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How Do I Recover Files on a Mac?

written by: Lee Clemmer•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/10/2010

Have you, a Mac user, lost data, deleted files, or have a corrupted disk? Do you know how best to recover your files and data? Let's look at the causes of data loss and what steps to take to recover that data when we can.

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    Data Recovery on the Mac

    The Mac OS X may seem very different from the PC, but some of the problems users have are universal. Mac users can make mistakes and delete files just as easily as a Linux or Windows Vista user. Disks can become corrupt or fail on any operating system. HFS+ and XFSX file systems are excellent, but they can still have problems that make data unreadable or inaccessible. These file systems are new, and there are not the numerous data recovery tools available that there are for Windows users. So what should Mac users do to recover files or lost data?

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    Documents, Files, Folders, Partitions, & Volumes, Oh My!

    The chances of recovering data vary depending on the problem that you have. A deleted file is often very easy to recover, as long as you have not written a large amount of data between the time it was deleted and the time you attempt to recover the file. Recovering lost data on corrupt disks depends on the type of corruption and how much corruption has occurred. If the catalog file or partition map is corrupted, the file data usually has not changed, and simply reading the file system data, folders, and files directly from the disk is straightforward. If the disk was initialized, It is usually easy to reconstruct the file system as the actual file and folder data is still present. If files themselves have been corrupted, your odds of restoring the data can vary--it's not guaranteed that the file as a whole is recoverable. It is always worth trying if the file is important.

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    Use the Right Tools for the Job

    On running the data recovery program you will usually choose a drive that is not in use--you don't want to try to run and recover data on the disk that the operating system is running on--this can cause big problems. You will want to attach the drive to a different computer or boot from a different disk. Then run the recovery program, pick a drive, a volume, and then preview the files that you find that can be recovered. You need a destination drive separate from the one you are recovering data from to save recovered files to. Writing recovered data to the same drive can overwrite blocks you need to recover, and then data is lost permanently.

    Programs like Mac Data Recovery from Disk Doctors are excellent tools to recover data. As they read directly from the data on the drive, they can recover data (if it is possible) regardless of the high-level problem that is present.

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    Further Reading

    Check out my review of Disk Doctors Mac Data Recovery software for Apple Mac OS X 10.4 and higher.