Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Formatting a hard disk erases everything on it. Depending on how the hard disk was formatted, it might be possible to recover data. Or not.

I formatted by hard disk yesterday and forgot to back to a very crucial folder with crucial files for our operation. How do I recover these files?

By definition, the act of formatting a hard disk erases everything on the disk, so the knee jerk reaction is of course to say no.

However, sometimes you can get lucky. Stop using the drive immediately, to increase your chances of luck.

But first we have to review the basics.

You mentioned that you forgot to backup a crucial folder. The first lesson you should walk away from the experience with is simple: backup. And I don't just mean because you were about to reformat; I mean regular, periodic backups.

Let's face it: if your hard drive had died you also would have lost those crucial folders.

Hard drives do die, and regular backups can save your assets.

"Hard drives do die, and regular backups can save your assets."

Second, in preparation for reformatting, you obviously did a backup where you pick and choose what files to copy off. As you've discovered, you can miss things. When performing a one-off backup for any reason, I once again recommend using a backup or imaging program to backup everything. Even if you never need 95% of it, that time when you need something in the 5% will make this step well worth it.

Now, as I said, a reformat by definition erases your hard disk. All of it, at once.

As it turns out, there are two common types of format: "normal" and "quick".

A "Quick" format simply erases the hard disk's root directory, twiddles a couple of other things, and you're done. Note that it did not actually go out and overwrite files.

A "normal" format actually goes out and overwrites all of the data on the disk. You'll know you're performing a normal format as it takes a long time.

If you've done a quick format, then there may be hope. You'll need to investigate "unformat" utilities or file recovery software. Normal "undelete" utilities will probably not work, as they often assume that you've simply deleted a file. Here you've deleted everything. A utility like GetDataBack might be called for. (There are others as well. This isn't something I've done a lot of, so perhaps readers will chime in with some utilities that have worked for them.) These utilities actually scan your entire hard drive and try to piece back together that which was erased. If not a lot has changed or otherwise been damaged, you can often get a lot of your data back.

This is why I say "stop using the drive". The more you use it, the more the contents of the drive changes, and the less likely it will be that your data can be recovered.

You'll notice I've focussed on "Quick" Format, and that's on purpose. It happens to be what most people do, which is fortunate, since data recovery from a complete format gets much trickier. In fact, in order to recover data from a true, data-overwriting normal format, you're typically talking data recovery services and a lot of money.

Article C3426 - June 25, 2008 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

June 25, 2008 5:13 PM

I'm going to chime in with Easy Recovery Pro. I attempt data recovery often and have tried lots of things to save someone's data. I'd say it's your best bet. It's not free, but has a good hard drive utility as well as other nifty stuff.
I've also used R-Studio and Undelete Plus with some success.

Dan Ullman
June 26, 2008 9:43 AM

I use GetDataBack about eight times a year (my customers are fishboats, a hard life for a computer) and can recommend it.

Tim Pangborn
July 1, 2008 9:54 AM

I had fantastic success with Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recover app just a couple of weeks ago. I had very poor results using R-Studio so I uploaded and ran the demo version of SPWDR, then purchased SPWDR when it had such good results. I had not used the logical drive/partition since the reformat and that was extremely important!

July 1, 2008 12:35 PM

Not to nitpick..but, in regard to, 'A "normal" format actually goes out and overwrites all of the data on the disk..'

I don't believe that is exactly so. A 'normal' format will rewrite the ADDRESSING scheme (headers on sectors and such) on the drive, but will not overwrite the previously written data fields. is possible to recover data after a 'normal' format. It's still THERE, you just can't use the newly written FAT (or NTFS) on the front-end of the drive to GET to it.

That's where the above-mentioned type software comes in.

July 1, 2008 10:13 PM

to get d ata back form evena hard drive format-- youcan not do any better then Recover My Files data recovery software will easily recover deleted files emptied from the Windows Recycle Bin, or lost due to the format or corruption of a hard drive, virus or Trojan infection, unexpected system shutdown or software failure.

Richard Hatton
July 2, 2008 6:37 AM

You might look into and do a free trial of BinaryBiz Virtual Lab software. I formatted a 500 gig WD external drive to NTFS. There was conciderable data on the drive which had been FAT32 formatted. The customer decided they needed data recovered. I recovered over 35,000 files. It is slow--12 hours to scan, but the lost is now found.

July 5, 2008 5:02 PM

Speaking of backup, how do you back up data when copy and paste doesn't work?
The only method I find working on this system is saving as an attachment to an e-mail. If there was a way to save a copy of ~18GB of data to a reliable source (private and not likely to crash) I would like to know.
In the event that I don't find one...or I have to reinstall the OS(XP Home) how would I (best)pursue a path to data recovery?
If the system is unable to boot, how would I recover data?

July 6, 2008 11:44 AM

Hash: SHA1

My recommendation is a backup program like Acronis TrueImage
(or others) and an external hard drive. That way the
external drive can be taken to another machine should it
ever be needed.


Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


July 8, 2008 10:35 PM

From the summary: "Formatting a hard disk erases everything on it"

There are many utilities for recovering data from drives that have been formatted.

Personally, I have been very successful in recovering data from formatted drives. As Leo writes, there are variables. I wouldn't be cavalier about formatting, but it's not that big a deal to recover data. It's pretty damned hard to really erase a disc.

See crazyone's list here, scroll down:

Some of these utilities can be daunting at first - testdisk for one. However, with a little effort, the reward is great.

August 1, 2008 3:04 AM

Nice posting. Yes, we can recover the data after formatting or accidental deletion of data. This can happen with the help of stellar phoenix data recovery software. This software works on advance algorithm, scan your hard drive and recover deleted data.


josephine so
March 17, 2009 9:02 AM

once question, I accidently click quick format and then completed I clicked ok. I lost all my crucial folders, thousand of my travel videos and photos. may i know what software can I buy it for recover? like any brand of photo and video recovery doctor software or any suggestion??
please be kindly to reply me asap. thank you very much

Shame on you for not having backups. Backups would save you from this situation.

I start by trying Recuva. Good luck!
- Leo

May 4, 2009 6:19 PM

hi,great!! thanks for sharing this usefull information.
i already recover my data from deleted partition in my hard drive use getdataback.
i just follow tutorial at
i only can recover 80% data from my hard drive..
and my important data cannot be recover..someone can suggest to me free powerfull software for recover my important data..thanks

July 4, 2009 10:05 AM

hi leo, I accidently click quick format to my external freecom 500GBhard drive, and my second 500Gb Freecom hard drive had died in non reason. I have went to computer centre, they cannot repair and they tried to backup but it is nothing at all. they ask me check online for the computer specialist. so could you pls be kindly to tell me which company is reputable for repair any died hard drive, and can be able to unformat hard drive? PLEASE HELP ME :

September 8, 2009 7:37 AM

I tried some recovery softwares but they just recovered only jpeg,doc,html files but i want video files and mp3 files....
Can any of the software recovers avi, mpeg4, wmv and mp3 files???

Please i need your help.

Those programs rarely care about what type of file they are restoring. More likely is that the files you're looking for simply cannot be restored.

December 26, 2009 1:27 AM

I got the same headache when I accidently formatted my hard disk. To my relief, I unformat the drive and get data back by a program called icare recovery software.

I wish to share with you guys and hope this tool can help you out. Here is the detailed tutorial.

February 26, 2010 3:43 AM

Hi Leo,
Hope you ar doing fine.
I wanted to create a partition on my computer (also, I should have resized my one dive hard and then try to partition it) and accidently, I played with my external hard drive that was connected to my laptop and I changed something( that I don’t know what it was) and now when I connect my 500
Gigabyte hard drive to my laptop it shows only 1 megabyte size. However, when I check it with partition magic 8 software, it shows 479 gigabyte size. So it would be much appreciated if you could tell me how I can bring my hard drive to normal that I don’t lose my data.
Best Regards

March 25, 2010 8:07 PM

Hi guys,

It is really troublesome when losing vital data when reformatted hard drives. Yerstady my sister came for help for her formatted notebook containing her vacation photos. What can I say? Hunted on the web and find solutions. I tried freeware recuva, but not the right solution for unformat. The good point is it was freeware. And I tried many other programs some find 50% files, some find 70% files. Among the most, and a program icare data recovery found 81% files which happened to be the vacation photos. Some other programs are also good recovering 86% of files but some are not the vacation photos. What can I say? program really varies and also different cases varies.

This is a tutorial I ran into.

April 26, 2010 9:36 AM


I have formatted my external hard disk number of times, now i want to recover my files (flash-flv, swf)which are seved in first time after that i have formatted number of times will i get it back?

July 9, 2010 2:35 AM

hey buddy dnt panic i hav something for u.

Here are the steps that can help u to recover the data. You have to use some tool to recover the data.

1. Install a recovery tool on some other system
2. Now place ur crashed disk as a secondary disk on this other system
3. Select ur crashed disk from the partition and scan with the recovery tool to recover the data.
If u wanna give try then I can suggest you 1 such tool that I used once" Advanced Disk Recover". You can try the trial version....and if satisified can purchase it.u will get it from cnet

July 9, 2010 7:31 AM

hi guys plz help me,
i accidentally formatted my external harddrive, Seagate Free Agent, i had all my music projects on tht harddisk every beats i made till now i'm realli in a big trouble well i tried recovering from power recovery it didnt work though i did the quick format, i had like 700gb used and only 300 gb unused.... if any one can help please please save my life....

Mark Austin
September 3, 2010 4:18 AM

When a file is deleted from your computer, its contents aren't immediately destroyed. Windows simply marks the hard drive space as being available for use by changing one character in the file table. If you manage to start an undelete process before Windows overwrites that part of hard disk with new files. You can set that flag back to "on" and get your file. As I know, you can download d following software

Bob Maria
September 3, 2010 4:18 AM


Yes you can retrieve data after accidentally formatted your hard disk, you can try a third party data recovery software for the purpose.

You can try -


sharon ng
September 18, 2010 12:13 AM

hello everyone,
i accidently format(normal format) my drive 'd' in my computer.
how can i recover back all my photo and data inside as i have try many method and still cant recover back.
really need your help cause all the photos are very important to me!! thanks!!

October 17, 2010 7:25 PM

Hi Sir

How can I open the recovered files from my formatted hard drive . I have been recovered already but when I try to open these files it doesn't operate so How can I try to open it ?

with best regard

manish roy
January 30, 2011 9:00 PM

i want to know that how i can recover my data deleted from recycle bin.....?

February 21, 2011 10:59 PM

third party utilities are useful
1. for deleted files free data recovery software can do
data recovery wizard
2. for formatted partitions
recuva and data recovery wizard do the best
3. for lost partitions
data recovery wizard is better
i suggest each pc should do backup in case of multiple os problems or other accidents.
good luck everyone

February 27, 2011 1:34 PM

take a look at this blog :

November 26, 2011 1:05 PM

I got a new computer and I had alot of stuff on the hard drive from my old computer which I wanted to transfer to my new one. I bought a case for my old hard drive(cavalry) so I could transfer the data and use the old hard drive as a backup. in the process of getting the new computer to recognize the old hard drive it asked me if I wanted to reformat the old hard drive which would erase all of the data on the disk and I clicked no. When I tried to access the data on the disk it shows that the old h.d. is empty. Is there any way to get this information back?

November 26, 2011 4:03 PM

Follow the instructions in this article and you might get lucky.

November 30, 2011 4:33 AM

can i still recover my old files on my old hard drive after formated

February 3, 2012 4:00 AM

Any body can help me. plz One of my Hdd formatted 2 times through windows 7 with NTFS mode. But I had some important folder in that partition , i want to recovery the folder , how can i get the folder ..plz help mee..


April 7, 2012 8:06 PM

Try freeware that could let you recover files after format.

You may follow the tutorial and download freewere here

Nazeer HS
May 24, 2012 6:51 AM


My hard disk was asking me to format when i plugged it to my laptop. I had saved very crucial data already on that hard disk. i found out there are softwares available which can recover my lost data.

I want to ask you, after i recover my data using that software. will that data be lost on the hard disk or would still be available unseen for future retrievals.

i am asking this because, i want to retrieve my data in parts/portions. if i keep to scan its taking more than 6 hours. ( i know it depends on the % of data).

Please advise on this.

Thanks a lot.

As long as you recover by copying recovered data to a different drive you should be safe. If you recover "in place" you definitely run the risk of losing more data the more you recover.

April 1, 2013 10:38 PM

i formated my hard drive accidentally.
and combined all the disk partitions of it...and i loss my very impotent data of it...
so now i want to backup my all data from it...
so plz.....give me suggestion........

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