How to recover data from a formatted hard drive

Written By: Ontrack

Date Published: 16 May 2024 04:08:24 EDT

How to recover data from a formatted hard drive

If you’ve accidentally formatted your hard drive, SD card or USB stick it’s never a nice feeling and you might even think that your data is gone for good. However, there’s no need to panic as your data may still be recoverable.

What happens when you format a device?

The term ‘formatting’, from a data storage technology perspective, refers to the practice of creating a file system on a device so data can be stored and read by other devices. We won’t get into too much technical detail here about how file systems work, but the main point to grasp is that any type of data storage media (like a hard drive, SD card or USB stick) is formatted with type of file system so your data can be recognised.

When you format a storage device you are essentially telling it to create a space where which files and folders can be saved (a new file system). In the process of doing this, the device will discard any previous files and folder structures and start over again. That’s fine if you’ve got a brand new storage device and you’re using it for the first time, but it’s not if you’ve already got data saved to it.

If you accidentally format your storage media it won’t completely erase existing data, but it will leave you in a situation where you can no longer view or access the files you had on there before. This is quite a common occurrence if you use SD cards in cameras or Android phones, but it’s also very easy to mistakenly format USB sticks and external hard drives that contain your personal data.

Attempting DIY data recovery

So if you accidentally format a device, what can you do? As a basic rule of thumb it’s important to not save any more data to the device, as this can overwrite the files you’ve lost.

It’s worth noting that you can follow this process for any type of removable storage media, all you need is a Windows or Mac computer, your affected device and some reputable data recovery software, such as Ontrack EasyRecovery.

How to get your data back using EasyRecovery by Ontrack

Make sure you’ve installed it on a different device to the one you’re trying to recover data from and you’ve connected your affected storage media as a removable device. If you’ve chosen Ontrack EasyRecovery, follow these simple steps to get your data back:

  1. Select the types of files you’d like to recover (e.g. photos, videos, or select all)
  2. Select the device you’ve accidentally formatted from the list and follow the recovery process
  3. If you can’t see your device, select ‘Can’t Find Drive’ and all of the hard drives connected to your system will be shown
  4. Choose your device and click ‘Search’ to find lost partitions
  5. Choose the partition you’d like to recover from and select ‘Scan’ to start the recovery process

When recovering your files, make sure that you recover them to a different location to the affected device. Once you’re certain you’ve recovered everything you need, you can go ahead and start using your device as normal again and save all of your data back to it.

Can’t find the data you need?

If you can’t find your device using the software, or your partition isn’t listed, try using the ‘Deep Scan’ option to conduct a more comprehensive search of your device.

If you’re still not getting any luck, you may want to consider contacting Ontrack's data recovery specialists directly to see if they can help fix the issue for you.


KLDiscovery Ontrack Limited, Nexus, 25 Farringdon Street, London, EC4A 4AB, United Kingdom (see all locations)