Do you often find yourself in a situation where you accidentally delete files from your Windows machine and end up repenting on your gaffe? Well, now you don’t have to, thanks to Microsoft’s recently released tool, Windows File Recovery, that lets you retrieve deleted and corrupted data on your computer without any hassle.

windows file recovery

Despite the fact that the ability to recover deleted files isn’t something new, the solutions available in the past have not been as trustworthy and convenient, especially for the average user. But with the introduction of Microsoft’s own file recovery tool, you can now easily recover lost data without having to download any third-party software.

Windows File Recovery is available for free on the Microsoft Store and is compatible with laptops and desktops running Windows 10 (build 2004 or later). Here’s our guide to help you use Windows File Recovery to recover lost files on your Windows 10 computer.

What is Windows File Recovery?

To give you a primer, Windows File Recovery (or WFR) is an in-house tool from Microsoft. It is essentially a command-line (CLI) utility that gives you the ability to recover accidentally deleted documents or corrupted files from different storage devices such as drives (HDD and SSD), thumb drives, and memory cards on Windows.

How Computers Handle Deleted Files?

Before we dive into recovering deleted files, it is crucial to understand how computers handle deleted files.

When a user deletes a file on their Windows computer (including the recycle bin), depending on the file system in place, the following changes take place:

i. FAT – Except for the first character of the file name, the directory entry, which holds additional metadata about files, remains unchanged. Additionally, the list of disk clusters against the file in the FAT (File Allocation Table) is erased, and the sector is marked as available.

ii. NTFS – Entry in the MFT (Master File Table), which stores file information in NTFS, is marked as unlinked, but it still remains on the disk.

Note: NTFS has better recoverability than FAT.

In layman’s terms, when you delete a file from your machine, it is not removed instantaneously from the drive. Instead, the bit pointing to its (file’s) location on the storage drive is erased, which makes it unreadable to the operating system. As a result, since the operating system cannot locate this file, it treats the file’s storage location as unused until some new data overwrites the space on the drive.

What this means is that unless the space — recently marked as ‘free’ or ‘unused’ — is overwritten with new data, the deleted files can be recovered in that small time window. So the best way to increase your chances of recovering deleted files is to ensure you do not add new files or install new programs on your computer.

What Devices and Formats Can WFR Recover?

Windows File Recovery helps in recovering deleted or corrupted files from HDD, SDD (non-TRIM), thumb drives, and memory cards. It supports NTFS, FAT, exFAT, and ReFS file systems, and can recover JPEG, PDF, PNG, MPEG, Office files, MP3 & MP4, and ZIP files.

How to Use Windows File Recovery to Recover Lost Data

Depending on the kind of file and storage type, there are a few different ways to recover files using WFR.

Installing Windows File Recovery

1. Go to Microsoft Store on your computer, search for ‘Windows File Recovery’, and download the tool. Alternatively, click on this link to download it on your computer.

2. Once installed, run the tool as administrator. To do this, hit the Windows key and search for ‘Windows File Recovery’. When the tool appears in the result, right-click on it and select Run as administrator.

windows file recovery

Using Windows File Recovery

With WFR running, enter the recovery command using the following syntax:
winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/switches]


i. source-drive specifies the source of the lost file

ii. destination-drive specifies the drive where you want to store the recovered files

iii. switches specify arguments to target a file or folder better

wfr command syntax

Now, depending on the type of file you want to recover, Windows File Recovery offers two modes of operation, namely:

i. Regular – ideal for recovering recently deleted files in the NTFS file system.

ii. Extensive – ideal for recovering NTFS-stored files that are deleted a while ago, after formatting a disk, or after a disk goes corrupt. It can also be used with FAT and exFAT files in any circumstances.

The previous version of Windows File Recovery offered three modes for recovering deleted files: Default, Segment, and Signature. So, if you already have WFR on your computer, make sure you update it to the latest version.

To avoid confusion around file systems and help you determine the one used on the storage medium you mean to recover, here’s what you need to know –

i. NTFS – Used on most storage devices like HDD and SSD, along with thumb drives with more than 4GB storage.

ii. FAT and exFAT – Used primarily by memory cards and thumb drives with less than 4GB storage.

iii. ReFS – Used on Windows Server and Workstations.

Note: Compared to an HDD, the success rate of recovering data from an SSD is fairly low, mainly because of data complexity and TRIM functionality.

For an even more detailed look at the different switches and the supported modes, refer to Microsoft’s official blog on WFR.

Related read: How to Repair a Corrupt MS Word Document

Windows File Recovery Command Variations

Moving right along, let’s now look at different variations of commands and how you can use them to recover different files. As mentioned earlier, the default syntax accepted on WFR requires you to mention four things: winfr, source drive, destination drive, and switches, where the source drive and destination drive need to be different.

For example: winfr C: D: /n \testfolder\testfile\

wfr recovery syntax

With the above command, we are asking the tool to recover a file named ‘testfile’ located in the ‘testfolder’ folder on the ‘C’ drive and put it on the ‘D’ drive.

Recovering a Specific File

If you want to recover a specific file that you deleted from your computer, here’s the command to filter it out and recover it:
winfr C: D: /n \Users\smol\Documents\testfolder\testfile.txt

Recovering Multiple Similar File Types

If you need to recover multiple files of the same (file) type, say .JPG, here’s how to do it:
winfr C: D: /n \Users\smol\Documents\testfolder\*.JPG

Recovering an Entire Folder

If you want to recover an entire folder that you deleted accidentally, WFR lets you do that as well. Here’s the syntax you need to use:
winfr C: D: /n \Users\smol\Documents\testfolder\

To learn more advanced commands, run:
winfr /? or winfr/!

more winfr advanced commands

Restoring Deleted Files on Windows

Windows File Recovery is one of the best tools that can help you recover most of your deleted files on Windows 10. So, if you accidentally delete a file or folder from your machine or when a software conflict deletes your important files, you can use WFR to recover them.

One of the things to note with file recovery is that the success of recovery is dependent on certain factors. However, you can increase your chances of recovering your lost files by ensuring that you do not overwrite the file system and by using the right command for your storage type.

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