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One of the most important tasks for a Windows administrator is protecting the business's valuable data. A particularly difficult area of data protection is the end user client. Typically, recovering end user client data that has been accidentally deleted has been impossible without a third-party tool to do so.
Microsoft has not included a native tool in the Windows operating system to enable easy recovery of files or data that has been lost, overwritten, accidentally deleted, and so forth. However, Microsoft has released a new tool in conjunction with Windows 10 version 2004 that helps to solve this problem. The new tool is called Windows File Recovery. Let's take a look at what this new tool is and how it is used.
Windows File Recovery overview
What is the Windows File Recovery tool? It is interesting to note that Microsoft does not describe the tool as a backup tool. In fact, under the description of the tool, Microsoft mentions that you want to use the tool "If you can't locate a lost file from your backup…".
The use case is simple. If you have a file that you have deleted from local storage and the file is not found in the Recycle Bin, the Windows File Recovery tool can help. On top of being able to restore files from an internal hard drive, the tool can also recover deleted items from other storage, such as external drives and USB storage.
A limitation of the tool is that it cannot restore files from a network file share, as you might already suspect. This is a local file recovery tool only for locally attached storage.
Other third-party file recovery tools provide similar guidance to Microsoft on this point. However, if you have deleted files, it is best to recover them as soon as possible. You want to have minimal disk activity taking place on your hard disk for the best chance of recovery.
The reason for this is that when you delete a file from your hard drive or other storage, the file isn't really gone. The file system simply marks the storage as free space. In actuality, the files are still there. If you continue to use your disk, copying, creating, and manipulating your storage, there is a chance this "marked free space" containing your files will be overwritten and possibly unrecoverable.
Download the Windows File Recovery tool
The new Windows File Recovery tool is a Microsoft Store app that you can readily download and install if you are running the required version of Windows 10. You can search for the app by name in the Microsoft store. It is found under the Utilities & tools > File managers section of downloads.
To run the new app, your system needs to meet the following requirements:
Minimum and recommended requirements:
- OS: Windows 10 version 19041.0 or higher
- Architecture: ARM, ARM64, x64, x86
Modes of operation
The new Windows File Recovery tool has different modes of operation, depending on how you would like to recover deleted files. The modes of operation include the following:
- Default mode: In the default mode, the master file table (MFT) is used to locate files in order to recover. The default mode is effective, especially when file record segments (FRS) are present on the drive.
- Segment mode: You can use segment mode when the MFT is not present. Segments are file information summaries that are stored on disk, such as the name, size, type, date, and other information regarding files.
- Signature mode: In signature mode, there are no other requirements to recover data aside from data being present on the drive. The Windows File Recovery tool searches for a specific file type on disk to recover files of that type. This mode does not work for very small files. It is also the only mode that works on non-NTFS formatted partitions.
Recovering files with the Windows File Recovery app
After you have installed the Windows File Recovery app on your Windows 10 2004 workstation, you can open a command or PowerShell prompt and type the Windows File Recovery app command, which is winfr. After typing the command, you will see the various parameters that can be used.
Below, I am kicking off a search for all .txt files. Earlier, I had created a testdoc.txt file on the desktop and then SHIFT+deleted it, which bypasses the Recycle Bin. The syntax shown below will begin the process of scanning the source disk. You have to confirm the operation before it will begin searching for your lost files.
After the process of scanning the disk finishes, pass 2 begins. This is the process of recovering files. Especially if you scan for all files of a certain file extension, you will most likely get some duplicates. I found this to be the case with .txt files, since the Windows OS generates many logs, text files, and others that often have the same name. You will have to select what you want to do when there are duplicates.
After this, you will be asked whether you would like to view the recovered files. If you select yes, you will be taken to the destination drive and folder that were specified when you ran the command.
You will be taken to your recovery folder, where you should be able to find your deleted file.
The new Windows File Recovery app tool is a great addition to Windows for a native way to recover files that may have been deleted from your drive. However, a word of caution is necessary here. I can see many end users that may incorrectly assume this will mean they no longer have to worry about data loss.
This is not a backup tool. It is another tool that can be used if your backup fails to provide the data you need. There are certainly instances in which this tool may not be able to recover your data, such as when free space is overwritten with new files after a file has been deleted.
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It is always good to have options when it comes to recovering deleted files. The new Windows File Recovery app utility certainly provides another means of potentially recovering files that may otherwise be gone forever.