Deleted Files – Where did they go?

You may have heard that when a file is deleted from a computer it is not actually gone.  That is true (for the most part).  We will explore how this happens and what to do if you’ve deleted a file by accident.

“If I delete a file, why isn’t it really gone?”  We hear that question often.  The best explanation is demonstrated by the example of a library.  Imagine your hard drive as a big library full of books, except the books are really your files.  The library has a system either on a computer or a card catalog that will tell you exactly where that book is stored on the shelves and a few facts about the book.  If you destroy the record or card for that book, you’ll have no way of finding the book.  When you delete a file from your computer you are essentially getting rid of that pointer telling the computer where to find the file.  This is much faster than actually having the computer find the file and erasing the space on the hard drive where it is stored.  In computer terms that file is now in “unallocated space”.

Every computer keeps a list of where all the files you have on your computer are stored on the hard drive.  That list is a record of the “allocated space”.  So when you delete a file it goes from allocated to unallocated space.  That file stays intact on the hard drive until you create or copy another file onto the hard drive. The computer determines what chunk of unallocated space it should use to store that new file.  If your new file takes the same physical space on the hard drive, your old file is now gone and gone for good.

This leads us to the discussion of what to do if you accidentally delete a file or a bunch of files.

  • If you absolutely have to have the file(s) that were deleted STOP using your computer immediately, turn it off and bring it to us.
  • Do not install any software on your computer to try to un-delete the file.  You might actually over-write the file you are hoping to retrieve.
  • Don’t give up hope that your file is gone if your IT guy or your uncle who is good with computers can’t find it. We have specialized tools and techniques.

If you have any doubt about a file that may have been deleted, give us a call and we can let you know what the chances are of recovering that missing file.