Formatting goes hand-in-hand with using any storage device with a limited capacity, such as a USB flash drive. In most cases, it’s much quicker and more convenient to simply erase everything in one go than it is to delete files one by one. But what if you make a mistake and accidentally format the wrong drive? Is it possible to recover files from a formatted flash drive? Yes, it is!
What Does Formatting Mean?
Formatting is the process of making a storage device, such as a USB flash drive, ready to store data. It happens on two different levels (low-level and high-level formatting), but only high-level formatting is performed by users.
During formatting, a file system is generated and stored on the medium. Its purpose is to control how data is stored and retrieved. It ensures that data written by one application or device are visible to other applications and devices and won’t accidentally become overwritten.
When it comes to USB flash drives, the following three file systems dominate:
- FAT: A widely supported but outdated file system available in three major variants: FAT12, FAT16, and FAT32.
- exFAT: A modern alternative to FAT/FAT32, offering a greater file-size limit and support for storage devices up to 128 PiB.
- NTFS: The default file system of the Windows operating system. Limited support in Linux and macOS.
Most USB flash drives come pre-formatted, but users can manually format them at any time and choose a different file system if they want to.
Why Is It Possible to Recover Data from a Formatted Flash Drive?
Many users associate formatting with permanent deletion, but the truth is that a formatted USB flash drive still contains all the files and folders that were stored on it prior to the formatting. They’re just hidden and waiting to be overwritten by new data.
That’s right! When you choose to format a USB flash drive, you merely mark all of its storage space as available, allowing applications and devices to use it as they see fit. Until new data is written to the same sectors where the original data is located, you can recover files from a formatted flash drive without much effort.
That being said, there are several factors that significantly influence the outcome of any attempt to recover a formatted USB drive, including:
- Selected recovery method: Not all formatted pen drive data recovery methods are equally effective, which is why you should always start with the one that’s most likely to give you good results.
- Time since formatting: The sooner you start the formatted flash drive recovery process, the better. Delaying the recovery more than necessary can cause important files to become overwritten.
- Amount of new data: The more data you write to a formatted flash drive, the higher the chance that an important file that has been lost during formatting will become overwritten, which would make it impossible to recover.
What should I do if I need to recover files from a flash drive that needs to be formatted?
Most Windows users have seen the following error message at least once: “You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it. Do you want to format it?”
If you need to recover files from a flash drive that triggers this error message when inserted to your computer, click Cancel.
Even if the flash drive is already formatted and there are no visible files on it, formatting it one more time would only make it more difficult to recover files from it. Instead, wait until you’ve recovered your files before you click the Format disk option to make your USB flash drive usable again.
How to Recover Formatted USB Flash Drive with Disk Drill
Disk Drill is an easy-to-use data recovery software application that you can use to quickly recover data from a flash drive after format. Thanks to its support for over 400 file formats, Disk Drill can reliably recover all data commonly stored on USB flash drives, including documents, videos, pictures, audio, file archives, and more.
Download and Install Disk Drill
The first thing you need to do is download and install Disk Drill from its website. The free version of Disk Drill can recover up to 500 MB of data, and it comes with multiple free extra disk tools that you can use to avoid future data loss incidents.
Scan Your USB Flash Drive
Next, insert your USB flash drive into your computer, launch Disk Drill, and select it from the main window. We recommend you run all recovery methods supported by Disk Drill when performing the first scan, so you can simply click the Search for lost data button to begin.
Recover Formatted Pen Drive Data
Finally, choose which files you want to recover and click the Recover button. You will be asked to specify a suitable recovery directory, which can be any folder that’s not located on the same USB flash drive. Disk Drill will display a concise summary when the data recovery process is completed, allowing you to show results in a file browser.
Alternative Ways to Recover a Formatted USB Flash Drive
Even though Disk Drill is capable of reliably solving most data loss situations with just three simple steps, it’s useful to know about other methods that can be used to recover data from a formatted flash drive.
Method 1: Backup
Have you recently created a backup of your USB flash drive? If so, you’re in luck because you can simply grab the backup and restore everything in no time.
If you haven’t created a backup of your USB flash drive, consider this experience a lesson about the importance of data backups. Manual backups do the job in a pinch, but there are many excellent free backup software applications that can automatically protect files and folders on your USB drives without you having to lift a finger, and we highly recommend you take a closer look at them.
Method 2: CMD
The Command Prompt in Windows may seem somewhat intimidating, but it can be indispensable when it comes to performing a formatted flash drive recovery. If you have limited experience with it, you can simply follow these steps to scan your USB flash drive for errors and repair file attributes:
If this method failed to yield any results, it means that your files are permanently deleted and recoverable only with data recovery software like Disk Drill.