You’ve accidentally overwritten an old file or folder with a new one. Now what?
Once you realize you’ve lost data to an overwrite you can attempt to retrieve that data utilizing the options below, and you can prepare for the future to mitigate further loss and frustration. The advice below will show you how to recover overwritten files on a Mac or PC, and will show you what to do to prevent overwritten files and data loss from happening to you again.
Recovering Overwritten Files Quickly
Although there are no guarantees your files can be reinstated, it’s worth trying. When you notice you’ve overwritten a file, follow these instructions for your operating system so you can get them back as quickly as possible, if they are still recoverable.
Restore Previous Versions (PC) – In Windows, if you right-click on a file, and go to “Properties,” you will see an option titled “Previous Versions.” This option can help you revert to a version of your file before the overwrite occurred, allowing you to get your data back. However, this option will only work in some limited circumstances, for example:
- The file has to have previous versions from a Windows Backup
- The file has to have a version from the last time you or the system created a restore point
- You must turn on System restore
In addition, if you saved the file several times since the last restore point or backup, you can only retrieve the original, not any of the ones you’ve saved since.
In most cases, this option can work far better for system files than for user-created files. Altogether, this isn’t a very efficient option for quick recovery, but it can help in some narrowly defined situations.
Macs also have a similar feature to Restore Previous Versions, called “Revert To.” This feature, found under the “File” menu, only works on files that have associated software that allow for saving file revisions. You must turn this feature on in individual programs for it to work with the OS.
Time Machine (Mac) – Mac OS X comes with a built-in backup feature called Time Machine. In order to utilize it, you’ll need to have an external drive and you must configure it properly. As the hard drive will hold your backups, you should be able to recover overwritten files from it — so long as you’ve remembered to backup recently and your hard drive is in working condition.
Use a Software Solution (PC and Mac) – If these options don’t do the trick, there are paid and sometimes free software products out there. These programs vary in capabilities. Some are simple and don’t require you to know a lot about file recovery. Some others are more complex, but require you to know what you’re doing.
For example, a free file recovery tool like Recuva is very limited, but easy to use. Some other options may require you to have separate Linux installation, hard drive, and USB device. For many, that’s for too intensive a process. Also, most of these products are geared towards recovering deleted files, not overwritten ones.
Types of Files – There are also recovery options available depending on the type of file you’re trying to recover a previous version of. The program you use to manipulate the file may also have options for recovering previous versions and revisions. For example, many word processing programs have a setting for version control or saving frequent backups.
The Fastest Way to Recover Overwritten Files
The easiest and fastest way to recover previous versions is to simply backup your data to the cloud. In fact, using an online backup solution is actually the only foolproof way to make sure that previous versions of your files are safe and easily available to you.
It doesn’t matter if you want to keep copies of personal files, or full copies of whole production servers. You won’t need to worry about purchasing extra equipment, and you won’t need a computer science degree to backup and retrieve your data.
Files of any kind can fall victim overwrites, corruption, infection, accidental deletion and so many other threats. If you want to be able to retrieve older versions of your files immediately, then you need to consider online backups.
Most importantly, choose a backup service that provides you with unlimited previous file versions. Many cloud backup providers place 30 day limitations on their version history features. If you realize you’ve deleted or overwritten a file once that window has already closed, you’re out of luck.