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How do I ... recover lost data with DiskDigger?

DiskDigger searches storage media for traces of lost files using brute-forcing to work its way through every single sector of drive. Jack Wallen explains how to use this open source application to recover data.

Whether it was from accidental deletion or a reformat of a drive, we have all lost data files. DiskDigger searches drives (SD, CF, USB, hard drives, etc.) for traces of lost files using brute force to work its way through every single sector of the storage media. DiskDigger can even scan unformatted drives for lost data.

DiskDigger cannot repair broken files nor fix formatting issues on media, but it is file system-type independent so it will work on just about any storage media. It accomplishes this by bypassing the file system and reading only the raw data. This means you can search fat, NTFS, ext3, or any other type of file system.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

File types

DiskDigger can scan for the following types of files:

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Music files
  • Documents
  • Partial files

As it locates files, it will update the list in real time. DiskDigger also allows you to preview found files without having to resave them (it does everything in RAM until you save something).

Getting and installing

DiskDigger isn't actually "installed," instead it is run from a binary file that you download and place in a convenient location (one you can remember). Download DiskDigger from the application page of Dmitry Brant. The file will be a zip file that you will have to decompress. Once you have the file decompressed there will be a new directory that houses the DiskDigger binary file. Copy or move that binary file to another directory where you can quickly get to it. (You can move it to your desktop for quick access if you like.) Once you have the binary file moved, double-click it to start the application.

Up and running

When DiskDigger starts, you will see the main window (Figure A), which will list the available searchable media.

Figure A

If you plug in a new media to search, hit the Refresh List button or the new media will not show up.
The first step is to select the media you want to search and then click Next. You will be presented with a window that allows you to choose the file type you want to search for (Figure B). If you know the file type you are searching for, you might want to uncheck all but that type. Fewer file types will speed up your search. Remember, this goes sector by sector so it can be fairly slow.

Figure B

In the Advanced Settings tab, you can configure DiskDigger to skip over bad sectors.

If you click on the Advanced Settings tab you will notice there is a slider that allows you to indicate a start position for your search. If you know the sector that starts the part of the drive that most likely contains the data you need to recover, slide the handle over to the starting sector number of that portion of the drive. This will help to speed up your search.

Once you are ready, click the Search button, and DiskDigger will begin doing its thing. During the search, all found files will be listed in the left pane (Figure C). If the file can be previewed, you can click on it to preview it in the right pane.

Figure C

Music files will not have a preview available for obvious reasons.

Once the search is complete, all your results will be listed. In order to save a recovered file, right-click the file and select either Save As or Save All to save the files to a safe location. In the Advanced menu entry there are the options Go to Sector and Save Fixed Amount. Saving a "fixed amount" means you will save a portion of the recovered file. This could be of use if only a portion of contiguous data on a drive is needed.

When you select to save a file, the default file name will be the sector number where the file was found. For instance, an mp3 file that was recovered on a USB drive defaulted to file name sector2285.mp3. If I knew the name of that mp3 file, I could rename it accordingly. But since this data was recovered data, most likely I do not know the name of the file. The file can be renamed once it is saved and the actual file name is discovered.

Final thoughts

DiskDigger is an easy means for data recovery. I highly recommend giving this application a try before sending a drive out to a costlier solution for data recovery. Naturally if you are attempting to recover highly sensitive material this might not be the solution for you. You should also be aware that DiskDigger is an open source work in progress. New features will be added to the application as time goes on. DiskDigger is also free of charge to use.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

18 comments
taiwanblonde
taiwanblonde

Is there a way to recover/scan for a specific file on Diskdigger? It's a database file.

nurzahida
nurzahida

how do i recover my deleted messages(sms) with disk digger? what keyword should i type in search criteria

letterbarn
letterbarn

Diskdigger worked well in my case. I got all my photos back from my SD card. Whew!

dmitrybrant
dmitrybrant

Hey guys, I've just released a new version of DiskDigger. In addition to deep sector scanning, it now actually "undeletes" files from FAT, NTFS, and exFAT file systems. You're welcome to check it out again: http://dmitrybrant.com/diskdigger

viral.thakker
viral.thakker

It's really nice & helpful software. I have just suggested to search software for recovery software. He searched and found this one. I am so happy that he got all the photos & impt files from his PC. Thanks to the person who developed this software.

ak87
ak87

First off Dmitry this program will go great on my IT flash drive for quick access to deleted files on any computer, Thank you. However if one is going to put (actually install) a file recovering software on a computer I would have to recommend Piriform's Recuva. It's free also but it has a few added bells and whistles that are nice to have, like recovering the file names with the file and an easy way to see if a file can be fully recovered. Also Piriform also makes a nice alternative to windows defragmenter called Defraggler and crap cleaner called CCleaner both of which are free and I use on all my computers.

dmitrybrant
dmitrybrant

Thanks for this terrific write-up, Jack! Now I don't have to write any of my own documentation for DiskDigger; I'll just direct users here.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What is your favorite and most effective data recovery tool? How often do you have to recover data these days? Has the need decreased with the development of cheaper storage capacity or increased?

seanferd
seanferd

They are likely held in a database file, and once deleted, are like any other deleted text - nearly unrecoverable. You will likely not get them back with this tool. If you have a protected recycle bin, (like Norton's), this will have kept that data until purged. Otherwise, get a low-level disk editor or forensic recovery software and prepare for eyestrain. Be extremely careful, and you likely want to leave such a tool in read-only mode unless and until write mode is necessary to retrieve data. However, if you have been using this system at all since you have deleted the messages, especially if SMS has been in use, the data is likely long gone.

RoninV
RoninV

I have to say, based on reading the info only, DiskDigger looks promising, and would make a nice addition to me flash toolkit. Some reviewers note that it can't recognize some common file types (.pst, .pdf). This would appear to make the use of *.* obsolete. I do question its ability to read media that even Windows cannot recognize (does not appear in Windows Explorer). I would really like to see the source information for this app!

gna
gna

Can Disk Digger be instaled on a bootable CD to recover data from a "dead " PC?

techno_mark
techno_mark

DiskDigger is a Free Portable Application that can be used to recover lost or deleted files, pictures and documents from Hard DrivesCompact Flash Media and USB Flash Drives. DiskDigger can even be used to recover data files from reformatted drives. It does not use Windows filesystem drivers to detect the device, so even if Windows doesn't see the drive, DiskDigger may detect it. Recover BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, DOC, PDF, MP3, AVI, WMV, OGG etc files using this tool.

StealthWiFi
StealthWiFi

So I just tried DiskDigger, deleted a PDF from my desktop, restarted for good measure and ran the program in search of PDF's. Of course it found a bunch, I recovered 188 PDF's and not a single one was able to be opened. All corrupted, whats the point of recovery software that doesn't work???

jwlindsey
jwlindsey

it's not free (as I remember it was like $79). I have only used it twice; once on my hard disk (C drive) and once on my son-in-law's flash drive full of family pictures. Effective both times to find all files (even partial files) or file fragments. Having a backup would be more effective but not always available or possible. In some cases it recovered the files names sometimes not. Sometimes it would recover the metadata on music files and pictures... sometimes not.

StealthWiFi
StealthWiFi

Taught my users to use Shadow Copy, haven't had a call for file recovery since!