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How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac

No matter how hard you try, it’s virtually impossible to never accidentally delete a file on your Mac or MacBook Pro. When you realize that you have emptied the Trash after the deletion, your situation can appear hopeless. Don’t despair. We are going to show you several methods that can recover your lost data using native operating system functionality or recovery software. Disk Drill can recover lost files on your Mac even if they have been permanently deleted from the Trash. It’s also macOS Catalina ready!
Disk Drill has several powerful scanning techniques that can recover deleted files from a Mac – even from failing drives. Whether you need to learn how to recover deleted files on a Mac today, or you simply want ongoing data protection, Disk Drill is a great solution.

Quick recovery is possible for all major file systems including HFS+, FAT and NTFS. It has never been easier to recover a deleted file on Mac – and best of all – you can scan your hard drive or device and see which files can be recovered for free!

Below is a brief overview of how to recover deleted files on Mac computer. For detailed tutorials, see How to Install Disk Drill and How to Recover Lost Files with Disk Drill Basic in our Knowledgebase.

1. Download and Install Disk Drill for Mac

The first step is to download the free Disk Drill application from our website. It requires Mac OS X 10.8.5 or later. After downloading, find the "diskdrill.dmg" file in your Downloads folder and double-click on it. Drag the Disk Drill icon to your Applications folder when prompted.
  • recover deleted files mac
    1 Download Disk Drill
  • how to recover deleted files mac
    2 Drag to Applications Folder
  • is it possible to recover deleted files on mac
    3 Launch Disk Drill

2. Connect Device to Your Mac

If you need to recover deleted files on an external device, connect it to your Mac now. Skip this step if you wish to recover a deleted file on your Mac internal hard drive.
recover deleted files from trash mac

3. Launch Disk Drill Application

Once Disk Drill is installed, go ahead and launch it. In the first window that pops up, we suggest leaving the first three boxes checked. Next, to give Disk Drill permission to scan your drive, you will need to enter your computer’s administrator password. When you get to the screen that asks if you wish to upgrade, select “No, thanks. Basic edition is OK.” After you reviewed the scan results and confirmed that it has found your deleted files, you can proceed with upgrading to PRO.
recover deleted files mac with disk drill

4. Select the Drive To Be Scanned

In the main Disk Drill window, there will be a list of the drives connected to your computer. Select the drive that you need to recover deleted files from and then click the “Recover” button next to it. That’s it. Disk Drill will run through all of its scanning methods without you having to do another thing.

However, if you are an advanced user and have a particular scanning method in mind to recover your Mac files, you can click the drop-down arrow on the Recover button to select the method you prefer.
get back deleted files on mac

5. Undelete Protected Data

If you had Disk Drill installed before you deleted your files, then you may have had one of its data protection features turned on – either Recovery Vault or Guaranteed Recovery. These powerful deleted file recovery tools greatly increase the chances that you can recover your data.

When you click the Recover button, this is the first method Disk Drill will try. If it can’t used this method, it will proceed to Quick Scan.
how to recover deleted files mac for free

6. Quick Scan for Deleted Files

If you can't Undelete Protected Data, Quick Scan is your next best option. The best thing about the Quick Scan method is that it can recover files with its metadata intact (including file names). This method can be used to recover deleted files on HFS/HFS+, FAT and NTFS file systems. However, if Quick Scan fails to turn up your files, Deep scan is the last (and the most powerful) method.
how to find lost files on mac

7. Deep Scan for Lost Data

Deep Scan can help you recover deleted files from your Mac when all other methods fail. It scans your entire drive or partition at a binary level. The scan may take several hours, depending on the size of your drive. The only drawback to Deep Scan is that it is unable to recover the metadata for your files, so original file names are lost. Instead, they will have a generic name like file567.doc, or if Disk Drill can retrieve some meta-info, it might be named according to its file type, such 1920x1200.jpg for a photo file. Once the scan is complete, you can sort and preview the files to find the deleted files you were looking for.
recovering deleted files mac

8. Select Your Deleted Files

When Disk Drill is done scanning, you will be shown the list of the files it has found. If you are looking for certain files, you can sort the results to narrow down the number of files shown:

  • You can search for filenames by typing a keyword into the box with the magnifying glass on the upper left. Filenames are not preserved with Deep Scan, so you will need to narrow your results by date and file type;
  • You can also adjust the time to show only the files deleted within the last few days or weeks;
  • Click on any of the column headers to sort the list by that value.
When you find a potential file, click the "eye" icon next to the name to preview it. Some files may be corrupted, so previewing is the only way to know if the file is fully recoverable. After you have identified the deleted files on your Mac that you wish to recover, check the boxes next to their names.
retrieve deleted files mac

9. Recover Deleted Files on Mac

Once you have selected your files, select the location where you want to store the recovered files and then click the Recover button in the upper right corner. If you are using Quick Scan or Deep Scan and have not upgraded to the PRO version of Disk Drill yet, you will be prompted to do so. Once you complete your upgrade, click Recover to begin the recovery of your deleted Mac files.

Congratulations! You now know how to recover deleted files on your Mac OS X.

What Types of Devices are Supported by Disk Drill?

  • Macs internal hard drives

    Mac’s internal hard drives

    Quickly recover lost and deleted data from your Mac’s internal hard disk or SSD even after you have emptied the Trash.
  • External hard drives

    External hard drives

    Connect an external hard drive to your Mac and let Disk Drill scan it for lost files and restore your data.
  • Flash drives

    Flash drives

    Just plug your pen drive into the Mac’s USB port and select it in Disk Drill’s interface to recover your deleted flash drive files.
  • Memory cards

    Memory cards

    Recover deleted files from SD or other kinds of memory cards by using your Mac’s card reader or connecting the card’s device.
  • Digital cameras

    Digital cameras

    Connect digital cameras from Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and other manufacturers to recover data on your Mac.
  • Android iOS devices

    Android & iOS devices

    Connect your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet to your Mac to recover deleted data with a few clicks.

What Kinds of Files can be Recovered with Disk Drill?

Tips for Increasing the Chances of Successful Data Recovery

Here are some tips that will increase the probability that you can perform a successful data recovery.
  • Stop using the device
    Stop using the device
    Perhaps the single action that has the most impact on data recovery is to stop using the device as soon as data loss is suspected. Continuing to use a disk or partition risks overwriting the data you want to restore. This includes downloading the recovery software to a different device than the one you are attempting to recover.
  • Backup your data
    Backup your data
    One of the methods of recovering lost data is to use previously created backup media. This indicates that you should be backing up your computer regularly so you have a recent backup available when needed. The minor inconvenience of making backups will prove well worth the time when a recovery is required.
  • Watch for a failing drive
    Watch for a failing drive
    Don’t ignore the signs of a failing hard drive. If you hear strange grinding noises or start experiencing random missing files, it’s probably not your imagination. These issues will not correct themselves and are bound to get worse until the drive fails. Get your data off the device and to safer storage media as soon as possible.
  • Maintain a virus-free machine
    Maintain a virus-free machine
    Viruses and malware can be the culprit behind lost and deleted files. They can also be trying to steal sensitive information from your computer. Your best defense is to make sure your Mac is protected by a reliable antivirus package. Ensure you keep it updated with the latest virus definitions to provide maximum protection.
  • Minimize human errors
    Minimize human errors
    A simple mistake can be the cause of substantial data loss. Accidentally deleting the wrong folder or formatting an active partition can result in the deletion of a lot of important information. Taking the time to verify any action that can potentially destroy data can help reduce the number of errors that lead to lost files and folders.
  • Activate Recovery Vault
    Activate Recovery Vault
    Recovery Vault is a free feature included in all versions of Disk Drill that can help you recover lost data quickly and easily. The tool saves metadata on files that have been removed from the Recycle Bin and enables you to recover them if they have not been overwritten without performing a full data recovery procedure.

Ways to Recover Deleted Files on Mac without Software

Here are the procedures to use when attempting to restore your deleted files without software. You might want to try some of these methods before resorting to a software solution.

Retrieve Files on a Mac from the Trash Can via the "Put Back" Option

Here’s how to find and recover recently deleted files that are still in the Trash Can. The macOS saves deleted files temporarily and they are moved to the Trash, making them easily available for recovery. Here are the steps to follow to recover deleted files from your Mac’s Trash.

  1. Open the Trash Can on your desktop by clicking on its icon.
  2. Locate the file you want to retrieve.
  3. Right-click on the files you wish to restore.
  4. Select Put Back to recover deleted files on Mac from the Trash to its original location.
get back deleted files on mac via Put Back Option

Restore Lost Files via Time Machine Backup

Time Machine is a freeware backup tool that comes installed with your Mac’s operating system. Many Mac owners use this valuable tool to protect their data. If you need to recover from a backup file, use the following procedure.

  1. Connect the storage media that contains the Time Machine backup to your Mac.
  2. Open a window displaying the folder which last contained the deleted file. For example, if you deleted something from the Documents folder, open a Finder window of the Documents.
  3. Open Time Machine by clicking on the clock icon on Mac’s menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.
  4. Locate the items you want to restore from within Time Machine. There may be multiple versions of a file that has been modified and you can select the version that you want.
  5. Select an item to recover and press the Spacebar if you would like to preview it.
  6. Click Restore to recover the selected file or folder.
recover deleted files mac with Time Machine

Retrieve Deleted Files on Mac with Terminal

Use the following steps to attempt a deleted file recovery using the Mac Terminal application.

  1. Open the Terminal application on your Mac.
  2. Enter the command cd .Trash and hit Return to go to the Trash folder.
  3. Type this command with the name of the file you want to recover using this format mv xxx.xxx where xxx.xxx is the full filename and extension. Hit Return.
  4. Type Quit to close Terminal.
  5. Open a Finder window and look for the file in its previous location.
mac data recovery with Terminal

Recover Deleted Files with the Undo Option

The macOS keystroke combination of Command-Z will often undo the last action you took with the operating system. Using the keystrokes repeatedly can undo the last several commands that you have entered. This can be extremely helpful if you realize you have just deleted an important file.

This method works when you send something to the Trash or perform a mass delete from within a document. Be warned that it does not undo the emptying of the Trash Can. Once you do that, you’ll need to use Disk Drill to get your files back.
free mac data recovery with Undo Option

Use a professional - Mac Data Recovery Service

Sometimes your storage device has been physically damaged to the extent that it cannot be recognized by your operating system. In these cases, all the above methods will fail and you will be left wondering what you can do to recover your data. A professional data recovery service may be able to restore your folders and files even if the device is physically damaged.
A recovery service’s expert technicians can take apart the drive and clone it so its data can be recovered. This process is done in an environmentally controlled cleanroom to ensure the disks are not contaminated during the recovery. A reputable service like CleverFiles Data Recovery Center will not charge you if they cannot recover your data. It’s worth a shot if other methods fail and you need to get your data back.
recover deleted files mac with Data Recovery Service

Backup Your Mac to Prevent File Deletion

Backing up your files is one of the best ways to ensure your files are never permanently lost. You should make it a regular practice to back up the data on your computer to keep it safe. Here are two methods with which you can make backups and protect your valuable data.
Disk Drill provides you with the ability to create byte-level backups of your Mac’s folders and files. This feature can be used for regular backups or to make special backups of failing disks. The byte-level backup will include deleted files that can be recovered by Disk Drill.

Time Machine is the backup facility that is built into the Mac OS X operating system. It’s a free solution that only requires you to use an external storage device to hold the backup. It allows you to easily recover deleted files as long as they have been backed up.
retrieve deleted files mac

Situations Leading to Mac Data Loss or Deletion

There are a variety of reasons that you might lose data on your Mac.
  • accidental deletion

    Accidental deletion


    This is by far the most common cause of data loss. It’s very easy to mistakenly delete an important file or folder or format the wrong partition as you move around your computer. Be careful!

  • viruses and malware

    Viruses and malware


    Infection with malware or a virus can lead to unexplained file deletions and data loss. Make sure you always use an updated antivirus tool to protect yourself and your data from this problem.

  • faulty software updates

    Faulty software updates


    Software vendors can make mistakes with installation packages that lead to data loss. For this reason, its always a good idea to take a backup of your data before performing any major upgrades.

  • failing hardware

    Failing hardware


    As your hard drive or SSD ages it may start to experience performance issues that result in lost data. You should take strange noises or unexplained missing files seriously and consider moving your data to a new device.

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on by Disk Drill Team

Steps to recover deleted files on your Mac:

  1. Download, install, and launch Disk Drill for Mac.
  2. Select the disk or partition that contained the lost files.
  3. Click the Recover button to start scanning for deleted files on your Mac.
  4. Preview the recoverable files and choose a new location for them.
  5. Choose the deleted files you want to restore from a Mac and click the Recover button.

Yes. Follow these steps to recover files on a Mac from a Time Machine backup:

  1. Connect the device used to store your Time Machine backups to your Mac.
  2. Start Time Machine from the icon on the menu bar.
  3. Search the backups for previous versions of the files you wish to restore.
  4. Choose your files and click Recover to retrieve them.

The best way to recover recently deleted files on your Mac is by using the Trash Bin. Just follow this simple procedure to recover deleted files from the Trash on Mac:


  1. Click on the Trash Bin icon on your Mac to open it up.
  2. Search for the files you want to recover.
  3. Right-click on the selected files and click Put Back to recover deleted files on Mac from the Trash to their original locations.

Yes, there is. Data recovery software enables you to restore deleted files even after you have emptied your macOS Trash. This is because when the Trash is emptied, the files it contained still exist on your computer. They are logically inaccessible and data recovery software can repair the logical links, enabling the OS and applications to access the files again.

Yes, you can recover deleted files using the Terminal command, but you must use it before emptying the Trash. Use this procedure to give it a try:

  1. Open the Terminal Application.
  2. Use the cd .Trash command to navigate to the Trash folder containing recently deleted files.
  3. Use the mv command to move files from the Trash to new locations.

You can recover files that you have just deleted by using the Undo command by pressing the Command Z key combination. This command restores the files to their original location. It works from within a Finder window as well as many apps that allow you to create and delete files. This will not undo the command to empty the Trash.

You have a few different options to recover deleted photos on your Mac.


Here’s how to try using your Mac’s native Photo Application for recovery.

  1. Open the Photos application on your Mac.
  2. Click the Recently Deleted option under Library in the left-hand panel.
  3. Select the photos that you would like to restore.
  4. Click the Recover button in the upper right of the window.

If you use a cloud backup service such as iCloud, Dropbox or Google Photos, you may be able to use their apps to recover deleted photos. Most services keep deleted files for 30 days. In addition to making sharing files easier, the ability to restore from the cloud is one of the main benefits offered by these services. Specific steps will necessarily be based on the platform you use.


The most reliable way to recover permanently deleted photos from your Mac is with Disk Drill data recovery software. Follow these steps to get it done:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill on your Mac.
  2. Launch the app and choose the disk that contained the photos.
  3. Click Recover to start scanning for lost images.
  4. Preview the recoverable photos by filtering on Pictures and make your selections.
  5. Click Recover again to get back your valuable pictures.
Yes, it is possible to restore deleted files on your Mac. You can easily recover them from the Trash if they have been recently deleted. A Time Machine or other type of backup, the Terminal app, and the undo command can all be used to try to get your data back without using software.

Here are some tools that let you preview and in some cases recover your data for free on a Mac.

  • Disk Drill
  • PhotoRec
  • TestDisk
  • Mac Data Recovery Guru
  • Ontrack EasyRecovery
  • iSkysoft Data Recovery
The Mac equivalent of the Recycle Bin is the Trash Can. In both cases, files are temporarily stored in these special folders from where they can be restored quickly with a few clicks. Once the Trash or Windows Recycle Bin have been emptied, you need to use a backup or data recovery software to restore your data.

You can get a deleted folder directly from the Trash Can with the following procedure.

  1. Open the Trash by clicking on its icon.
  2. Drag the items out of the Trash to the desktop or into a Finder window opened to your desired location.
  3. Alternately, right-click on the items and select the Put Back option to return them to their original locations.
Deleted files are temporarily stored in the Trash Can for a predetermined amount of time or until the Trash is manually emptied. This is a special folder and you can view the files that have been deleted by opening the Trash and searching as you would in any other folder on your Mac. Files can be dragged out of the Trash or Put Back to their original location.
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