You've made quite a mess of things: you've accidentally deleted some very important work files from your USB flash drive and, since it was the only copy that existed, you're already expecting a loud lecture from your boss and you're afraid to suffer the consequences that this could bring you. Panicked, therefore, you immediately opened Google in search of a solution to this annoying inconvenience, hoping to find something simple enough and, above all, free. Well, I'm happy to announce that you're in the right place, at a time that couldn't be better: below, in fact, I'll explain how to recover deleted files from pen drives for free using some great software designed for the purpose, easy to use and, above all, free.
Before going on, however, let me give you a basic information: when a file is deleted from a pen drive, the space occupied by it is marked as "free space" by the operating system, but the previous file still remains there, waiting to be overwritten (unless secure data deletion solutions have been used, in which case, the deleted files will almost certainly be unrecoverable). Until this happens, the file can be recovered completely and without problems. When the previous data is overwritten, however, recovery becomes more complicated the more numerous are the overwrites made on the pen drive, so, I can state with absolute certainty that the less the pen drive will be used between data deletion and recovery attempt, the higher will be the chances of fully restoring the deleted files. It is good that you are fully aware of this before you even go any further.
I beg your pardon? The deletion dates back a short time ago, so do you have high hopes of restoring the deleted files? Perfect, then don't hesitate any longer and read very carefully all the indications I'm going to give you in this guide: with a bit of luck, you might be able to recover completely the files deleted by mistake, thus avoiding a lecture from your boss and some unwelcome consequences at work. At this point, I have nothing left to do but wish you good work and, indeed, good luck!
Disk Drill (Windows/macOS)
Disk Drill is one of the best data recovery software compatible with both Windows and MacOS, with an interface that is fully translated into your language. It allows you to recover any type of files from USB flash drives but also from hard drives, SSDs, SD cards and other storage drives with the ability to preview lost files before recovering them.
In addition, it can perform a deep scan to recover data from unformatted or RAW file systems and includes the Recovery Vault feature which, if enabled, monitors deleted files and remembers their metadata: this allows you to recover deleted files by displaying their real name instead of incomprehensible strings (which happens when the metadata is deleted along with the files) and thus speeding up the entire recovery process.
You can download Disk Drill for free and use it to recover up to 500MB of data (which is equivalent to hundreds of photos, for example), after which, to continue using the program, you will need to purchase a license for the Pro version, starting from about 100 Euros. The license is valid for 3 workstations, regardless of the operating system used.
To get the free version of Disk Drill for Windows, go to the official website of the program and click the Free Download button.
When the download is complete, open the .exe file you got and, in the window that opens, click the Instal button first and then click Yes. The setup will be completed automatically in a few seconds. When it does, click the Close button.
Then, choose whether to enable the Recovery Vault feature by moving the Enable Data Protection toggle to ON, share anonymous info with CleverFiles (via the box provided) and press Start to access the main Disk Drill screen.
At this point, you just need to click on the icon of USB flash drive or any other drive from which you want to recover data and click on Search lost data button (bottom right corner), to start searching for deleted files. If you wish, using the drop down menu on the right you can choose the data recovery method to use (e.g. All Recovery Methods, Deep Analysis or Search Lost Partitions).
Once the scan results appear (which you can pause, using the button at the top), click on the type of file you want to recover between Images, Video, Audio, Documents and Archives, in order to see the detailed list of recoverable files.
Now all you have to do is search for the files you are interested in, tick the corresponding boxes and click on the Recover button at the bottom to start exporting them to a folder of your choice, to be selected with the [...] button and confirmed with the OK button.
To preview the files to be recovered, click on the eye icon that appears next to their names when you hover over them with the mouse cursor. Instead, to filter the search results, click on the Filters button (also located at the top) and a side menu will appear, on the right, to filter the results according to the minimum file size, the date of deletion and to choose whether to show the hidden system files.
Using the left menu, instead, you can easily switch from one category of files to another (Images, Video, Audio, Documents, Archives, etc.) Convenient, right?
If you use macOS, instead, after downloading Disk Drill from the program's official website, open the obtained .dmg file and drag the software icon into the MacOS Applications folder.
Now, the first time you start Disk Drill, you need to click the Start button, type your Mac administration password and enter Enter. Then you need to click on the Open Security preferences button, to open the System Preferences, click on the lock icon at the bottom left, type the Mac administration password again, enter Enter and click the Allow button at the bottom right.
Then move to the Privacy tab, select Full Disk Access from the left sidebar and check the Disk Drill.app and BackService.app boxes to allow Disk Drill to access the disk and function properly. If you are asked to exit the application, please accept and restart Disk Drill to start using it.
Now, choose whether to continue using Disk Drill Basic or to switch to the Pro version of the application, click on the Recover button for the drive from which you want to recover deleted files and wait for it to scan.
Then locate the files you are interested in (you can preview them by clicking on the eye icon that appears next to their names when you hover over them with the mouse cursor), tick the relevant boxes and click the Recover button in the upper right corner to export them to a folder of your choice (this feature on macOS is only available in the Pro version of the application, Basic only allows you to preview recoverable files).
If you want to filter the search results, you can use the drop down menu at the top and choose to view only Images, Videos, Audio, Documents, Archives and so on.
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard (Windows/macOS)
An excellent data recovery software that I want to recommend you to try is EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard. In case you have never heard of it, this well-known program produced by EaseUS allows you to recover deleted files from hard drives, SSDs, memory cards, USB flash drives, cameras, smartphones, tablets and other storage devices in just three easy steps (boot, analysis and recovery).
It supports all types of files from photos to videos, documents to compressed archives and emails, and allows you to act in the most diverse situations, even after emptying the recycle bin, system crashes, malware infections or partition deletion.
It is compatible with both Windows and MacOS and is available in two versions: a free one, which allows you to recover up to 500MB of data (which can become 2GB, sharing the program online) and a payment, without limitations on the amount of data you can recover, with prices starting from 66.69 euros.
If you are using a Windows PC, you can download EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Professional by connecting to this web page and clicking the Free Trial button. This version of the software, if not activated with the purchase of a license, only allows you to discover the recoverable files, not to save them. To download the Free version of EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard, which allows you to recover up to 2GB of data at no cost, you need to connect to this web page and click on the Free Download button.
When the download is complete, open the obtained .exe file, answer Yes to the warning that appears on the screen, make sure that the EaseUS license conditions box (bottom left) is checked and press the Install now button, to start downloading and installing all the files necessary for the operation of the EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard. If you do not want to send anonymous statistics about the use of the software, expand the Customize installation section (bottom right) and uncheck the appropriate item. At the end of the setup, click the Start Now button to finish the procedure and start the EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.
Now, to recover deleted files from your pen drive, select the drive icon from the home screen of EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard and click on the Scan button at the bottom right. Wait, then, for the scan results to show the files you want to recover and select them by ticking the corresponding boxes.
If you don't see the files you are interested in, try browsing the various paths that appear in the left sidebar. Then press on the Recover button, located at the bottom right, indicating the folder where you want to export the files and you're done.
If you want, you can also click on Filter, at the top, to limit the search results to specific file types: Graphics, Documents, Video, Audio, Email, etc.. Convenient, right?
If you are using a Mac, you can download the EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard using the links I provided earlier and clicking on the Mac version of the software. After the download is complete, to install the program, simply open the .dmg package you got and drag its icon into the Applications folder on your computer. Easier than that?
Now I want to talk to you about Recuva: it is an excellent free program, also available in your language, which allows you to restore deleted files (always as far as possible) from media such as portable disks, SD cards and, of course, USB pen drives.
To use it, connect to its download page, click on the Download Free Version button and then press the Free Download button that is shown on the screen. When you reach the next page, click on the CCleaner.com link and wait for the installation file (e.g. rcsetup153.exe) to be completely downloaded to your computer. Next, launch the obtained file and, to install and start the software immediately, press the Yes, Install and Run Recuva buttons.
If everything went well, you should see on screen the tutorial of the first start of Recuva: connect the pen drive to your computer, press the Next button on the program screen, indicate the type of files to recover (all files or only specific categories), click the Next button again, check the box In a specific location, press the Browse button and, from the panel proposed later, select the icon of the USB flash drive (e.g., "Browse"). Kingston (F:)) and click the OK, Next and Start buttons to start scanning files.
After a few minutes, you should see the results of the scan performed appear, at this point, all you have to do is put the check mark next to the name of the file(s) you want to recover, press on the Recover... button and indicate the folder where you want to save them by clicking on the OK button twice in a row to confirm and finish the recovery operation.
Always remember, before proceeding with file restoration, to check the colored circles corresponding to each of them: only those marked with green color can be recovered completely; those marked with orange color, on the other hand, identify only partially recoverable files. Files marked with the red icon, on the other hand, have been overwritten and, as a result, probably completely unrecoverable.
Note: If you have used the USB flash drive intensively after deleting the files you are interested in, or if the previous search is not successful, repeat the above procedure, but also check the Enable Thorough Scan item, which appears immediately after specifying the category of files to be searched. Keep in mind, however, that this mode, which performs a much more in-depth scan, will considerably lengthen the analysis time.
If the previous solutions failed to meet your expectations, you can give PhotoRec a chance: it is an open source and free data recovery software, with an extremely easy to use interface, which works "elbow to elbow" with TestDisk software, also designed for the same purpose but working via command line only.
PhotoRec and TestDisk are both multi-platform, but the graphical interface of the first one is provided only for Windows version; on Linux and macOS, instead, the program should be used from the command line.
Having said this, it's time to get into the concrete and understand how PhotoRec works for Windows: first, download the program's archive (which does not require installation) by connecting to this Internet page and clicking on the TestDisk X.Y (Free download) button corresponding to the section where Beta does not appear. In this way, you will download the stable version of the program and not the one being processed.
However, once you have obtained the archive (e.g. testdisk-7.0.win.zip), extract it to a folder of your choice and double-click on the qphotorec_win.exe file to launch the program. If you do not know how to extract a zip file, I invite you to consult my specific tutorial to get information about it.
Once this is done, click on the Yes button to allow the file to run and, once in the main window, use the drop-down menu at the top to select the pen drive from which to recover data, helping you with its drive letter to recognize it without any possibility of misunderstanding (e.g. Drive F:).
At this point, click on the primary partition of the flash drive (or, in general, the partition from which you want to recover deleted files) and press the Browse button to specify the folder where you want to save the recovered data from the program. Next, put a check mark next to the Whole item, click on the File Formats button to choose the file type(s) to recover and to finish and start recovery, press on the Search button.
The files will be saved from time to time, as they are recovered and in a completely automatic way, inside the folder you specified before: unfortunately, the names assigned to them could be completely random, as the program can hardly trace back to the original ones. It's better than nothing, isn't it?
LazeSoft Mac Data Recovery (macOS)
If you are not using Windows but you intend to recover deleted files through Mac, I can only recommend the excellent LazeSoft Mac Data Recovery, a free program that can recover files both from the drive installed on your computer and from external storage media including USB flash drives.
To use it, connect to the program's website, press the Free Download Now! button and wait for the file (e.g. lazesoftmacdatarecovery.dmg) to be completely downloaded to your computer. When it does, launch the resulting dmg package and drag the program icon into the Applications folder of your Mac.
Now, go to the above folder, right-click on the program icon and double-click on Open to bypass Apple's restrictions on applications from non-certified developers by entering your system password when necessary.
Once you get to the main screen of the program, click on Undelete button to start the file recovery process, select the USB flash drive from which you want to recover files and press Start Search button to start scanning the drive, which may take up to several minutes.
Once this operation is complete, expand the Lost File Results folder located in the left side bar and choose the type of files you want to restore, then put a check mark next to the names of the documents to be recovered and press the Save Files button located in the top left corner to choose the folder where to save them and, therefore, complete the recovery. If you can't find the file you want to recover right away, you can try looking for it in the Lost and founds section or in its source folder, both accessible through the program's sidebar.
Moreover, by going to File type tab, you can navigate through the recovered files directly based on their extension, while using the search bar located at the top you can search for the items to be recovered based on their name; finally, by clicking on the name of each file, you can quickly preview it.
Note: exactly as I explained earlier, not all recoverable files are intact and complete, so after the recovery operation, they may not be opened properly. To figure out which files are physically recoverable, you can help yourself with their preview or, even better, by taking a look at their size: to save time, avoid trying to recover files that take up much less space than they actually should.
Other solutions to recover deleted files from free pen drives
The solutions I showed you to recover deleted files from free pen drives couldn't convince you at all? Don't throw in the towel for good! Instead, I recommend you to consult my guides on how to recover deleted files.