Here's how to recover lost files on Mac

Every Mac user encounters data loss scenarios at some point in time. This post will discuss the different data loss scenarios and the methods to recover the lost data using the in-built features of Mac systems and third-party software.

How to Recover Lost Files on Mac?

The methods discussed here are the most accurate and effective to recover lost files on Mac.

1. Recover Lost Files from Trash

When a file is temporarily deleted using the ‘Delete’ button on the keyboard or the ‘Delete’ option in the menu, it is sent to the Trash. Every data sent to Trash remains there for 30 days, after which it is permanently removed.

The files in Trash may also get permanently deleted if you empty the Trash before the completion of 30 days. Follow the steps below to recover recently lost or deleted files from Trash:

Step 1: Open the ‘Trash’ by clicking the icon in the Dock on your Mac.


Step 2: Locate the file you want to recover and select it. To select multiple files, hold the Command key or make the selection using the mouse.

Step 3: Right-click on the selected file and select the ‘Put Back’ option from the menu. Alternatively, you can drag and drop the file from the Trash folder to any other folder of your choice.


Note: This method will not work in the following cases

  • If you have used Option + Command + Delete to delete the file.
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  • If you have formatted the complete storage device.
  • If you have encountered a data loss due to hardware issues, like damaged hard drive etc.
  • If you have lost data due to logical issues, like corruption, virus attack etc.

2. Recover Deleted/Lost Files using Time Machine Backup

Time Machine is a very useful application for backup and recovery of files. It uses a secondary device to create the backup of your data. Here’s how you can recover deleted files on Mac using the Time Machine app:

Step 1: Connect the backup drive created by Time Machine to your Mac.


Step 2: Open ‘Launchpad’ from the Dock and click on Time Machine.


Step 3: Locate and choose the files you need to restore.

Step 4: On the right side of the window, the timeline appears. Select a backup that you want to restore.


Step 5: Click the ‘Restore’ button.


Note: The Time Machine is not a default option. You need to enable it manually. Further, you need to take the backup on an external hard drive. If you have not enabled this feature, then the method will not work for you.


3. Recover Lost Files on Mac using Terminal

The Terminal application provides a command-line interface using which you can perform any operation on your Mac system. However, the method is useful only if your Mac has macOS Catalina or a later version.

Terminal is accessible in Recovery Mode and you can use it to recover the data even when macOS booting is not feasible. Follow the below steps to recover deleted files on Mac using the Terminal app:

Step 1: Shut down your Mac and hold Command + R keys while pressing the Power button. This will boot your Mac in Recovery Mode.


Step 2: Click the ‘Utilities’ tab on the top and select ‘Terminal’ from the dropdown list.


Step 3: Disable the ‘System Integrity Protection’ by inserting the command csrutil disable and hit Return.


Step 4: Restart your Mac and open the Terminal again from the Dock or in Recovery Mode.

Step 5: Insert the command cd .Trash and press Return to open the Trash.

Step 6: Now insert the command ls -al ~/.Trash and press Return. A list of files that are present in Trash will appear.


Step 7: Insert the command mv filename ../ and hit Return to move the file from Trash to the location where it was last saved.


Note: In the above command, replace ‘filename’ with the complete file name of the file you want to recover. You can see the recovered file in Finder. If it is not visible, try searching it by typing the file name in the search bar.

4. Recover Lost Files using Free Data Recovery Software for Mac

This is probably the easiest method to recover lost or deleted files. There are different software available in the market. You can look at the 10 Best Mac data recovery software to know about them.

However, Stellar Data Recovery Free Edition for Mac is one of the best data recovery software for Mac. It can recover lost files from Mac in three easy steps.

Step 1: From the main user interface of the software, select the file type or type of data that you want to recover or you can choose ‘Recover Everything’.


Step 2: Select the startup disk or location from where your file was lost. Click ‘Scan’.


Step 3: Once the scan is complete, a preview of recovered files will be displayed. Click ‘Recover’ to recover and save your lost files.


Note: Stellar Data Recovery for Mac is a freemium DIY software. Although the basic task of recovering files is accomplished in the free version, you can recover only up to 1 GB of data with Stellar Data Recovery Free Version for Mac. You can upgrade the free version to a higher version for unlimited data recovery.


Losing useful data due to any reason is frustrating. You cannot afford to lose important files forever. The methods explained above are effective and easy to apply. You can rely on them to recover your deleted or lost files on Mac system.

However, the best option to recover lost files on Mac for free is by using a specialized data recovery software, such as Stellar Data Recovery Free Edition for Mac.

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