How To Recover Files From The FAT32 File System

Written by
Approved by
64

Recover files from FAT32Losing files is a very frustrating situation to be in. If you have lost data, the file system you use is critical in determining how to recover it. This article will guide you through the process of recovering files from your FAT32 file system.

What Is A FAT32 File System?

FAT32 is one of the older file systems introduced by Microsoft. The name FAT is an acronym for File Allocation Table and is named based on the bit-size used. Thus, there are several FAT systems, the oldest being FAT8, followed by FAT12, FAT16, FAT32. The older versions of FAT are now obsolete, but FAT32 is profoundly available in USB flash drives, SD cards, and sometimes hard drives.

With the FAT32 file system mainly being used in external storage devices, data loss is not uncommon.

Why Do FAT32 Systems Experience Data Loss?

Before jumping to file recovery from the FAT32 system, it’s best to understand the causes behind data loss on FAT32 drives or partitions. Data loss is an unfortunate situation, and it is best avoided by knowing what leads to it.

  • ❌ Accidentally formatting the drive or partition is the most common reason for data loss on FAT32 or any file system.
  • ?️ Since FAT32 is older, an improper or failed conversion of FAT to NTFS or any other file system can delete data.
  • ? A corrupt partition with the FAT32 file system can also contribute to data loss.
    Virus intrusion can corrupt the file system and make your hard drive faulty.
    Improper formatting or partitioning the drive using disk management can make your files unreadable.
  • ? If your drive is physically damaged from power failures or sudden removal, your files might become corrupted. 

That being said, FAT32 is no more susceptible to data loss than other file systems. However, you should always be prepared for a situation that causes you to lose your files.

On a side note, NTFS is another popular file system that Windows offers. Here’s a quick comparison between FAT32 and NTFS:

FeatureFAT 32NTFS
Max. File Name8.3 Characters255 Characters
Max. File Size4 GB16 TB
File/Folder EncryptionNoYes
Fault ToleranceNoAuto Repair
SecurityOnly NetworkLocal and Network
CompressionNoYes
ConversionPossibleNot Allowed
CompatibilityWin 95/98/2K/2k3/XPWin NT/2K/XP/Vista/7

FAT32 File Recovery: A Quick Guide

Deleting a file in the FAT32 file system means removing it from the FAT table. The data remains untouched until another file overwrites the clusters. As a result, deleted data can be recovered with some FAT recovery software before the storage space is used again.

Before you try to recover the system, restore your files using a data recovery tool. If you fail to do this, you might risk losing all your files permanently.

Recovering Files Using A Recovery Tool

While several recovery tools are available on the web, we prefer using Disk Drill. Why? Because we’ve extensively tested it and found it impressive. Although we will quickly demonstrate how to use Disk Drill to recover files from your FAT32 system, the steps are nearly identical for all recovery tools.

Here’s How To Recover Lost And Deleted Files On FAT32 Using Disk Drill For Windows:

  1. Download & Install Disk Drill Hard Drive Data Recovery Software for Windows. Download and install Disk Drill for Windows from the official website. Do not use the disk that experienced that data loss for the download to avoid overwriting files you wish to restore. Instead, use a USB drive to download and install if your main hard drive has lost data. You will need to provide the Administrator’s credentials during the install process.
    UAC disk drill
  2. Choose the FAT32 partition for which you need file recovery. Connect an external storage device and launch Disk Drill. The application presents you with a list of disks that the software has discovered and are available for use. Select the FAT32 hard drive or partition that you will use for recovery. Additionally, you can also choose a specific recovery method or let the software run through all scanning algorithms in the optimal order.
    select fat32 partition from list in disk drill
  3. Start scanning for lost hard drive data on your FAT32 partition. Click the Search for lost data button to start the scanning process. You will see a status bar at the top of the app’s main window that displays the status of the scan. Scans can be paused and resumed whenever you desire to facilitate a more convenient recovery procedure. Scan at your leisure and recover the files when you are ready.
    scan fat32 partition with disk drill
  4. Select which files you want to recover from your FAT32 hard drive. You can stop the scan at any point, but you will get the best results by letting it complete. If you pause the scan, you can restore any files the software has already identified as recoverable. This can be helpful if you are in a hurry and don’t want to let the process finish. Check the box to the left of a file or folder to make your recovery selections.
    select found files from fat32 partition
  5. Recover the deleted data from your FAT32 formatted drive. Click the Recover button to perform the recovery. Next, you need to select a safe storage location for the data restoration.

    Please stay clear of the device that lost data to prevent overwriting files before they can be recovered.

    When recovery is complete, you can go to the designated folder and move the files wherever you want. Some reconstructed files may need renaming.
    restore files from formatted fat32 drive

Additional Useful Tools in Data Recovery Software

Most data recovery tools provide options that help you protect your data. For example, on Disk Drill, you have the following choices: 

Data Protection Using The Recovery Vault

The Recovery Vault is another layer added to the Recycle Bin that provides a line of defense against data loss. You can switch it on through the Preferences menu in Disk Drill.

use data protection with disk drill

Data Backups

In the Extras menu, Disk Drill has a “Back up into recoverable disk image” option. This selection provides data back up in three different file formats: img, dmg, and iso. The files can later be retrieved with Disk Drill or any other file image application.

create byte-to-byte backup with disk drill

How Can I Recover The FAT32 File System?

Now that you have recovered and backed up your files from the FAT32 disk, you can solve problems with the file system itself.

However, you first need to check the file system of the drive you are working with. First, make sure that it is indeed a FAT32 file system. If it is not, following the suggested steps might lead to more problems.

Check The File System

You can view information about the file system from the properties of your disc or media. First, connect it to the PC, and then:

  • Click the Start button and then THIS PC.click This PC on windows
  • In the My Computer window, right-click the drive you wish to check and then click Properties from the menu.click on properties on your drive
  • In the Disk Properties window, the information gets listed next to the File system.
    look on your file system

Here are three popular methods of FAT32 recovery:

  • System File Checker (SFC)
  • chkdsk command (Check Disk Utility)
  • System Restore

System File Checker

Windows has a File Checker whose main task is to check the system health. It detects problems with all system files and solves them with the correct versions. To try using System File Checker, here’s what to do:

  1. Click on Start and search for Command Prompt
  2. Right-click on Command Prompt and Run it as an Administrator
    run command prompt as administrator
  3. In the command prompt, type ‘sfc / scannow‘ without the quotation marks and press Enter
    use sfc command in command promptThis should fix errors with your file system. If this does not work, you can try the other methods we suggest. 

Recovering File Systems With CHKDSK

CHKDSK is a command in Windows that will look for errors in the file system. 

  • Make sure you connect the drive with the FAT32 file system to your computer
  • Open the command prompt by typing cmd in the search bar and hit Enter.
  • Right-click on cmd.exe and select the Run as Administrator option
  • In the window, type chkdsk followed by the drive letter formatted with FAT32, a colon and /f [Eg: chkdsk h: /f Where h is the drive letter]
    use chkdsk command in command promptAfter you enter the command and hit enter, Windows will take several minutes to verify your FAT32 file system. Then, you will see a text saying Windows has made corrections to the file system. If this happens, you have successfully repaired your FAT32 file system and recovered data.

System Restore

System Restore is a Windows functionality that helps you restore your file system to a previously saved point in time. 

To Use System Restore, Follow These Steps:

  1. Click Start, type ‘Create a restore point’ in the Start Search box, and then click Create a restore point in the Programs list.open create a restore point app
  2. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type your password or click Continue.
  3. Click on System Restoreclick system restore
  4. In the System Restore dialog box, click Choose a different restore point, and then click Next.restore system files and settings
  5. In the list of restore points, click a restore point created before you began to experience the issue, and then click Next.choose restore point and click next
  6. Click Finish. The computer will restart, and the system files and settings will return to the state that they were at when the restore point was created.confirm your restore point

Some Pointers To Prevent Data Loss In The Future

  1. ☁️ Regular backups of data are the key never to lose your data. Switching to smart backup options like cloud backups can be a permanent solution for data loss.
  2. ? Never proceed with partitioning or disk management without a good guide if you are not comfortable with it. This can lead to data loss during partitioning.
  3. ✅ Always double-check what you are doing when you format your drives. If you lose data to formatting, you can try to recover it.
  4. ? Make sure your devices have enough battery left when you connect and use drives with them.
  5. ⏩ Ensure that the process of changing file systems is uninterrupted
  6. ? Keep a data recovery tool handy to retrieve lost files rapidly

Conclusion

Although FAT32 is quite an old file system, it is still in use with many storage devices. Unfortunately, the most common way that FAT32 files are lost is during conversion to newer file systems such as NTFS. 

Backups are the best way to make sure your files are safe. However, if backups are not an option for you, data recovery software might be the way to go. Once you recover files using data recovery tools, FAT32 recovery is possible using System File Checker, chkdsk, or System Restore.

We hope this article helped you retrieve your data!

Joshua is a technology content writer for 7Data. He's been in the content world long enough to understand that less is more. Joshua consistently attempts to deliver complicated technical information in concise and digestible chunks. His hobbies include sports betting, listening to Drake, and re-watching the Office like a hundred times.
Approved by
12 years experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair.