Losing important data due to user error, hardware failure, or software bug is a painful experience, one that unfortunately happens to most Windows users sooner or later.
To help its users recover from data loss, Microsoft has been including various backup features in its operating system for years, such as File History in Windows 10, but they all come disabled by default, forcing many users to rely on third-party data recovery tools. Until now.
Windows leaker WalkingCat has recently discovered a data recovery tool created by Microsoft, called Windows File Recovery, available in Microsoft Store, and, as data recovery professionals, we’re excited to see how it compares with our own data recovery solution, Disk Drill.
Meet Windows File Recovery
Windows File Recovery was quietly published to Microsoft Store a few days ago, and the initial reactions so far have been mixed (it currently has just 2.5 stars out of 5 on Microsoft Store).
The main point of controversy is the lack of a graphical user interface. That’s right, Windows File Recovery is a command-line tool. And unlike the most popular third-party command-line data recovery tool, TestDisk, it doesn’t even have interactive menus and options that users could easily go through using arrow keys on the keyboard (at least for now).
well, inside the package there is indeed a folder called “gui” and an executable called “WinFRUI.exe”, doesn’t actually work (yet) though, but there may be something in the plan 🙂— WalkingCat (@h0x0d) June 29, 2020
But despite its somewhat primitive appearance, Windows File Recovery works much like more sophisticated third-party data recovery tools, relying on the fact that deleted files are not immediately erased. Instead, the storage space occupied by them is simply marked as empty and made available for storing new data.
According to Microsoft’s support page, Windows File Recovery can be used to recover lost files that have been deleted from a local storage device and can’t be restored from the Recycle Bin, including internal drives, external drives, and USB devices. However, Microsoft explicitly states that the recovery of files on cloud storage or network file shares is not supported.
How to Install and Use Windows File Recovery
Installing Windows File Recovery is easy since you can get it directly from Microsoft Store, but you need to have the Windows 10 May 2020 update (Windows 10 version 2004) installed otherwise the Install button in Microsoft Store won’t be clickable.
Once you have Windows File Recovery installed on your computer, you can launch it just like you would any standard Windows application or open the Command Prompt as admin, type “winfr”, and hit Enter.
How to Recover Deleted Files on Windows
The most important thing you need to know to successfully recover deleted files using Windows File Recovery is that it supports three distinct recovery modes. Regardless of which mode you choose, the basic syntax is always the same:
winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/switches]
|Source-drive:||Specifies the storage device where the files were lost||All|
|Destination-drive:||Specifies the storage device and folder on which to put the recovered files||All|
|/n <filter>||Filter search||Segment|
|/y:<type(s)>||Recover specific extension groups||Signature|
|/#||Displays signature mode extension groups and file types||All|
|/!||Display advanced features||All|
This mode is intended to recover recently deleted files on NTFS drives from storage devices that haven’t been formatted and don’t suffer any file system corruption.
- To recover an Office document called FinancialReport from drive C: to drive E:
winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\FinancialReport.docx
- To recover all JPEG and PNG files from the Pictures folder on drive C: to drive E:
winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.JPEG /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.PNG
- To recover the entire content of the Documents folder on drive C: to drive E:
winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\
Also intended for NTFS-formatted drives, Segment mode offers the ability to recover data that has been deleted a while ago from formatted or corrupted drives. It recovers data using file record segments.
- To recover all PDF and DOCX files from drive C: to drive E:
winfr C: E: /r /n *.pdf /n *.docx
- To recover all files with the string “vacation” in the filename:
winfr C: E: /r /n *vacation*
If you need to recover data from storage devices with FAT, exFAT, and ReFS file systems, then you have to use Signature mode, which recovers data using file headers. Just know that it’s the slowest mode of the three.
- To recover all JPEG and PNG files from drive C: to drive E:
winfr C: E: /x /y:JPEG,PNG
- To recover all MP3 files from drive C: to the recovery folder on drive E:
winfr C: E:\RecoveryTest /x /y:MP3
|Extension group||File type|
|ASF||wma, wmv, asf|
|JPEG||jpg, jpeg, jpe, jif, jfif, jfi|
|MPEG||mpeg, mp4, mpg, m4a, m4v, m4b, m4r, mov, 3gp, qt|
|ZIP||zip, docx, xlsx, pptx, odt, ods, odp, odg, odi, odf, odc, odm, ott, otg, otp, ots, otc, oti, otf, oth|
Windows File Recovery vs. Third-Party Software
With the theory covered, now it’s time to put Windows File Recovery to use and compare its usability and data recovery performance with a third-party data recovery solution, Disk Drill. We’ll be attempting to recover a FAT32-formatted USB flash drive that used to store multiple files, including images, videos, and documents. Let’s start with Windows File Recovery.
Windows File Recovery
To recover files from a FAT32-formatted USB flash drive with Windows File Recovery, it’s necessary to use Signature Mode. Since we want to recover as many deleted files as possible, we won’t use any search filters:
winfr E: C: /x
Unfortunately, there’s no way to recover data from RAW or lost partitions, but RAW file recovery wasn’t needed in our case. Before the recovery begins, Windows File Recovery asks for confirmation:
With our small 2 GB USB 2.0 flash drive, the scan took nearly 3 minutes, which is longer than we expected. The tool then listed all recovered files and gave us the option to display them.
Windows File Recovery automatically created a recovery folder on drive C and sorted the recovered files according to their file type.
Let’s now perform data recovery from the same USB flash drive using Disk Drill Data Recovery for Windows and compare the results. Since Disk Drill features a convenient graphical user interface and runs all recovery methods in the optimal order, all users need to do to start a scan is to select the storage device and click Search for lost data.
Unlike Windows File Recovery, Disk Drill can scan an entire device and not just specific partitions. This allows it to recover data even from lost or RAW partitions that can’t be mounted properly.
Disk Drill then begins applying all of its recovery methods to find lost partitions and recover deleted files with their original names when possible.
The entire scan (which included all recovery methods supported by Disk Drill) took just a little over 2 minutes, and the results were amazing. Disk Drill was able to recover hundreds of files, and, in many cases, it even restored their original file names.
Before performing the actual recovery, Disk Drill lets users preview all recoverable files and select individual files for recovery. To finish the recovery process, all you need to do is click the Recover button and specify the recovery folder.
The table below provides a concise comparison of features offered by Disk Drill and Windows File Recovery. It doesn’t take more than a brief glance at it to understand that Windows File Recovery still has a long way to go to become a truly competitive data recovery solution.
|Disk Drill for Windows||Windows File Recovery|
|OS support||Windows 7/8/8.1/10||Windows 10 version 2004 or later|
|Architecture support||x86, x64||x86, x64, ARM, and ARM64|
|File systems||FAT/FAT32/exFAT, NTFS, HFS & HFS+, APFS, EXT3/EXT4 and any RAW disk||NTFS (Default, Segment, and Signature), FAT, exFAT, ReFS (Signature only)|
|Preview||All file preview handlers supported by Windows||❌|
|Graphical User Interface (GUI)||✅||❌|
|Mount scan results as folder||✅||❌|
|S.M.A.R.T. drive information||✅||❌|
|Filter scan results||✅||❌|
|Search in scan results||✅||❌|
|Automatic scan process||✅||❌|
|Lost partition recovery||✅||❌|
|RAW partition recovery||✅||❌|
After performing data recovery with Windows File Recovery and pitting it against Disk Drill, it’s easy to see why its reception from regular users and data recovery professionals has been lukewarm at best.
Windows File Recovery certainly isn’t a beginner-friendly tool that regular Windows users could use to quickly and easily recover deleted files. At the same time, it’s also not a professional-grade data recovery solution capable of delivering fantastic results. What Windows File Recovery really seems to be is an internal project made public during a very early stage of its development.
It’s possible that Microsoft will soon release a graphical user interface for it and add support for additional file types and file systems, but the strong competition and lack of positive reception could also convince Microsoft to abandon it and focus on other projects instead.