4 Proven Ways to Recover Files From External Hard Drive on Mac

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recover files from external hard drive mac free with disk drill

I have deleted some important files from my external hard drive. Is it possible to recover them using my Mac?

Yes, it is. There are several methods that you can use to recover deleted files from an external hard drive on Mac. We are going to show you four different methods you can use on an Apple Mac or MacBook that can help you get back files that have been accidentally deleted from your external storage device. With any luck, you can use one of these techniques to successfully recover all the data that you thought you had lost forever.

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How to recover files from an external hard drive on Mac

Here are four solutions to recovering deleted or lost files from an external hard drive.

recover deleted files external hard drive mac from trash bin

Solution 1: Restore from the Trash Bin

The first place to look for deleted files on a Mac machine is the Trash Bin. The Trash Bin is actually just a special folder that macOS uses to temporarily store files that are deleted from your computer. The operating system provides a simple and visual method of accessing the folder by displaying the familiar Trash Bin icon in the lower right corner of your computer.

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When a file is deleted from your computer, it takes up temporary residence in the Trash Bin until a pre-determined number of days elapses or until the Bin is full. After the defined number of days is attained, the file is permanently removed from the machine. Files are also permanently deleted on a rolling basis as the storage capacity of the Trash Bin is exceeded. Files more recently deleted are retained in the Bin and older files are removed from the computer.

To restore from Trash Bin on Mac, you need to:

  1. Open the Trash Bin by clicking on its icon.
  2. Locate the files or folders you want to restore.
  3. Right-click on your selection and select Put Back.
  4. The files will be recovered to their original location.recover deleted files external hard drive mac by trash bin

Pros

  • This a free method of data recovery.
  • It’s very simple and available on all Mac computers.
  • Data is restored to its original location.

Cons

  • Files may no longer be resident in the Trash Bin.
  • Files that were deleted from an external drive that was not connected to the computer at the time of deletion will not be found in the Trash Bin.

external hard drive data recovery mac from time machine backup

Solution 2: Restore from a backup file

The best way to recover files from an external hard drive on a Mac for free is through a backup copy you have previously created. Time Machine is the backup tool that comes installed with your Mac’s operating system, and many users choose to employ it to protect their data. You may also use third-party tools or the cloud to back up your files. This demonstration of recovering from a backup will use Time Machine.

To restore from a backup file, you need to:

  1. Connect the device that contains the Time Machine backup to your computer.external hard drive data recovery mac from time machine backup
  2. Open a window that displays the folder which contained the deleted file. For example, if you deleted something from Downloads, open a Finder window of the Downloads folder. 
  3. Open Time Machine by clicking on the clock icon on Mac’s menu bar and select Enter Time Machineexternal hard drive data recovery mac from time machine backup
  4. Locate the items you want to restore from within Time Machine.
  5. Select an item and press the Spacebar to preview it.
  6. Click Restore to recover the selected file or folder.external hard drive data recovery mac from time machine backup

Pros

  • The backup tool is freeware that is included with your Mac computer.
  • It recovers files that have been permanently deleted from the Trash Bin.

Cons

  • This method requires you to have created a backup of the affected files.

external hard drive data recovery mac via Disk Drill

Solution 3: Restore with the help of data recovery software

Data recovery software such as Disk Drill enables you to perform external hard drive data recovery on a Mac even if you don’t have a backup and the files are no longer in the Trash Bin. We will show you how easy it is to recover your lost data with this versatile recovery tool.

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MacOS does not erase the data from an external drive when a file gets deleted. It just removes the links that make the data accessible to the operating system and marks the space as available for future use. Until it is overwritten by new data, the original file can be recovered with the scanning techniques of data recovery software. The tools repair the links so the operating system can once again access the data.

To restore files using data recovery software, you need to:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill on your Mac.
  2. Connect the external hard drive to your computer.
  3. Launch the program and select the hard drive from the disk list.recover files from external hard drive mac
  4. Click the Recover button to scan for deleted files.recover files from external hard drive mac free
  5. Preview the found files and select those to be recovered.recover deleted files external hard drive mac
  6. Choose a new location to save the files that is not on the same external hard disk to avoid file corruption.
  7. Click the Recover button a second time to perform the recovery.external hard drive data recovery mac

Pros

  • The tool recovers data no longer in the Trash Bin without the need of an available backup.
  • A user-friendly interface enables users of all experience levels to quickly restore their deleted data.
  • All types of disk-based storage are supported including internal drives, memory cards, and external hard drives.
  • You can preview the data that the tool can recover before committing to a paid license.

Cons

  • Data recovery software for Mac requires a paid license.

recover files from external hard drive mac with local manual data recovery service

Solution 4: Restore with the help of your local manual data recovery service

If all of these methods to recover files from an external hard drive on your Mac have failed, you can try using a local data recovery service. You should exhaust all other options before going this route, as it is the most expensive option. There are many recovery services available, and you may have to ship your drive depending on your location.

Pros

  • May be able to recover data when other techniques fail.

Cons

  • This is an expensive option and the recovery service will often not quote a final price before investigating the drive. 
  • It is time-consuming to send your hard drive to the service.
  • Your data is exposed to the technical staff employed by the recovery company.

Most Common External Drive Data Loss Causes

Data can be lost on an external drive for a variety of reasons:

  • Human error – Accidentally deleting files or formatting the wrong drive is the most common reason that data is lost from external storage devices.
  • Malware – Malicious software is another common cause of data loss. Infection with viruses can lead to file corruption and randomly deleted files.
  • Physical damage – Over time the physical disk performance may degrade and result in deleted files and folders.
  • Theft – External hard drives are subject to being stolen because of their portability. While no data recovery technique will resolve this issue, it should be taken into consideration when using these types of device for important or sensitive information.

Protect your External Hard Drive From Accidental Data Loss

You can take several steps to protect the data on your external hard drive.

  • Make backup copies of the data on the external hard drive. This is considered best practice for any type of storage device. Backups are your best protection against all types of data loss scenarios.
  • Keeping an external hard drive away from potential virus infection is critically important. You may have good antivirus software running on your computer, but you don’t know about your friend’s machine. Avoid connecting your drive to any strange machine to avoid potential infection.
  • Double-check your work before performing data deletion or formatting an external hard drive. It may save you time later if you end up needing to perform a recovery.
  • Secure your external hard drive physically to keep it safe and out of the hands of a potential thief. It’s not paranoia. Someone might steal it if they got a chance.

FAQ

How to recover files from an external hard drive that is not detected (Mac)?

Before performing a recovery, you need to get your Mac to recognize the drive. Try these methods:

  • Disconnect the drive and try reconnecting it. Use a different port if one is available or another computer to rule out bad interfaces on the first machine.
  • Update Finder preferences to display external drives.
  • Run Disk Utility and try to mount, verify or repair the drive.

How to recover files from an external hard drive using the command prompt on Mac?

Follow these steps to recover files from an external hard drive using the command prompt:

  1. Connect the external drive to your machine.
  2. Open the macOS Terminal
  3. Enter this command: diskutil verifyVolume /Volumes/[drive name] with the name of your external hard drive.
  4. Disk Utility will report errors if they are found. To repair the disk and recover data, enter this command: diskutil repairvolume /Volumes/[drive name].

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How to recover Mac formatted data from an external hard drive to a PC?

To recover Mac formatted data from an external hard drive to a PC you need to use data recovery software. Follow this procedure to recover using Disk Drill for Windows:

  1. Connect the drive to your PC. Make sure you do NOT format the drive at this point by clicking Cancel if Windows prompts you for formatting.
  2. Download, install and launch Disk Drill.
  3. Select the drive from the displayed disk list.
  4. Click Search for lost data to scan for found files.
  5. Select the files you want to restore and a new location where they will be stored.
  6. Click Recover to restore the files to the new folder.
Jeff Cochin is a data management and recovery professional, who has been with Pandorarecovery for nine years and has always been an essential part of the team. Jeff also works as a technical writer at Macgasm, being a first hand in testing, trying and writing about big and small tech software.