What Is Microsoft Win­dows File Recov­ery Tool and How to Use It

Gaurav Bidasaria

When was the last time you deleted a file accidentally and regretted it instantly? It happens with everyone. We lose access to important files and folders for all sorts of reasons and then are left wondering with one complex question. How to recover it? Microsoft has released the Windows File Recovery tool to answer this precise question. Now you might wonder - What is Windows File Recovery Tool? How does it work?

Microsoft File Recovery Tool

The tool was recently released and is available to download from the Microsoft Store. It is a command-line tool, which means you will have to use the Command Prompt. No GUI (Graphical User Interface) means there are no menus or buttons to click. It works on internal and external storage drives, which means you can also recover files and documents deleted on your flash and external hard drives or SSD.

We will discuss everything there is to know about the Windows File Recovery tool, including some examples.

Let's begin.

Prerequisites

It works on Windows 10 computers only. There is no support for older versions like Windows 8 or 7. Even in Windows 10, your computer needs to be updated to build 2004 version or above for the tool to work.

How do you check your Windows build version?

Press Windows key+R to open the Run prompt and type winver (short for Windows version) before hitting Enter.

Microsoft File Recovery Tool 1

That will open a dialogue box where you can check your Windows version.

Microsoft File Recovery Tool 2

Search Parameters

Microsoft says that the Windows File Recovery tool will work on all devices, including external USB flash drives, hard disks, and memory cards.

The tool's development team has developed for retrieving files even after you have wiped data from your drive. That's awesome and worrying at the same time. While I am happy that I can now recover files and documents, I had no hope of recovering. I am worried wiping my hard drive clean before selling my laptop is no good. Someone might still recover data.

Microsoft File Recovery Tool 3

The command-line tool will work on NTFS, FAT, exFAT, and ReFS file systems. That covers all the popular ones and should be enough for most of us.

Furthermore, you can search for files and documents by name, file type, file path, and keywords too.

Note: Windows File Recovery will work on SD cards, Flash or USB drives < 4GB storage in case of FAT and exFAT. In the case of NTFS, it will work on flash drives > 4GB storage.

How Does Windows Delete Data

Let me explain to you how data or files are managed on Windows quickly. Any file that you delete on your Windows 10 computer is moved to the Recycle Bin. While they just sit there, those files continue to occupy the storage space on your drive.

When you delete a file from the Recycle Bin, it is still not deleted, but Windows marks the space (sectors) as empty and ready to store new data.

Microsoft File Recovery Tool 4

When you store or save new data in the same place (sector) that files are overwritten. That makes it harder or near-impossible to recover the deleted files as it is no longer available in the sector.

Tip: Try and use the hard disk as little as possible and don't store new data before you recover the old one. You don't want to overwrite deleted data accidentally.

How to Use Windows File Recovery Tool

Download and install it, just like any other app. Launch it from the Start menu with administrator rights. You should see the Command Prompt (CMD) open with a black background. You can also use PowerShell if you know how to.

There are three modes for recovering deleted files:

  1. Default mode which is useful for recently deleted files in NTFS system.
  2. Segment mode takes longer but may help recover older deleted files even from corrupt or formatted drive.
  3. Signature mode works on NTFS, FAT, exFAT, ReFS file systems, allows search by file type, and is useful for external drives too.
Microsoft File Recovery Tool 5

Not sure which mode to use? Start from Default until you find what you are looking for.

Microsoft says that their CMD tool works on SSDs, but the effect may be limited due to the way SSDs work. Don't get your hopes high. Files are usually deleted immediately on SSDs.

Here is the basic command:

winfr source-drive: destination-drive: /switches

The source and destination drive have to be separate as is the case with all file recovery apps. Source is where the file was deleted from and destination is where you want to save it to. All recovered files will be saved to a new 'recovery_date and time' folder.

Give the below command if you know the file location and name. Of course, you will have to replace the username and the exact filename from the command below.

winfr C: D: /n \users\username\documents\articlename.docx

Press 'y' to continue when asked. You can recover the entire folder like that. Note the backslash at the end of the folder name.

winfr C: D: /n \users\username\documents\

Here are a few commands for Segment mode which includes the /r command before the /n as seen above in Default mode. You can recover all JPEG images and DOCX document files at the same time using wildcard * instead of file name.

winfr C: D: /r /n *.jpeg /n *.docx
Microsoft File Recovery Tool 6

Here is an example of using keywords in Segment mode.

winfr C: D: /r /n *inventory*

Signature mode is denoted by /x /y command.

Let's try and recover both PDF and PNG files.

winfr C: D: /x /y:pdf,png

Not sure which file types are supported? Run the below command to find out.

winfr /#

Microsoft has shared even more commands in the official support document that you can check out.

Recovery State

Microsoft's recovery tool is like a blessing for many Windows users. It is easy to use if you know how to use the Command Prompt which is not difficult anyway. Many users could certainly do with a graphical user interface. Also, it should come pre-installed on every Windows 10 copy with all the bloatware that Microsoft bundles. This one is a utility tool and deserves a place. Otherwise, most users will never find out unless they run into trouble.

Next up: Want to backup drivers on Windows 10 computer? Learn how you can do it so you won't have to download and install them in case something goes wrong.


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A C.A. by profession and a tech enthusiast by passion, Gaurav loves tinkering with new tech and gadgets. He used to build WordPress websites but gave it all up to develop little iOS games instead. Finally, he dropped out of college in the final year. He has over 5 years of experience as a writer covering Android, iOS, and Windows platforms and writes how-to guides, comparisons, listicles, and explainers for B2B and B2C apps and services. He currently divides his time between Guiding Tech and Tech Wiser.