Top 6 Best Open-Source Data Recovery Software

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Best Open-Source Data Recovery Software

Need to restore lost data? Consider open-source data recovery software. The developers behind them are usually super passionate and talented individuals who want to provide a service – most of the time, for free. However, these tools come with limitations that you should know if you plan on using them.

In this article, we show some love to our 6 favorite (free) open-source data recovery software. We break them down using our own strict criteria, which analyze each software’s recovery capabilities, usability, security, and more. By the end, you should know which one is right for you!

Hold on a second!

Please note: Open-source data recovery software has limitations. We've compiled a list of reliable commercial alternatives with extensive demos or trial plans in the table below, based on our reviews.

Top-Rated Software
Compatibility353
Recovery Rate353
Usability353
File Type Support353
Speed455
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Unveiling Our Criteria for Evaluating Open-Source Data Recovery Software

To come up with our top 6, we vetted open-source data recovery software with our own strict criteria that we developed specifically for open-source recovery software in order to address their unique considerations. Below, we’ll quickly run you through these criteria so you can check out our recommendations with a more critical eye.

  • Safe to use

    Thanks to their open-source setup, we were able to inspect each program’s code and ensure that they were 100% safe with no hidden processes.

  • Truly open-source

    We confirmed that each program was indeed open-source and made sure they had file repositories available online.

  • Relevance of the program

    Often, developers turn their software into open-source projects because official development is discontinued. We found projects that still had an active community and users willing to respond to requests for assistance.

  • Usability

    Many open-source programs value function over usability. We considered how user-friendly each program is and whether or not they had a GUI (graphical user interface).

  • Recovery capabilities

    Due to limited official development and budget, we carefully assessed each program’s ability to restore data. We considered the following: (1) supported file formats, (2) scanning methods, (2) quality of the data recovery, and (4) extra features.

  • Licensing

    We wanted to know which programs would allow us to modify or use the source code according to their license.

Attention

Our website’s whole shtick is to test, prod, and push popular and lesser-known data recovery software to help our readers find the ones they like (and will efficiently solve their problems).

We've published reviews, comparisons, and lists of data recovery software for Mac and Windows computers. We also created the Ultimate Data Recovery Software Picker – a simple browser tool that chooses the best software for you based on your answers to a survey.

Our team has analyzed literally dozens of data recovery software over time and we know what makes the best, the best.

Top 6 Best Open-Source Data Recovery Software

 #

Based on our super strict criteria, we present to you the Top 6 best open-source data recovery software available. While all of them get a big thumbs up from us, remember that some tools do some things better than others.

Read our breakdowns carefully to make sure that you choose the best software for your specific needs (or you can try out the software picker we just mentioned).

PhotoRec Logo

1. PhotoRec

3.37 - Intimidating but rewarding at the same time – PhotoRec is non-user-friendly, limited, and outdated… But extremely good at what it can do, which is to recover data by file signature. We still love it today.

Read full PhotoRec review
Platforms

WindowsmacOSLinux

Distributed as

Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction

Limitations

Metadata recovery

Price range

Free

Overview

PhotoRec is a highly popular and completely free open-source recovery software distributed under the GNU General Public License. We once called it the king of foss data recovery (free open-source software). However, it’s justified to say that PhotoRec is one of the best data recovery apps available period.

PhotoRec for Windows – Gallery
Top PhotoRec Pros
  • Completely free and open-source. Anyone can use PhotoRec for free and inspect or modify its source code.
  • Has a fairly active community. PhotoRec still has a lot of fans and existing users in the recent years.
  • Optional GUI. You can choose between using a basic GUI you can click through (QPhotoRec) or PhotoRec’s original interface, which resembles a command line.
  • Works with faulty drives. PhotoRec can recover data from RAW disks and non-mounting drives.
  • Multi-platform. PhotoRec runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as their file systems.
Top PhotoRec Cons
  • Only has a basic GUI. QPhotoRec isn’t winning any awards for design but it’s easy enough to understand.
  • Limited scanning capabilities. PhotoRec can only scan by file signature, lacking more advanced algorithms other tools provide.
  • Rarely updated. While this is true for most free and open-source software, PhotoRec sometimes goes years without updates. Fortunately, it works with Windows 10 and Windows 11 as of this writing.
  • No tech support. CGSecurity (the developers) does not provide tech support for PhotoRec outside of the official forums.
Overall experience

Value

As we mentioned earlier, PhotoRec is a completely free and open-source disk recovery software. Despite its lack of official development and only having a small number of volunteers updating it, PhotoRec still works with the latest operating systems and modern devices. It doesn’t do a lot but it does file signature scanning exceptionally well, which provides users with massive value.

Performance

PhotoRec is a one-trick pony. It lacks the advanced algorithms and features commonly found in data recovery software, like session management, file previews, and direct RAID support. However, we've confidently stated in the past that PhotoRec's file signature scanning tool can rival even commercial software.

PhotoRec recognizes a little under 500 file extensions (which is a LOT, even compared to premium tools). It can also scan and recover disk images, which is a feature that not all data recovery software offers.

Usability

PhotoRec’s original interface visually resembles Windows’s Command Prompt or Mac’s Terminal. You don’t need to type any commands, but you can only use your keyboard to “do stuff” like selecting your partition and initiating the scan. It looks awful, but it’s fairly straightforward.

When you download PhotoRec, you also download its GUI version QPhotoRec. This makes it easier to use the program but the interface looks old and has a lot of limitations. You can only set basic parameters like file system type and recovery destination. You can’t sort or preview your data and there are no scan prediction indicators.

And due to the nature of its scanning, PhotoRec recovers data in bulk and can’t extract file names and original folder structure.

TestDisk Logo

2. TestDisk

2.40 - Ugly but talented file system repairman – TestDisk is that old tool you just can’t throw away because it still works so well. It remains a worthy go-to for users with problematic partitions.

Read full TestDisk review
Platforms

WindowsmacOSLinux

Distributed as

Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction

Limitations

None

Price range

Free

Overview

TestDisk is PhotoRec’s sister software and comes downloaded with PhotoRec. While the latter restores data by file signature, TestDisk is an open-source partition recovery tool. It doesn’t directly restore your data but makes it accessible again by repairing the drive’s partition. Like PhotoRec, TestDisk has still been widely recommended by users in recent years, despite the lack of official development.

TestDisk for Windows – Gallery
Top TestDisk Pros
  • Completely free and open-source. Anyone can use TestDisk for free and inspect or modify its source code.
  • Has an active community. TestDisk still has a lot of existing users and a few volunteers keeping it moderately relevant.
  • Versatile. Aside from recovering partitions, TestDisk can solve a lot of problems – including unbootable disks and lost file systems.
Top TestDisk Cons
  • No GUI. Unlike PhotoRec, users only have TestDisk’s command line-like interface.
  • No tech support. No official customer support outside of the forums.
  • It writes data. TestDisk writes data to the disk as part of the repair process. If the recovery is unsuccessful, you may lose more data.
  • Highly specialized. Like PhotoRec, TestDisk is good at one thing only – partition recovery and repair. Don’t expect extra features related to data recovery.
Overall experience

Value

TestDisk is 100% free and open-source. As we mentioned in the PhotoRec section, TestDisk is not backed by official development. In fact, these tools are a 1-man project and are supported only by a handful of volunteers around the world. Yet, TestDisk remains one of the most recommended partition recovery tools today.

TestDisk is also a highly specialized tool that can solve a lot of problems as a result of rebuilding partitions. You won't find a lot of software like it, especially for free.

Performance

Like PhotoRec, TestDisk is a master of one. It's really good at recovering partitions, which solves data loss caused by a lost or damaged partition. However, it doesn't offer anything else outside of this feature. It can't scan by file signature or use other advanced algorithms that data recovery software usually offers.

It's basically a hammer only meant for nails. However, it works with all major operating systems and file systems, as well as common storage devices like external HDDs, SSDs, memory cards, and more.

Usability

Unfortunately, there is no alternative to TestDisk's command line-style interface. You can only use your keyboard to highlight and select the appropriate options for the task. However, the instructions are fairly straightforward and you can find a lot of guides online (even on the developer's own website).

Just make sure you look at the screen closely and select the correct disks and hit the right keys. You may end up permanently overwriting data on a completely different disk.

GNU Ddrescue Logo

3. GNU Ddrescue

3.1 - Hard to use but uniquely effective for different data loss scenarios – GNU ddrescue is an intelligent data recovery software that has rescued thousands of users from permanent data loss… But its features and usability need some work.

Platforms

Linux

Distributed as

Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction

Limitations

None

Price range

Free

Overview

GNU ddrescue is a free and open-source data recovery software for Linux. It specializes in recovering data by “scraping” the blocks on your drive (more on this later). As of this writing, it’s continuously being developed under the GNU Project.

GNU Ddrescue – Gallery
Top GNU Ddrescue Pros
  • 100% free and open-source. Like all GNU Projects, GNU ddrescue is highly transparent in its code and operations. It’s also free forever.
  • Official development. GNU ddrescue is being developed under the GNU Project. Users can rely on regular updates and official support through the GNU Project and its community.
  • Limited session management. You can stop and resume recovery.
  • Useful tools. You can use GNU ddrescue to clone your drive and perform disk repair.
Top GNU Ddrescue Cons
  • Not user-friendly. There is an existing version of ddrescue with a GUI, but you’ll have to pay for it. The app itself does not hold your hand.
  • Limited recovery options. Aside from its “data scraping” technique, GNU ddrescue doesn’t offer much else.
  • Lacking in recovery features. The app lacks features usually found in other data recovery software, like file preview and success prediction.
Overall experience

Value

As we previously mentioned, GNU ddrescue is in official development under the GNU Project. As such, it will remain free forever while being regularly updated by volunteers around the world. Despite this obstacle, the program fills a niche with the way it restores data.

GNU ddrescue has perfected a unique data recovery technique that you don't often find in other software (both free and paid) – we'll discuss this further in the Performance section. However, its user experience leaves much to be desired. It also doesn't offer much else in terms of recovery techniques, but it still gives a lot for a price tag of $0.

Performance

GNU ddrescue recovers your data by copying as much data as it can from the good areas of your disk while taking note of problematic areas. It then returns to those problematic areas with more aggressive algorithms to restore data.

If your drive has suffered data loss due to severe corruption or other logical damage, its conservative but persistent approach might be your best solution. GNU ddrescue is compatible with various file systems, including NTFS, FAT32, ExFAT, HFS+, ext2, ext3, and ext4.

Usability

GNU ddrescue is NOT user-friendly. If this is your first time trying to recover data, we suggest that you watch read a few articles and watch some Ubuntu tutorials on YouTube before jumping in. The good thing about GNU Project apps is that they usually have a lot of resources online… But you have to be willing to invest some time in learning.

FreeRecover Logo

4. FreeRecover

2.2 A solid undeleter for NTFS disks – FreeRecover is an abandoned gem that users with NTFS file systems might still find mighty useful. Unfortunately, the developer seems to have mysteriously disappeared.

Platforms

Windows

Distributed as

Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction

Limitations

None

Price range

Free

Quick overview

FreeRecover is a free, open-source, 1-man project that lives quietly in SourceForge’s archives. It’s a tiny, lightweight data recovery tool that only works on NTFS file systems. It also comes with a few useful features that make the app a surprisingly attractive option for the average user.

FreeRecover for Windows – Gallery
Top FreeRecover Pros
  • Simple GUI. FreeRecover’s interface is nothing to write home about, but other tools on this list don’t even have a GUI. It lets you accomplish a lot without being cluttered.
  • No install. You only need to download the app to run it. This means it works as a portable recovery tool and you can run it from a USB stick.
  • Fast recovery. The recovery process itself is pretty fast and you don’t have to wait long.
Top FreeRecover Cons
  • NTFS only. FreeRecover only works on NTFS drives. No exceptions.
  • Limited support. As far as we can tell, FreeRecover is a 1-man project and is not under official development. The developer has also not directly indicated a way to access support.
  • Last updated in 2017. As per SourceForge (we can’t find an official website), the app was last updated in 2017.
Detailed overview

Value

Like the other open-source file recovery tools we've reviewed so far, FreeRecover is 100% free. It's available for download in SourceForge. FreeRecover is a good tool for recovering deleted data from NTFS drives, but not much else. The developer has also not indicated any channels for official support, so you're on your own if you encounter any problems. But considering it costs $0, we're not mad about it.

It even has a native GUI, which is more than what we can say for other entries on this list. The fact that FreeRecover was last updated in 2017 heavily weighs down its value, but users have been leaving 5-star reviews up until 2020… So it may still be worth a download for some users.

Performance

While limited in its scope of capabilities, FreeRecover is good enough for recovering deleted files from NTFS drives – as long as the data hasn't been overwritten. In other words, it can only use Quick Scan mode, which is a type of data recovery scan that relies on file system metadata (like file name, size, and extension) to detect the presence of files.

While that’s super useful for recently deleted files, it lacks Deep Scan and Signature Scan modes that can bypass the file system and locate files using more advanced algorithms. If your file system is kaput, FreeRecover won’t be able to recover much data at all.

On the bright side, FreeRecover also attempts to retrieve the original file paths and analyzes the integrity of your deleted data. It can even display a preview of your files, which is a feature you can usually find in premium/freemium data recovery software.

Usability

FreeRecover is not the prettiest data recovery software out there, but we have to reiterate that most open-source tools don't even provide GUIs. FreeRecover's user experience is also decent because the interface makes each function super clear. Users won't struggle to figure out what to do next.

Kickass Undelete Logo

5. Kickass Undelete

2.0 Limited but effective undeleter for Windows – Kickass Undelete is a simple but effective undeleter that is out-of-date but surprisingly a worthy contender for your NTFS and FAT data recovery needs.

Platforms

Windows

Distributed as

Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction.

Limitations

None

Price range

Free

Overview

Kickass Undelete is a free and open-source data recovery tool that can restore recently deleted files from your drive. It’s limited but effective, and it’s still a viable tool today.

Kickass Undelete for Windows – Gallery
Top Kickass Undelete Pros
  • Free and open-source. Kickass Undelete is 100% free and open-source.
  • Unreasonably large scan button. Listed as one of Kickass Undelete’s biggest selling points, the scan button is just one example of the app’s straightforward and no-nonsense design.
  • Basic but complete features. Kickass Undelete looks super simple, but it actually covers all the bases. This is the most mainstream-looking data recovery software on this list.
Top Kickass Undelete Cons
  • Limited recovery options. Kickass Undelete can only recover deleted files. For corruption-induced data loss, look elsewhere.
  • Windows only. There are no app versions for macOS and Linux operating systems.
  • Last updated in 2018. The last official update of this software was released in 2018.
  • Limited customer support. If you need customer support, you can submit a ticket via the SourceForge project page. There’s no other way to directly contact the developer for support.
  • Limited file system support. Kickass Undelete only works for NTFS and FAT file systems.
Overall experience

Value

Kickass Undelete is freeware and lacks official development. It also only functions as an undeleter and doesn't offer other recovery options. Despite its limitations, it does its one job really well in terms of performance and user experience. The developer gave us a lot for free and over 17,000 users have downloaded the app.

Performance

As we mentioned in the Pros and Cons section, Kickass Undelete only supports NTFS and FAT file systems. However, it does support different types of storage devices, including hard drives, memory cards, and USB pen drives. Like FreeRecover, Kickass Undelete only provides a Quick Scan mode so it works best for recovering recently deleted files that have not been overwritten by new data. If your drive is corrupted or your data has been lost for a long time, consider other options on this list.

Usability

Among the entries of this top 6 list, Kickass Undelete provides the best GUI. It's still not great, but it's simple and accessible. Users can easily understand what to do without having to check out tutorials. Its unreasonably large scan button represents the developer's intention to foolproof their app.

Foremost Logo

6. Foremost

3.3 Foremost is a forensic tool developed by special agents from the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations. It's pretty dang good.

Platforms

Linux

Distributed as

Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction

Limitations

None

Price range

Free

Quick overview

Foremost is an advanced data recovery tool developed by the U.S. government for the use of law enforcement personnel (but it’s been made available to citizens like us). It’s highly advanced software that aims to recover not just your data but its meta information. It’s not for casual users.

Foremost – Gallery
Top Foremost Pros
  • Free and open-source. Foremost was released under the GNU General Public License and its source code is freely available.
  • Advanced metadata analysis. Foremost tries to extract metadata information, such as file timestamps, file sizes, file extensions, and more.
  • Designed to handle large volumes of data. Foremost is optimized to process large amounts of data for the sake of investigations.
Top Foremost Cons
  • Command line interface. Foremost lacks a GUI and you will have to use codes to interact with the app.
  • Overkill for average users. If you just need to recover deleted data or lost partitions, the other apps on this list are simpler and just as effective.
  • Lack of support. Foremost is not hosted on any official website. There are also no forums for Foremost users.
Detailed overview

Value

As we previously mentioned, Foremost was developed by the U.S. government and released under the GNU General Public License. So it's 100% free and its source code is available online. Considering that it's the same technology that government agents use to recover data for their investigations, it's a valuable tool on its own.

But whether it's valuable to YOU specifically (it should solve your problem with the least amount of effort) depends on your individual situation. If you only need to recover recently deleted data, recommendations 1, 4, or 5 would provide you with more value for your time and efforts.

Performance

As we briefly mentioned, Foremost attempts not only to recover your data but also information about your data (such as file timestamps and file extensions). This is what makes it an effective forensics tool. Foremost also looks for specific patterns and signatures or other unique markers to identify file types and extract the data. You can customize the recovery process if you're willing to learn its commands. With Foremost, you can process massive volumes of data and recover exactly what you're looking for.

Usability

Unfortunately, Foremost provides no GUI. Users will have to settle for a command line interface and should expect to execute codes to recover data (or do anything within the app). There are ample tutorials online, but it's not as accessible as other tools on this list.

The Downsides of Using Free Open Source Data Recovery Tools

If you read through the content above, you’ll notice that most of our top picks have something in common: limitations. While all data recovery software has limitations, open-source tools tend to have fewer people working on them and much less budget for development.

Here are some common disadvantages of free open-source data recovery software:

  • Limited file system support:

    Commercial data recovery software can typically support all mainstream file systems, while free open-source tools usually recognize only 1 or 2.

  • Lack of user support:

    Most open-source tools are developed by 1-man teams and/or (unpaid) volunteers. Efforts are usually front-loaded to development, leaving customer support unmanned.

  • Limited features:

    Most of the budget goes to ensuring that the software accomplishes its major goal (data recovery) really well. Not much is left for extra features, such as GUIs and quality-of-life improvements.

  • Rare updates:

    Because there are usually very few people actively working on free open-source software, updates can take a few months up to a couple of years. Sometimes, active development stops altogether.

Conclusion

Open-source data recovery software is a force to be reckoned with – even though they are (mostly) free! However, they each have unique features and limitations… So we suggest that you spend some time doing research before jumping in.

Another ProTip: Use a free and open-source backup or cloning tool like Clonezilla to back up your data before attempting to recover deleted files. It's a good idea to have a safety net in case anything goes wrong!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best open-source data recovery software for Windows 10?

The “best” open-source data recovery software for Windows 10 depends on what you need. Here are some of our recommendations:

  • Recently deleted files – PhotoRec, FreeRecover, Kickass Undelete
  • Lost partition recovery – TestDisk
  • Corrupted drive recovery – GNU ddrescue
  • Data forensics – Foremost

Here are our recommendations for the best open-source data recovery software for Mac:

  • PhotoRec
  • TestDisk

Yes, you can recover RAID with open-source data recovery software. TestDisk and GNU ddrescue support RAID recovery. You can also disconnect the drive you want to recover from the RAID array (properly) and use other tools that only support individual drive recovery – like PhotoRec or Foremost. Just make sure you use the proper disconnection procedure depending on your RAID setup.

There is no open-source data recovery app for Android specifically, but you can use popular tools like TestDisk and PhotoRec to scan your smartphone’s SD card on Windows.

Yes, there are 2 popular and free data recovery software that are bootable:

  • TestDisk (TestDisk Live/TestDisk LiveCD)
  • GNU ddrescue (may be included in a bootable Linux distribution or live environment)

Recuva is 100% free (with an optional update) but it is NOT open-source data recovery software.

Alejandro Santos
Author

Alejandro is a veteran writer with a rich background in technology. He worked part-time in his uncle’s repair and recovery shop as a young boy, and now uses his experience and writing skills to produce content for multiple tech websites – specifically on the topic of data recovery. As an author for Pandora Recovery, he is constantly testing and experimenting with new tools and technology to help his readers find the best software for their needs.

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Nikolay Lankevich
Nikolay Lankevich
Approver

Nikolay Lankevich has over 15 years of strong experience in various fields and platform includes Disaster Recovery, Windows XP/7. System analysis, design, application (Inter/Intranet) development, and testing. Provided technical supports on desktop and laptops on Win-XP and Macintosh for about 2000 employees.