Deleted file recovery: how to recover deleted files on Mac?

By Katrina | Posted to Mac Data Recovery on April 3rd, 2019 |

Summary: Accidentally deleted a file? Deleted a file but instantly regretted it? Don't despair! This tutorial is going to show several ways to recover recently or permanently deleted files on Mac with and without software.

Whether you are a Windows or Mac user, most of you have experienced the situation of data loss. Among these data loss scenarios, accidental deletion as a result of users' mistakes is the most common one. Luckily, it's pretty easy to recover deleted files, particularly if you realize your mistake quickly. Go ahead to see simple methods.

Table of contents
1. Potential scenarios in deleting files
2. Where do deleted files go?
3. Things you should know before deleted files recovery
4. Use free Mac data recovery software to recover deleted files
5. How to recover deleted files without software?
6. Conclusion

Picture this scene. You've accidentally deleted important files on Mac, emptied them from the Trash, then wanted to get them back. Unfortunately, there is no undelete feature on Mac. The good news is whether it's a family picture, important word document or video, the deleted file doesn't exactly go away after you delete it. Let's start with the possible scenarios and tips of deleted files recovery.

Recover deleted files on Mac

Potential scenarios in deleting files

The procedure for deleting files on a desktop or laptop computer is simple enough, but there are still different ways you can choose:

  1. Delete files in an ordinary way. When you select a file by left-clicking on it and press "Command+Delete" button on the keyboard or right-click on the selected file and select "Move to Trash", such a temporary deleted file won't be permanently removed from your hard disk. Instead, it will be only moved to the Mac Trash. So if you have deleted files by mistake and you need to have them back, you can easily restore them from the Mac Trash.
  2. Use "Delete Immediately" or "Empty Trash" option to delete files instantly. By pressing these two buttons, you agree to remove the deleted files permanently, so there is no way you can undo "Empty Trash" without the help of a backup copy or Mac data recovery software.
  3. Delete files by pressing the keyboards combinations "Command+Shift+Delete". File deleted in this way will be permanently deleted from the disk without placing them into the Mac Trash.
  4. Delete files from external drives, including external hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards and more. These files will skip being sent to the Trash but move to a hidden folder called "Trashes".
  5. Lose files due to virus attack. Some high-risk viruses not only actually cause serious problem to your computer system but also delete important files from the computer hard drive.

This short video goes into the step-by-step process to recover deleted files/photos emptied from Mac Trash:

Where do deleted files go?

When you first delete files on a Mac computer, they will be moved to the computer's Trash. At this time, the files are not marked as deleted and they will be recovered with ease.

However, if you deleted them from the Trash, you can't discover it anywhere on the Mac computer or hard drive. Where do these deleted files go? Actually, these files still remain in the same place. In this situation, the operating system will only remove the reference or file header to the files, so that the computer can no longer see the files and the space the files took up is available for any new file. Therefore, these deleted files are still on the hard drive until another file or part of another file is saved to the same location.

Things you should know before deleted files recovery

Here are some tips which can help you increase the chance of recovering deleted files on Mac:

  • To avoid data overwriting, you should stop using the hard drive from which you have deleted files, including saving new files and editing existing files. Because the chances for successful data recovery depend greatly on the remainder of the data which has not overwritten yet. If the deleted files are entirely overwritten, even the professional deleted data recovery software or specialized data recovery labs are unable to restore them. So, what is worth noting that if you deleted files on the disk' system partition, you should shut down your Mac computer as soon as possible.
  • Perform Mac file recovery right now. If you have no backup of your hard drive or backup has itself corrupted, the most reliable way is to download and install an advanced data recovery application to recover deleted files on Mac. With the read-only operational mode, all of them guarantee the security of the recovery process.

Use free Mac data recovery to recover deleted files

iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery is the best free data recovery which possesses several different recovery methods. With the advanced algorithms, it is able to search and recover recently deleted files, undelete files on APFS drives, recover deleted files from encrypted mac hard drives, even files deleted from the Trash. The software can be used to recover deleted photos, get back deleted pictures and recover word documents, music files, videos, contacts, emails.

Furthermore, you can try this file Recovery software to recover data from formatted, corrupted, inaccessible hard drives, external hard drives, SD cards, memory cards, etc. Even if your Mac computer won't boot, iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery can get lost data back safely and efficiently.

Step 1: Download, install and launch iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery on your Mac computer.

install iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery

Step 2: You will see all connected drives listed on the home window. Select the drive where you deleted files and click "Next" to scan for all data on this drive.

Recover deleted files on Mac

Step 3: Double-click to preview the scanning result and choose files you want to get back.

Step 4: Click "Recover" to restore these deleted files.

Recover deleted files on Mac

How to recover deleted without software?

If you have good knowledge of the technicalities or are reluctant to use any third-party applications to recover their deleted files from Mac, these procedures suit you.

Solution 1: How to recover deleted files from Trash on Mac?

Macintosh computers have Trash to hold deleted files. If you recently deleted photos on Mac, you should first check if the file is gone. To undelete files on Mac, click on the Trash icon in the Dock and inspect the Finder window that opens. If you see the deleted file you need, drag it out the Trash on the Desktop or right-click the file and select "Put Back".

Recover deleted files from Mac Trash

Solution 2:How to show hidden Trashes folder?

If your files deleted from a USB flash drive or external hard drive, those will be moved to a hidden folder called "Trashes". The following are steps to view this hidden folder.

  1. If you are using Sierra or later, you can view the Trashes folder in Finder by simply using the "Shift+Command+." (that's the period key)
  2. If you are using an older OS X version, you can enable hidden files in Finder by running the following commands in Terminal. Press "Command + Space" and type "Terminal" to open it. At the prompt, paste these two lines:
  3. defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

    killall Finder

Show hidden files on Mac

Solution 3:How to recover deleted photos on Mac?

When you delete a photo in the Photos app, you can change your mind before the 30 days have elapsed. You can go into the Recently Deleted album and recover the deleted photo.

  1. Step 1: Open Photos and select Album from the column on the left and double-click "Recently Deleted" (in older versions of Photos you'll find Recently Deleted along the top).
  2. Step 2: You'll see thumbnails of photos and videos you've deleted. Click on the photo you're looking for and press "Recover". It will then be moved back to your main Library.

Recover deleted photos in Photos

Solution 4: How to recover music files in iTunes?

When you deleted your songs or music playlist in iTunes, you will be asked if you want to move the file to the Trash.

If you choose the option "Keep File", you have likely removed the music file from the iTunes media library list. But the music file still exists inside the iTunes Media folder. The following shows how you can find the deleted music file on your Mac.

  1. Step 1: On the desktop of your Mac, you can click on the Go menu at the top and select the option that says "Go to Folder". Then type in the following path in the box and hit "Enter". (Replace username with your own username):
  2. /Users/username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Music/
  3. Step 2: When the path opens, you will see your entire iTunes music library. You will find your deleted music file here in this folder. Then you can drag it on the top of the iTunes icon or an iTunes window to re-import it back into iTunes.

If you said yes and has sent the audio file to the Trash, then you might be able to find it in your Trash folder. Follow these steps to get it back into iTunes:

  1. Step 1: Open iTunes and click on iTunes > Preferences.
  2. Step 2: Click Advanced and make sure there is a tick in the box marked "Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library".
  3. Step 3: Drag the music file out of the Trash to the Desktop and then drag it onto iTunes' icon in the Dock. You have re-import the file int iTunes.
  4. Step 4: Finally, move the duplicate file from the desktop back to the Trash.

Recover deleted music files in iTunes

Solution 5:How to recover word documents on Mac?

No matter what you are using for text editing, such as Text Edit, Preview, iWork or other third-party tools, it will automatically save copies of previous versions so you can revert back to them if you need.

  1. Step 1: Open the file and click on the File menu and choose "Revert" to Browse all versions. You'll see that the screen changes which looks a bit like Time Machine.
  2. Step 2: Click the up and down arrow on the right of the screen to find the version you want to revert to.
  3. Step 3: You'll see the date of each version displayed below its preview. If the document preview doesn't display automatically, you can click "Load Version" to download it from iCloud.
  4. Step 4: When you find the version you want to revert to, click "Restore".

Recover deleted word documents on Mac

Solution 6:How to recover deleted contacts on Mac?

If you've deleted an entry from the Contacts app in macOS then you can tap on Edit > Undo Delete Card. You have to do this before making any other edits in Contacts, or you'll lose the card.

Solution 7:How to recover deleted emails on Mac?

If you deleted an important email using the Apple Mail app, just like many other mail clients, Apple Mail has a Trash folder that stores the recently deleted emails. Here are steps to recover deleted emails from Trash:

  1. Step 1: Open Apple Mail and click "View" from the menu bar and choose "Show Deleted Messages".
  2. Step 2: Click the "Trash" button in the sidebar and then you will see the list of all your deleted emails.
  3. Step 3: Right-click the email you want to recover, then choose "Undelete" to restore your deleted email to your inbox.

Solution 8:How to restore recently deleted files from Time Machine Backups?

Time Machine is a built-in backup tool which can automatically back up all of your files. If you have emptied the Trash or can't find the deleted file you need in the Trash, you can restore deleted files from Time Machine Backups if you enabled it.

  1. Step 1: Click the Time Machine icon in the menu bar. If the icon isn't there, you can click the Apple menu and choose the "System Preferences...", select "Time Machine" and then choose "Show Time Machine in menu bar".
  2. Step 2: Browse the Time Machine Backup folder. Use the up can down arrow keys on the right of the screen to navigate through time to find the required file.
  3. Step 3: Select the file that you want to recover and then click "Restore".

Restore deleted files from Time Machine Backups

Solution 9:How to recover deleted files on Mac using Mac Terminal?

The usage of Terminal gives you the complete control of your Mac. You can run it to recover deleted files on Mac. But using it can be really a dangerous thing if you don't have proper knowledge about the commands. Here we will discuss all the steps to recover deleted files with Terminal:

  1. Step 1: Go to Finder > Applications > Utilities and double-click Terminal to open it.
  2. Step 2: Type cd .trash and hit "Return". Then type ls and tick "Return".
  3. Step 3: Type mv FILENAME ../ and hit "Return". (Please replace FILENAME with the name of the file that you want to restore.)
  4. Step 4: The deleted file will be restore to the original place. Then type "Quit" to exit the Terminal window.

Recover deleted files with Mac Terminal


To sum up, when you press the "Delete" key, you can find it in the Trash. Even emptying the Trash doesn't get rid of it completely. There are many ways to get them back. If none of the solutions above work but the deleted files are very important, the last resort is to take your hard drive to a specialist recovery company. However, the best way of avoiding data loss is to make regular backups of your important data using the built-in Time Machine.

If you already lost data from hard drives, you can rely on iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery. Even when you find yourself in a situation that seems hopeless, this software will still do its best to save the day.


Katrina is a data recovery expert @iBoysoft who loves to help readers solve various data recovery problems.

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