How to Recover Deleted Files using Windows File Recovery

While there are a lot of data recovery software available online, Microsoft has also introduced it’s own data recovery software named as ‘Windows File Recovery‘. However, it is just a command line based tool and does not provide many options while recovering deleted files. But it works!

Basically, Microsoft has provided this tool as a recovery method for the files which have been lost during Windows update. But it also works for recovering files lost by deleting permanently or by formatting of HDD. This utility supports local storage devices like internal and external drives and USB drives. However, network drives are not supported.

Note: This app requires Windows 10 build 19041 or later. Which means, you must be running Windows 10 version 2004. To check the version of your Windows 10, go to RUN, type ‘winver‘ and press Enter. You can check here how to install latest Windows 10 update.

Imp. Note: To increase your chances of recovering a file, you should minimize or avoid using your computer at all. In Windows file system, the space used by a deleted file is marked as free space, which means the file data can still exist and be recovered. But if you use your computer, it may create new files which may over-write this free space at any time. This will reduce the chances of successful data recovery.

How to Use Windows File Recovery to Recover Lost Files?

In this tutorial, we are going to explain, how to recover the files which you have deleted permanently from your computer. As mentioned earlier, you are advised to minimize the use of your computer to increase the chances of file recovery. Windows File Recovery supports three modes – Normal Mode, Segment Mode and Signature Mode. All of the modes are explained in the next sections, so, keep reading.

First of all, let’s have a look on how to use Windows File Recovery for recovering delete files? In this example, we have used Signature Mode. Let’s get started with steps.

Step 1

Launch Microsoft Store from Start menu. Search for ‘windows file recovery‘ and click on Windows File Recovery from search results. Click on Get button to download and install the app.

download and install windows file recovery from Microsoft store

It may ask you to sign in to your Microsoft account if you haven’t already. You may choose to Skip or Sign in.

sign in to Microsoft account

Windows File Recovery app will be downloaded and installed in your Computer.

Step 2

You can launch the App from Microsoft Store. Alternatively, search for Windows File Recovery in the Start Menu, and then select Windows File Recovery.

You might see UAC prompt asking for Admin permissions, click on Yes.

click yes on uac

Command Prompt window will open showing details of Windows File Recovery. It will also give you brief explanation about the tool.

windows file recovery cmd interface

Step 3

Now, for testing purpose, we have created a TestFolder in D drive. This folder has three files – a PDF, a text file and a ZIP file containing both text and PDF file.

For testing purpose, we are going to delete ZIP file permanently. Then we will try to recover deleted file using Windows File Recovery tool.

sample zip file deleted permanently

Step 4

We have deleted the ZIP file permanently in the previous step. Now, we will try to recover that file using Windows File Recovery tool. In this example, we will use Signature Mode.

Command format for Windows File Recovery is as follows:

winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/switches]

The source and destination drives must be different. If you are recovering files from the C drive, use the /n <filter> and /y:<type<(s)> switches to specify the user files or folder.

This tool automatically creates a recovery folder in destination drive named as Recovery_<date and time>.

In our test, we have used the following command to recover the files using Windows File Recovery.

winfr D: C:\Users\<username>\Desktop\Recovery /x /y:ZIP
recovering files in signature mode

The tool will start scanning the source disk for deleted files. After the scanning is complete, it will show you the brief details of the recovered files.

Step 5

After recovery process is complete, you will see details of recovered files. Finally, it will ask you to view recovered files. Press y or Y to open Recovery folder where recovered files are stored.

overview of recovered files

In the recovery folder, you can see the recovered files. In our case, we have recovered a ZIP file. Though the ZIP file’s name has been changed but the data in that ZIP file is intact.

check recovered files

Command Line Syntax for Windows File Recovery Tool

The following table has the information about each basic command line parameter and switch used in this tool.

Parameter or switchDescriptionSupported modes
Source-drive:Specifies the storage device where the files were lost. Must be different from the destination-drive.All
Destination-drive:Specifies the storage device and folder on which to put the recovered files. Must be different from the source-drive.All
/rUses segment mode, which examines File Record Segments (FRS).Segment
/n <filter>Scans for a specific file by using a file name, file path, or wildcards. For example:File name: /n myfile.docxFile path: /n /users/<username>/Documents/Wildcard: /n myfile.*
/n *.docx
/n *<string>*
Default
Segment
/xUses signature mode, which examines file types and works on all file systems.Signature
/y:<type(s)>Scans for files with specific file types. Separate multiple entries by using commas. For a list of extension groups and corresponding file types, see the table, “Signature mode extension groups and file types” in the section, “About modes and file systems”.Signature
/#Shows signature mode extension groups and corresponding file types in each group.All
/?Shows a quick summary of syntax and switches for general users.All
/!Shows a quick summary of syntax and switches for advanced users.All

Windows File Recovery: Modes and Examples

Windows File Recovery supports three modes that you can use to recover files – Default, Segment and Signature. Let’s check how to use all three modes.

1. Default Mode Examples

For recovering a specific file from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\FileName.docx

To recover JPEG and PNG photos from your Pictures folder to the recovery folder on an E: drive use following command format.

winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Pictures*.JPEG /n \Users\<username>\Pictures*.PNG

Use following command to recover your Documents folder from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\

Make sure to add the backslash (\) at the end of the folder.

2. Segment Mode (/r) Examples

Use following command to recover PDF and Excel files from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

winfr C: E: /r /n *.pdf /n *.xlsx

To recover any file with the string “bill” in the filename by using wildcard characters use following command.

winfr C: E: /r /n *bill*

3. Signature Mode (/x) Examples

When you are using signature mode, you can see the supported extension groups and corresponding file types using following command.

winfr /#

To recover JPEG (jpg, jpeg, jpe, jif, jfif, jfi) and PNG photos from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive, use following command.

winfr C: E: /x /y:JPEG,PNG

For recovering ZIP files (zip, docx, xlsx, ptpx, and so on) from your C: drive to the recovery folder on an E: drive.

winfr C: E:\RecoveryTest /x /y:ZIP

More Details About Modes and File Systems

As stated on Microsoft’s support website, Windows File Recovery supports following file systems. Also you can read on to decide which mode to use under which condition.

1. Supported File Systems‚Äč

Windows File Recovery supports several file systems that vary depending on the storage device or operating system. Recovering files from non-NTFS file systems is only supported in signature mode. To see which file system you have, right-click on a drive in File Explorer and select Properties.

File systemExamples
FAT and exFATSD cards, Flash or USB drives (< 4GB)
ReFSWindows Server and Windows Pro for Workstations
NTFSComputers (HDD, SSD), external hard drives, flash or USB drives (> 4GB)

2. Which Mode to Use?

You can use the following table to decide which mode is suitable for you. If you’re not sure, just start with the default mode.

File SystemCircumstancesRecommended Mode
NTFSDeleted recently.Default
NTFSDeleted a while ago, after formatting a disk or a corrupted disk.First try Segment, then Signature
FAT, exFAT, ReFSRecovery file type is supported (See table below)Signature

3. Signature Mode Extension Groups and File Types

The following table contains the extension groups and the supported file types for each group. This will be helpful when you use the /y:<type(s)> switch.

Extension groupFile type
ASFwma, wmv, asf
JPEGjpg, jpeg, jpe, jif, jfif, jfi
MP3mp3
MPEGmpeg, mp4, mpg, m4a, m4v, m4b, m4r, mov, 3gp, qt
PDFpdf
PNGpng
ZIPzip, docx, xlsx, pptx, odt, ods, odp, odg, odi, odf, odc, odm, ott, otg, otp, ots, otc, oti, otf, oth

Recovering Lost Files using Windows File Recovery

Windows File Recovery may not be the best tool available online for recovering lost/permanently deleted files but it does work. Plus it is created by Microsoft and nobody knows Windows better than Microsoft. So, we might see some improvements to Windows File Recovery tool in near future. You can check more details and FAQs here.

You may not be able to recover all of your deleted files, try other modes as well. We suggest you try Default mode first, then Segment mode and finally use Signature mode. Hope you liked the tutorial. Feel free to drop your queries and suggestions in comments down below.

About Aslam Khan

Hi there, I am a blogger, engineer and a computer geek. I love kittens. I spend some of my time blogging besides full time job as Senior Windows Administrator. I like to learn new things.

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