data.
When the macOS replaces or seemingly overwrites a file, it treats the file in the same way it does a deleted file. It removes the logical reference to the original file and frees up its storage space for later use by the OS.
The operating system only references the newly created file of that same name. But the new file does not really physically overwrite the old file. It is very likely that a new storage location was used to save the new file and that the old file still physically exists on your disk.
Currently trying Disk Drill. Hopefully this can restore the file OS X replaced.— Fikri Rasyid (@fikrirasyid) November 5, 2014
Disk Drill makes use of this fact to recover files that are still physically present on your storage media but not visible to the operating system.
How to recover overwritten files on a Mac
- Download and install Disk Drill.
We recommend that you not use the disk that holds the files you wish to recover if at all possible. This will increase the chances that the files have not been physically overwritten before the attempted recovery.
- Connect the storage media if necessary.
- Launch the application and select the disk that contains the files you want to recover.
- Click the Search for lost data button to initiate Disk Drill’s scanning algorithms.
- The tool displays the files that are available for recovery. The free download of Disk Drill allows you to preview the files that can be recovered before upgrading to the Pro version to enact that actual recovery.
- Select a file location where you will store the recovered files. Do not use the original location to avoid file corruption.
- Click Recover and the selected files will be restored to the location you selected.
#3 Recover overwritten files using cloud backups
While Time Machine is a nice backup and recovery solution, there are alternative methods available to protect the valuable information on your Mac. The cloud provides multiple backup solutions, any of which can be used to recover overwritten files.
Recover overwritten files on Mac with an iCloud backup
You can configure your Mac to backup files to iCloud, providing another option for recovering overwritten files. Use the following steps to restore overwritten files from an iCloud backup.
- Log in to iCloud.com with your account credentials.
- Click on the Settings option.
- Under the Advanced tab located on the bottom-left, click Restore Files.
- Search for the files you want to recover and check the boxes to the left of their names. You can also choose Select All to restore everything available in the backup.
- Click on Restore Files.
Recover overwritten files on Mac with other cloud backups
Other online backups solutions each have unique characteristics that need to be considered when recovering overwritten data. The generalized steps below offer an outline that should work with just about any type of cloud backup.
- Connect to the cloud storage service that is storing your backup.
- Use the tool’s search functionality to find the files you want to recover.
- Select the files to be recovered.
- Use the tool’s user interface to perform the recovery.
#4 Recover overwritten files from within applications
Some popular word processing and spreadsheet applications have internal features that may allow you to recover an overwritten file. For example, Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps let you revert to a previous version of a document, which might be just what you need after overwriting a file. The following procedure works with either of these applications.
- Open the File Menu selection in Pages or Numbers.
- Click the Revert To option.
- Browse for the version of a file you want to restore.
- Select the version you want and click the Restore button to perform the recovery.
Similarly, if you use Microsoft Office, the following procedure can be used to recover an overwritten file on your Mac.
- Open a file that has a previous version you want to recover.
- If you’re using Microsoft 365 for Mac, select the name of the document on the title bar of the application, then select the Browse Version History option.
- If you’re using Office 2016 or 2019 for Mac, select File > Browse Version History.
- Select a version and it will open in a new window. Now, save the file to a new name to recover an older version of the item.
Other applications may have the same type of functionality. It’s worth investigating as this is a simple method of recovering an overwritten file.
The most effective method of recovering overwritten files is with a backup. If you are not currently backing up your Mac regularly, perhaps now is the time to start. You can use the built-in Time Machine tool or choose another cloud-based or local backup solution. Whatever solution you select, make it a habit to back up your machine regularly to keep your valuable data safe. You never know when a backup might offer you the best chance of recovering from accidental data loss.