How to recover deleted files on Mac or recover emptied Mac Trash?

Updated by Tim to Mac Data Recovery Tips on February 26th, 2020

I accidentally deleted files on MacBook Pro, is there any way for me to recover deleted files on Mac?

There are several solutions about how to recover deleted files on Mac and how to recover lost files emptied from Mac Trash.

How to recover deleted files on Mac without software?

Following are four methods to recover deleted files on Mac without any software:

Restore deleted files by operating "Undo Move"

If the last thing you did in the Finder was to delete files, you can select Edit > Undo Move (Command-Z) to restore these deleted files to their previous positions.

Restore deleted files from Mac trash

Any files that are deleted from the Finder on Mac must go to the Trash. The files are kept there so that they can be rescued if we change our mind later. Since the garbage files in Mac Trash would take a certain space on Mac hard drive, so we empty the Mac Trash regularly. But sometimes we realize there are some very important files in the Mac Trash after getting it emptied.

If you simply put files in the Mac trash, you can restore them from Mac trash. Drag the files from the Trash to your Desktop or other desired location. Or right click the files on the Mac Trash and select "Put Back" to restore these deleted files to their original location.

Recover deleted files from Mac Trash

Once the Mac Trash is emptied, it's impossible for us to find the deleted files in Mac trash again. So, how can we recover those important files emptied from Mac Trash? That is a big problem. And maybe many of us are experencing the same data loss problem. Now, we'd like to share some methods to recover deleted files even emptied from Mac Trash.

Recover deleted files from Time Machine backup

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 the deleted files from Time Machine Backups if you enabled it.

1) Connect the backup drive to your Mac computer.

2) Open the folder that once contained your deleted files.

3) Click the Time Machine icon in the top left menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.

4) Browse the items in the backup folder by using on-screen up/down arrows or using the timeline at the edge of the screen. If you want to find files of the older version, using timeline to navigate the files is faster. You will be able to see a lot of snapshots of this whole folder and how the folder changes.

5) Select an item and press Space bar or double-click it to preview it.

6) Select the file you want to restore, and then click Restore.

Recover deleted files with Mac Terminal

1) Open Applications folder and click on Utilities folder.

2) Double-click on "Terminal" to open the application.

3) Type command: cd .Trash and hit the "Return" key on your Mac.

4) Key in the name of the file you would like to recover using the following format "mv xxx ../" (without quotations). Replace the "xxx" part of the format with the full name of the file you deleted and now want to recover.

5) Hit the "Return" key on your Mac.

6) Open Finder, enter the name of the deleted file in the search bar at the top right part of the window.

7) Click on the file you found in Finder and drag it onto your desktop or the location you wish to save the file.

Actually, recovering deleted files from Mac Terminal is using "cd .Trash" command to invoke Trash and using "mv xxx ../" command to move the file from Trash. So it is impossible to recover deleted files from Mac Terminal if we have emptied the Trash before we try to recover deleted files from Mac Terminal. Besides that, when we enter the Terminal commands incorrectly, we will just get the "command not found" message.

To make things easy, we can recover deleted files on Mac with data recovery software as below.

How to recover deleted files on Mac with data recovery software?

Is it possible to recover deleted files on Mac?

The answer is Yes, but the deleted file recovery results depend on whether the deleted files have been overwritten or not. After data loss, continuing to use this Mac computer is a write operation to your Macintosh HD. Once the deleted files are overwritten by new data, it is impossible to recover them.

If you emptied Mac Trash, the files are gone.

If a program does an immediate delete rather than moving files to the Mac trash, then the files are gone.

The key to recover deleted files is to stop using the drive immediately. When a file is deleted, it is set to be overwritten. If you stop using that drive, undeleting files is possible with a free data recovery software for Mac, such as M3 Mac Data Recovery.

M3 Mac Data Recovery is a free data recovery software which can recover deleted files (Such as documents, photos, music, videos, emails) on macOS Catalina 10.15/10.14/10.13/10.12 and Mac OS X 10.11/10.10/10.9/10.8.

Recover deleted or lost files from Macintosh HD on macOS Catalina/Mojave/High Sierra

On macOS High Sierra and later version, there is a security mechanism named "System Integrity Protection" (SIP), which prevents any application from reading Macintosh HD. And when we want to use M3 Mac Data Recovery to scan Macintosh HD, we need to temporarily disable SIP, otherwise M3 Mac Data Recovery will be prevented from scanning.

1) Boot to Recovery OS by restarting your Mac and pressing & holding down Command + R keys at startup.

Disble SIP step 1

2) Launch Terminal from Utilities.

3) Enter the command: csrutil disable and press Return.

Disble SIP step 2

4) Restart your Mac computer.

5) To avoid lost data being overwritten, please download m3datarecovery.dmg to an external drive.

In order to maximize the chance of getting the deleted files back, you need to stop using that drive immediately. Every time disk writes happen, they could be overwriting your lost files on Macintosh HD, making it impossible to recover.

6) Doule click on M3 Mac Data Recovery installation package: m3datarecovery.dmg, you will see the installation window as below.

Install M3 Mac Data Recovery

7) Double click on M3 Mac Data Recovery icon to run M3 Mac Data Recovery, instead of dragging it to the Applications folder.

8) Select the APFS drive and click Next to continue.

Apple APFS data recovery software

If macOS Macintosh HD is encrypted APFS, the unlock password is required to recover lost data from encrypted APFS drive.

Enter the password to scan lost files from APFS drive with M3 Mac Data Recovery

9) M3 Mac Data Recovery is scanning the deleted or lost files from APFS drive.

Scan deleted files from APFS drive with M3 Mac Data Recovery

10) After the scan completes, you can preview the documents, photos and play videos, audios: click Preview button so that you can see if your deleted files are recoverable.

Recover deleted files from APFS drive with M3 Mac Data Recovery

If the deleted files are not found, try deep scan option to find more files.

11) Select the files you need and click Recover to start recovery.

Recover deleted or lost files from Macintosh HD on macOS Sierra/Mac OS X

1) To avoid lost data being overwritten, please download m3datarecovery.dmg to an external drive.

In order to maximize the chance of getting lost data back, you need to stop using that drive immediately. Every time disk writes happen, they could be overwriting your lost data in Macintosh HD, making it impossible to recover.

2) Doule click on M3 Mac Data Recovery installation package: m3datarecovery.dmg, you will see the installation window as below.

Install M3 Mac Data Recovery

3) Double click on M3 Mac Data Recovery icon to run M3 Mac Data Recovery, instead of dragging it to the Applications folder.

4) Select the drive where you want to recover deleted files and click Next to continue.

Mac data recovery software

5) M3 Mac Data Recovery is scanning the deleted files from Macintosh HD.

Recover deleted files on macOS - M3 Mac Data Recovery Free

6) After the scan completes, you can preview the documents, photos and play videos, audios: click Preview button so that you can see if your deleted files are recoverable.

Recover deleted files on Mac

If the deleted files are not found, please try deep scan option to find more files.

7) Select the files you expect and click Recover to start recovery.

Recover deleted or lost files from an external drive on Mac

1) Please don't write any new data to the external hard drive, USB drive, SD card, memory card, etc. after you find some files were deleted or lost.

2) Insert the external drive (external hard drive, USB drive, SD card, memory card, etc.) into your Mac computer.

3) Download m3datarecovery.dmg, install and launch M3 Mac Data Recovery on your Mac computer.

4) Select the external drive (external hard drive, USB drive, SD card, memory card, etc.) and click Next to scan deleted files.

5) After deleted files are found, you can preview the documents, photos and play videos, audios: click Preview button so that you can see if your deleted files are recoverable.

Recover deleted files on Mac

If the deleted files are not found, please try deep scan option to find more files.

6) Select the deleted files you expect and click Recover to start recovery.

Besides to recover deleted files on Mac and recover emptied Mac Trash, M3 Mac Data Recovery can also recover lost data from formatted drive, recover lost data from unreadable drive, recover lost data from unmounted drive, recover lost data from APFS drive, recover lost data from deleted or lost APFS partition, etc.

To sum up, when you press the "Delete" key, you can find it in the Mac Trash. Even emptying the Mac 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 chance 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.

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