It’s happened to us all. Maybe you were in a hurry moving a file. Or maybe you replaced a document with an older version by mistake. Or maybe you just plain weren’t paying attention.

If you’ve worked with computers at all, chances are you’ve accidentally overwritten or replaced files on your Mac before. And sadly, you can’t recover your old version from the trash like other deleted files.

But don’t worry—you can still recover your files. This guide shows you the four best techniques for getting your data back.

Is It Even Possible To Recover Overwritten/Replaced Files On A Mac?

Yes, it sure is.

When you overwrite or replace a file on a Mac, you aren’t actually deleting that file. Instead, you’re just marking it okay to be overwritten by new data. And until that happens, you may be able to recover it with data recovery software.

Beyond that, backups and certain in-app features make it simple to revert your files to an earlier version, even if you did accidentally replace it with another file.

Best of all, the methods of recovering your overwritten files are easy enough that anyone can do it. No diving deep into hidden files and directories. And no inputting commands in terminal to recover your deleted files.

Methods to Recover Replaced Files On Mac

So, how can you recover overwritten or replace files on Mac?

There are four solutions in particular that are likely to give you the best results:

  1. Local Backups
  2. Cloud-Based Backups
  3. In-App Restore Features
  4. Data Recovery Software

Solution #1: Local Backup (Time Machine)

The best way to recover files on your Mac is to restore from a backup using Time Machine.

Time Machine is Apple’s built-in backup system. With Time Machine, you don’t have to worry about remembering to back up your important files. Instead, this handy feature takes care of it for you automatically. It also manages your backup data by deleting your oldest backups when your disk becomes full.

Time Machine keeps:

  • Local snapshots as space permits (stored on your hard drive).
  • Hourly backups for the past 24 hours.
  • Daily backups for the past month.
  • Weekly backups for all previous months.
IMPORTANT: Regularly backing up your files is the absolute best way to protect yourself against permanent data loss. If you aren’t running regular backups now, it’s in your best interest to start today. 

To recover replaced files on Mac using Time Machine:

  1. Make sure your backup drive is connected and open Time Machine from the menu bar or with Spotlight (Command + Space).Step 1 to recover replaced files on Mac using Time Machine: Open Time Machine.
  2. Enter Time Machine.Step 2 to recover replaced files on Mac using Time Machine: Enter Time Machine.
  3. Navigate through your backups using the timeline to the right, the arrows, or by clicking the previous version windows.Step 3 to recover replaced files on Mac using Time Machine: Navigate through your backups to find your desired version.
  4. Find and select your file. Then click Restore.Step 4 to recover replaced files on Mac using Time Machine: Select your file and click Restore.
  5. If you’re replacing a newer version of the file, choose Replace. Or you can restore the previous version while keeping both versions.Step 5 to recover replaced files on Mac using Time Machine: Replace your new version with the original or keep both versions.

Solution #2: Cloud Backups

Time Machine is great for regular backups. But to get the most out of it, you need to keep an external backup drive connected to your Mac throughout the day. And for some, that just might not be feasible.

Cloud backups are a helpful alternative (or supplement) to using Time Machine. These solutions store your data in an offsite location and run backups over the internet—no hard connections required.

Many people will use one of three cloud backup solutions: iCloud, Dropbox, or Google Drive.

iCloud

Apple’s iCloud service securely stores your data while keeping any changes consistent across all your devices. You can also use iCloud to restore overwritten or replace files on your Mac.

NOTE: You can only restore within a limited timeframe (usually just 30 days)

To undo a replaced file on Mac using iCloud:

  1. Go to iCloud.com and log in to your account using your Apple ID.Step 1 to undo a replaced file on Mac using iCloud: Sign in to your iCloud account.
  2. Once logged in, click Account Settings.Step 2 to undo a replaced file on Mac using iCloud: Go to account settings.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the page and select Restore Files.Step 3 to undo a replaced file on Mac using iCloud: Select the Restore Files option
  4. Find the files you’d like to restore and select Restore.Step 4 to undo a replaced file on Mac using iCloud: Select the files you'd like restored and click restore.

Dropbox

Dropbox is another cloud-based file storage system. Similar to iCloud, you can configure Dropbox to automatically run backups for certain files or folders on your Mac. If you’ve done so, there are some steps you can take through Dropbox to recover any files you’ve accidentally overwritten.

To recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac using Dropbox:

  1. Go to Dropbox.com and log in to your Dropbox account.Step 1 to recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac Using Dropbox: Log in to your Dropbox account.
  2. Find the file you replaced with a newer version.Step 2 to recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac Using Dropbox: Find your file you'd like to restore to a previous version.
  3. Select version history from the three-dot option dropdown.Step 3 to recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac Using Dropbox: Select the version history option.
  4. Find the version you’d like to restore.Step 4 to recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac Using Dropbox: Find the version you'd like to restore.
  5. Select Restore.Step 5 to recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac Using Dropbox: Select the restore option.
  6. Confirm you’d like to restore this version.Step 6 to recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac Using Dropbox: Confirm you'd like to restore.
  7. You’ll be taken back to the home page and see a success message at the top of the page.Step 7 to recover an accidentally replaced file on Mac Using Dropbox: You'll see a success message at the top of the screen.

Google Drive

Google Drive is Google’s cloud file storage system. It’s especially convenient if you’re using Google’s file formats like Google Docs or Google Sheets. You can also set up Drive to automatically backup and sync any changes you make on your Mac or through Drive. And luckily, they also make it easy to restore files to a previous version.

To recover replaced files on Mac using Google Drive:

  1. Go to drive.Google.com and log in to your Google account. Then find the file you’d like to revert to a previous version.Step 1 to recover replaced files on Mac using Google Drive: Log into your account and find the file.
  2. Open the file and select the version history feature at the top of the page.Step to recover replaced files on Mac using Google Drive: Click the version history feature at the top of the screen.
  3. Find and select the version of the file you’d like to restore.Step 3 to recover replaced files on Mac using Google Drive: Find the version you'd like to restore.
  4. Click the Restore button.Step 4 to recover replaced files on Mac using Google Drive: Click the restore button.
  5. Confirm you’d like to restore the file to this version.Step 5 to recover replaced files on Mac using Google Drive: Confirm that you'd like to restore.

Solution #3: Built-In Apps Features

Many modern apps and programs now come with built-in features for restoring files to previous versions. If restoring from Time Machine or cloud storage options don’t work for you, try reverting to other file versions using the steps below.

Word/Excel

Microsoft Word and Excel are two of the most widely used programs to date. Many businesses and individuals alike depend on them on a daily basis. Thankfully, there are several options for recovering deleted or unsaved Excel files and Word documents.

NOTE: This method uses Microsoft Office 365 features involving OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage solution. 

To undo a replaced file on Mac through Word, Excel, or other Microsoft Office apps:

  1. First, open the document you’d like to restore to a previous version.Step 1 to undo a replaced file on Mac: Open the document you'd like to revert to another version.
  2. Select File from the Menu Bar. Then click Browse Version History.Step 2 to undo a replaced file on Mac: Select browse version history.
  3. Find the version you’d like to restore from the Version History sidebar and click Open Version.Step 3 to undo a replaced file on Mac: Find the version you'd like to restore from.
  4. From here, you can choose to either restore the older version or compare the differences between the two versions.Step 4 to undo a replaced file on Mac: Click to restore your document to the previous version.

Pages/Numbers

Apple’s alternatives to Word and Excel, Pages, and Numbers provide similar functionality to their Microsoft counterparts. They also offer options for recovering overwritten files.

NOTE: Version histories of Pages and Numbers files are backed up using Time Machine. As such, the more backups you have through Time Machine, the more version histories you’ll have to work with.

To recover overwritten files on Mac using Apple’s native apps like Pages or Numbers:

  1. Open Pages, Numbers, or another Apple app.Step 1 to recover overwritten files on Mac: Open Pages.
  2. Find and open the document you’d like to restore to its previous version.Step 2 to recover overwritten files on Mac: Find the document you'd like to restore to a previous version.
  3. Click File in the Menu Bar, then Revert To, and then Browse All Versions.Step 3 to recover overwritten files on Mac: Browse all version of the document.
  4. Similar to Time Machine, you can browse through your version histories using the timeline to the right, the arrows next to the windows, or by clicking the background windows.Step 4 to recover overwritten files on Mac: Browse through the other versions of your document.
  5. Find the version you’d like to restore and click Restore.Step 5 to recover overwritten files on Mac: Restore your desired version of the document.

Solution #4: Data Recovery Software

When you replace a file, you aren’t immediately deleting it from your disk drive. Instead, you’re just marking it as being okay to overwrite. That file actually remains intact until you record new data and subsequently overwrite it.

Think of your files as not necessarily being gone but rather invisible.

Data recovery software reads your disk drive and identifies all these invisible files. Then, you can unmark those files and restore them to normal, usable files.

IMPORTANT: It’s best to stop using your disk drive to prevent file corruption. The more you use it, the more likely your replaced file is being overwritten by new data. 

Recommended Data Recovery Software: Disk Drill

We recommend using Disk Drill as your go-to data recovery software. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. The data recovery capabilities are exceptionally powerful (meaning you’re better able to restore your missing files). And there are a host of additional data protection and disk backup tools for you to use.

To learn more about Disk Drill, take a look at our in-depth review.

To recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill:

  1. Download Disk Drill and install the application by dragging the icon to the Applications folder in the window.Step 1 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Install Disk Drill
  2. Open the program. You’ll first see a window showing you how to grand Disk Drill full disk access. Disk Drill requires this access to find your overwritten files.Step 2 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Grand Disk Drill the necessary permissions.
  3. Select the drive storing your file. Then click Search for lost data.Step 3 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Select the drive where your file was located.
  4. Wait for the scan to finish (this may take a few minutes).Step 4 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Wait for the scan to finish.
  5. Once the scan completes, click Review found items.Step 5 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Click review after the scan is completed.
  6. Find your overwritten or replaced file. You can preview what your file looks like using the eye icon that appears next to the file name after you select it.Step 6 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Find your file using the preview feature.
  7. Select the file and click Recover.Step 7 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Select the file you'd like to recover and click Recover.
  8. Choose the location you’d like to restore the file to and select Ok.Step 8 to recover a replaced file on Mac using Disk Drill: Choose the location you'd like to restore to.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are just a few of the most frequently asked questions about recovering replaced files on Mac.

Conclusion

Overwriting or replacing files on your Mac can be nerve-wracking at first glance. And that anxiety is likely to double once you realize your overwritten file bypassed the Trash Bin entirely.

But luckily, the techniques covered in this guide let you recover your files in no time. From Apple’s Time Machine and a bevy of cloud-based options to in-app fixes and data recovery software, you have plenty of recovery solutions to choose from.