How to Recover Data from a Flash Drive

If you are seeking to recover data from a flash drive, it could be because you accidentally deleted some crucial files from it. On the other hand, malware or a software bug could have wiped out that data.

A flash drive can also lose data as a result of physical damage (caused, say, by the unit being accidentally dropped onto a hard surface) or simply a failure in the hardware as it wears out due to excessive repeated use.

Whatever did cause the data loss in your case, you could understandably be distraught. Maybe you had transferred sensitive business files to the drive or used it for storing photos of a special occasion, like a wedding or birthday.

The good news is that data ‘deleted’ from a flash drive doesn’t actually disappear straight away. Instead, the file is simply hidden until it is overwritten. So, avoid adding new data to the drive for the time being. 

As for how to recover data from the flash drive, you could consider all of the following options — including reaching for a backup (if, of course, you have one) of the lost data and installing and using data recovery software.

Recover from a Backup

What is a flash drive? Otherwise known as a pen drive or thumb drive, it is basically a small, portable data storage device that can easily be inserted into a computer’s USB port, allowing data to be transferred with ease.

Flash drives differ from hard disk and optical drives in having no moving parts and, as a result, being impervious to scratches and dust. Flash drives are also capable of holding information without relying on a power source.

These plus points of pen drives make them ideal for use in storing backup copies of vital files. This begs the question: what should you do when you need a backup of the backup, so to say?

You might have transferred a backed-up backup to somewhere such as a separate computer or a cloud storage service like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive — in which case, the data you need could be just a few clicks away.

Recover Files from Previous Versions

What if you originally used a Windows computer to transfer files to the flash drive at a time when the operating system’s File History feature was active?

In that case, you might be able to use another Windows feature — Previous Versions — to rescue those files if they have since been deleted from the drive.

The word ‘might’ would warrant emphasis here — but this strategy would still be worth a go when it is an option, as it will be on computers running recent Windows versions like Windows 7, 8, 10 and 11.

Here are the steps for using Previous Versions to recover flash drive data: 

  1. Connect the pen drive to the above-mentioned Windows computer.
  2. Double-click ‘This PC’ before right-clicking the flash drive’s icon in the subsequently appearing window.
  3. On the menu that pops up next, click ‘Properties’.
  4. This, in turn, will bring up a window with a ‘Previous Versions’ tab, which you should click next.
  5. Check that this tab cites at least one previous version of the data you are looking to restore.
  6. If this is the case, select a previous version before clicking the ‘Restore’ button.

If you don’t actually see any previous versions but remain determined to recover the flash drive data, we advise that you seek an alternative method. 

Recover Using Command Prompt

Command Prompt is another integral Windows feature, albeit one you would be able to use to recover data from a flash drive without needing to have any data protection functionality activated beforehand.

The thumb drive Itself must be connected to the computer before you load Command Prompt. To find that program, type CMD into the search field on the Start menu.

When you are at the Command Prompt window, type chkdsk X:  /f (with the X replaced with whatever letter the computer has assigned to your flash drive) into it before hitting the Enter key.

Next, type ATTRIB -H -R -S /S /D X:*.* (again, the X should be replaced with the flash drive’s letter) and then press Enter again.

If this process succeeds in restoring the deleted files, you will be able to find them in a new folder on the flash drive.

Use Windows File Recovery

If you have Windows 10 2004 or above, you will be able to use Windows File Recovery, which is available to download from the digital Microsoft Store.

However, though Windows File Recovery is free, it lacks a graphical user interface (GUI). For this reason, the app can be somewhat convoluted to use.

Here is a step-by-step method for accessing Windows File Recovery to recover data from a flash drive: 

  1. Connect the flash drive to the Windows computer.
  2. On a separate drive, create a folder to which the data can be restored.
  3. Make sure you have the Windows File Recovery software installed.
  4. Right-click on the operating system’s Start button before clicking ‘Windows PowerShell (Admin)’.
  5. In the window that then loads, type winfr as a command and press your keyboard’s Enter button to launch Windows File Recovery.

The command you type next needs to indicate both the flash drive’s letter and the path to the above-mentioned folder you created earlier.

For example, if the drive has been given the letter ‘E’ and the folder has been named ‘Restored’ and saved on the top tier of drive ‘D’, the command line would be winfr E:  D:\Restored.

Use iolo’s Search and Recover

Our Search and Recover software can retrieve deleted files like documents, photos and videos from flash drives — including malfunctioning, damaged and formatted units.

We have even added data recovery functionality to our all-in-one System Mechanic Ultimate Defense suite, which also offers antivirus protection for helping you to avoid losing flash drive data in the future. Just call (801) 523-6763 for further details.

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