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How Do I Recover Deleted Files for Mac?

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Support.com Tech Pro Team
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1 Introduction: macOS: Recover Deleted Files

When a necessary file goes missing, it can be very frustrating having to re-do all that work. Thankfully, macOS has a number of safeguards and features built-in to save you from potentially having to re-create documents and lose precious pictures.

This guide will take you through:

  • Using the built-in Trash to recover items
  • Using Time Machine to revert a file
  • Checking iCloud for files
  • Checking any 3rd party services you may subscribe to
  • Data Recovery options

 Recovering lost files on Mac.

2 macOS: Spotlight Search

Spotlight Search allows you to search file names, as well as inside files for text you may have entered.

  1. Select the magnifying glass in the top-right corner.
    macOS Desktop with Spotlight Search icon highlighted.
  2. Spotlight search will open in the center of your screen.
    Spotlight Search.
  3. Type in something that has to do with the file you're searching for. You can try a line of text from a document, a bit of the file name, or any other information you may recall.
  4. A search window will appear below, giving you a list of options that may be related. Selecting a document will give you a preview of the file on the right.
    Example search with file selected.
  5. You can open the file right away by double-clicking on it.

? Were you able to locate the file you are missing?

  1. Yes
  2. No

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When a necessary file goes missing, it can be very frustrating having to re-do all that work. Thankfully, macOS has a number of safeguards and features built-in to save you from potentially having to re-create documents and lose precious pictures.

This guide will take you through:

  • Using the built-in Trash to recover items
  • Using Time Machine to revert a file
  • Checking iCloud for files
  • Checking any 3rd party services you may subscribe to
  • Data Recovery options

 Recovering lost files on Mac.

Spotlight Search allows you to search file names, as well as inside files for text you may have entered.

  1. Select the magnifying glass in the top-right corner.
    macOS Desktop with Spotlight Search icon highlighted.
  2. Spotlight search will open in the center of your screen.
    Spotlight Search.
  3. Type in something that has to do with the file you're searching for. You can try a line of text from a document, a bit of the file name, or any other information you may recall.
  4. A search window will appear below, giving you a list of options that may be related. Selecting a document will give you a preview of the file on the right.
    Example search with file selected.
  5. You can open the file right away by double-clicking on it.

When a file is deleted from your Mac, it first goes to the Trash. If left long enough, it will eventually be removed permanently from your computer, but this provides an excellent buffer for simple mistakes.

  1. Select the Trash icon at the end of your Dock.
    macOS Dock with Trash highlighted.
  2. A window showing the items in your Trash will open.
    Trash folder displayed.
  3. If you see the file you want in the Trash, it's best to put it back where it belongs.
    1. Click-and-Hold, Control-Click, or Right Click the file for the menu to open. Select Put Back.
      Context menu on file with Put Back highlighted.
    2. The file will be put back where it came from, and the Finder window showing that folder will open.
      Finder window showing file put back.

If the file you are looking for was stored in an iCloud-backed folder, you can restore them through the iCloud web interface.

  1. Open your preferred web browser, such as Safari.
    Apple Safari.
  2. In the address bar at the top, type in icloud.com and press Return.
    Safari address bar with icloud.com entered.
  3. Sign in with your Apple ID and password.
    Apple ID sign in prompt.
  4. Select Settings.
    iCloud web dashboard with Settings highlighted.
  5. Select Restore Files under Advanced at the bottom.
    iCloud settings with Restore Files highlighted.
  6. Look through the list of files. If you see your missing file, place a check mark next to it, then select Restore File.
    File restore with file checked and Restore File highlighted.

It can take a few moments for your computer to download and restore the file. Please be patient.

Some people use an online file storage or backup solution, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Carbonite, or their own custom services.

If your computer is part of a work network, it is possible that the Systems Administrator at work has setup a custom backup solution for computers on their network.

If you do not currently use or remember setting up such a service, choose No.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the missing files in question are able to be recovered using traditional means. At this time, the only option for recovering your lost files involves contacting a data recovery firm.

Professional data recovery firms can salvage and repair data that has been otherwise lost forever. Of course, in some situations, data recovery won’t always be possible. Sometimes a system can be too corrupted or damaged to retrieve missing data. The methods used to recover lost data depend on how the data was lost in the first place. One of the major factors involved in data recovery is cost. Costs involved for data recovery services can carry a tremendous range (hundreds to thousands of dollars) and will vary based on a large number of factors involved with your data loss case.

Contacting a data recovery firm is completely optional. Some find that data recovery services are not the best fit based upon what information was lost. That being said, only you can know what your data is worth to you. Reaching out to a data recovery firm in your area to determine whether or not your data can be saved and what it may cost to do so will help determine if this option is a good fit for you.

If you intend to pursue professional data recovery services, it is extremely important you stop using your device. Shut it down and do not turn it back on until you have spoken with the professional data recovery service you have chosen.

Continuing to use your device in any way can destroy the data permanently, without any chance or hope of recovery.