It’s safe to say that we’ve all accidentally deleted or lost incredibly important files, usually when we need them the most! If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, there’s no need to panic. You can get your files back using the right data recovery software.

Pro Tip: Paid Vs. Free Data Recovery Software
Using open-source data recovery software can help you get lost files back for free. However, if you’ve lost a large volume of data, open-source software can be less effective at getting the job done than paid alternatives. An example is Disk Drill, a leading data recovery software for Windows and Mac. The freeware trial version only lets you recover up to 500 MB. Upgrading to the pro version priced at $89 lets you restore as much data as you like on up to three computers.

If you are interested in trying out recovery software or just need to recover a few files, a free tool with limited features may suit your purposes. In cases where you need to perform extensive data recovery, you are probably going to need a paid solution. This will provide you with the features, flexibility, and recovery options you need to be successful.

How To Select Data Recovery Software

Here are some things to look for when deciding on a data recovery software solution.

  • Features: You’ll find that the feature set differs among the hundreds of paid and open-source file recovery software options out there. It’s wise to download a trial of the solution before purchasing it to ensure that it performs as advertised. Some features to look for include the ability to preview found files and multiple scanning modes for more complete data recovery.
  • File types: The number and types of files that are supported for recovery is critically important in recovery software. You need to make sure that the tool can recover the types of files you have lost. A good solution will be able to recover all major audio, image, video, document, and archive file types.
  • Devices: Effective data recovery software supports all disk-based storage devices and allows you to recover files after inadvertently partitioning a disk or emptying your Recycle Bin.
  • Reliability: The tool you select needs to perform up to expectations and recover your last data. It should have a proven track record of success and be willing to offer a free limited trial so its features can be tested.

Make sure the paid data recovery software you choose offers all these capabilities. Or if you are still in the market for a free, open-source tool, it should also check as many of these boxes as possible.

Top 5 Best Open-Source Data Recovery Software

Here are our suggestions for the best open-source data recovery software solutions.

1. TestDisk (Windows, Mac & Linux)

TestDisk
TestDisk is free data recovery software created to make non-booting disks bootable again. It can also be used to recover partitions lost to human error or malware.

Pros:

  • Easy recovery of partition tables
  • Can fix MFT and FAT tables
  • No installation needed
  • Supports the majority of popular file systems
Cons:

  • Uses a command-line text interface that’s difficult to use for beginners

User Experience:

TestDisk is completely free and open-source software. I like that it needs no installation, so the process is streamlined. While the text-based command-line interface might be intimidating for beginners, TestDisk makes partition recovery simple. TestDisk supports many file systems and recognizes over 480 types of file formats. This outstanding support means that no matter the format of the files you want to recover, you have a good chance of getting them back.

PhotoRec, which will be discussed shortly, is a companion to TestDisk that recovers missing or accidentally deleted files, including photos, videos, and documents. TestDisk doesn’t offer much in the way of customer support, but you can use their help forum if you have any questions.

Versions / Licensing: v7.2 / Freeware

System requirements: DOS/Win9x, Windows 64-bit systems, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and above, Linux 64-bit systems, Mac (32 and 64-bit systems).

Supported languages: English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Portuguese.

Supported file systems: FAT, exFAT, NTFS, MFT, ext2/ext3/ext4.

Last updates and news: The newest version of TestDisk can recover files on the NTFS system.

Recovers formatted data: Yes, TestDisk can recover formatted and missing partitions.

2. PhotoRec (Windows, Mac & Linux)

PhotoRec
PhotoRec is free data recovery software that can retrieve deleted files, including videos, pictures, and documents from many types of devices such as CD-ROMs, hard disks, and digital cameras.

Pros:

  • Recovers files in more than 480 formats
  • Supports a variety of file systems
  • Custom file types can be added
Cons:

  • The interface can be difficult to understand and use for beginners

User Experience:

PhotoRec is free and can be used with CD-ROMs, USB memory drives, memory cards, and various digital cameras to undelete photos, videos, documents, and other files. It’s a companion to TestDesk and you can use CGSecurity’s TestDesk and PhotoRec help forum to answer any questions you may have. Users can ask and answer questions about active topics in three languages: English, German, and French. You can also reach out to TestDesk’s main contributor, Christophe Grenier, to offer suggestions about the software.

Versions / Licensing: v7.2 / Freeware

System requirements: DOS/Win9x, Windows 64-bit systems, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and above, Linux 64-bit systems, Mac (32 and 64-bit systems).

Supported languages: English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Portuguese.

Supported file systems: FAT, exFAT, NTFS, MFT, ext2/ext3/ext4.

Last updates and news: The latest version improved its algorithm to streamline data de-fragmentation.

Recovers formatted data: Yes, PhotoRec can recover files from a corrupted file system or reformatted partition.

3. FreeRecover (Windows)

FreeRecover
FreeRecover is an open-source file recovery program that is compatible with the NTFS file system. Released in 2013, it’s a user-friendly program that enables files to be recovered easily.

Pros:

  • Simple Graphical User Interface suitable for all users
  • Allows the user to search through deleted files
Cons:

  • Requires the .NET framework to run
User Experience:

I was pleasantly surprised after using FreeRecover. Although it doesn’t have many reviews and isn’t the most popular data recovery tool, it does the job well. The interface is engaging and simple to understand.

FreeRecover also retrieves the original file paths of missing or corrupted files and provides estimates for their integrity. The best feature by far is that I could search for the files I wanted to recover. If you remember the name or path of the file you need, your job is already nearly done.

While it’s a great recovery tool, FreeRecover does have its limitations. It can only run if you have the .NET framework on your system, and it can only recover files from NTFS drives.

Versions / Licensing: GNU General Public License

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10.

Supported languages: English.

Supported file systems: NTFS.

Last updates and news: Latest update made in 2017.

Recovers formatted data: Yes, FreeRecover can recover formatted and deleted files.

4. Kickass Undelete (Windows)

Kickass Undelete
Kickass Undelete makes file recovery easy. It’s a free open-source tool that you can use for Windows to retrieve files that have been deleted or lost but that have not been overwritten and are still recoverable.

Pros:

  • User-friendly interface
  • Filter by extension and filename
  • Supports FAT and NTFS systems
Cons:

  • Sometimes crashes after file recovery
  • Only supports Windows systems

User Experience:

While using Kickass Undelete was a pretty good experience initially, the program crashed after I retrieved my files. This may have been an anomaly since that was the only time the software crashed.

Its simple and user-friendly interface makes it an attractive file recovery option for beginners. You can also sort through your files by name and extension to find important documents immediately instead of looking through files manually.

Versions / Licensing: Freeware

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10.

Supported languages: English.

Supported file systems: NTFS and FAT.

Last updates and news: Kickass Undelete was last updated in 2018.

Recovers formatted data: Yes, Kickass Undelete can recover deleted and formatted files.

5. Recuva (Windows)

Recuva
Recuva is award-winning freeware that is not an open-source solution. It can recover music, pictures, videos, documents, and other file types from your memory cards, hard drive, mp3 players, floppy disks, or USB drives.

Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Preview screen
  • Secure overwrite features
  • Free version available
  • Clear, easy-to-use interface design
Cons:

  • Inability to recover as many files as paid software solutions

User Experience:

Recuva’s free and easy-to-use. That, along with a clear interface, would make it a winner if it wasn’t for the fact that it didn’t recover all my files in one go. I used a test drive and saw that Recuva left about a third of the files unrecovered.

The free version is worth a try if you don’t have a lot of files to retrieve. It’s a steal if you manage to recover the files you need, and will only cost you some lost time if it doesn’t. The secure overwrite option lets you permanently erase files from external data storage.

If you need a serious data recovery tool, you should consider a paid product after giving Recuva a look.

Versions / Licensing: v1.53.1087 / Freemium

System requirements: Available for 32-bit and 64-bit systems. Supported by Windows 10, 8.1, 7, Vista, and XP.

Supported languages: Over 30 languages, including English, Arabic, Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Italian, French, and Spanish.

Supported file systems: FAT, exFAT, NTFS.

Last updates and news: The latest version added support for new Windows versions.

Recovers formatted data: Yes, Recuva can recover files from newly formatted or damaged drives.

For Beginners: A Quick Intro To Data Recovery Software

Data recovery software makes it possible for you to retrieve corrupt, lost, or unintentionally deleted files from your hard drive, USB, mobile phone, CD-ROM, memory card, or gaming device. While data recovery software is usually quite expensive, some options are open-source and free to download and use.

When Is It Worth Using a Data Recovery Tool?

The tools mentioned are indispensable but they only work in certain conditions. The most important point to remember regarding data recovery software is that once the original file has been overwritten, it can no longer be recovered with software.

For this reason, the most important thing you can do after discovering you have experienced data loss is to stop using the storage device that contained the lost files. The faster you stop using the device, the better your chances of getting them back.

If you’ve accidentally deleted a file, it isn’t immediately erased from your hard drive. Instead, the space it occupied is marked as being available to the operating system. It may be overwritten when new data is saved to the device. With the right open-source file recovery software, you can safely retrieve it.

Recovery software can also help if you have inadvertently quick formatted a drive or partition. In cases of physical damage, it is unlikely that recovery software will be able to help.

In Conclusion

It’s best to conduct thorough research to select recovery software that suits your needs so you can get your important files back as soon as possible.

If you’ve experienced file corruption on a large scale, it’s advisable to use a reliable, commercial product to recover your data. These open-source solutions give you a good chance of recovering a limited amount of files and will give you a sense of how data recovery software works.