How to Recover Data from SD Card Formatted as Internal Storage

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SD card formatted as internal storage

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… there are just so many social media apps to keep up with. Add in productivity and gaming apps, and soon that generous internal storage of your phone seems like nothing.

But that’s not a problem, your friends tell you. Just format your SD card as internal storage, and you are golden! Except all data previously held on the card has now vanished. You try slotting it into a card reader and using your PC, but it cannot access the memory either.

Not by itself, at least.

What does Format as Internal Mean?

Before we delve into the specifics of recovering data from an SD card formatted as internal storage, let us try to understand what that even means.

Format Internal Storage

First up, simply using an SD card with your mobile is not a problem. Micro SD cards have been used to extend the storage on mobile phones for a long time, and they could be used with computers just fine.

Cards used this way are classified as external storage. This means they can be used to store files and photos, but not applications themselves. Apps are still installed to the built-in internal storage of the phone, which cannot be migrated to external SD cards.

What is Adoptable Storage

Starting from Android 6.0 Marshmallow, users got the option to ‘adopt’ an SD card as internal storage. What this meant was that the card would be treated as an addition to the phone’s own memory, and used to store installed apps and system information.

This is a great feature for anyone struggling with the weight of too many apps, as it lets you upgrade your phone’s internal memory without having to get a whole new device. However, this leads to a small problem.

In order to integrate the SD card with the internal storage, the OS formats the card with a different file system and encrypts it. As a result, the existing data on the card gets wiped out, and the new card becomes inaccessible to other devices.

Is It Possible to Recover Data from an SD Card Formatted as Internal Storage?

You can recover some deleted data from an SD card formatted as internal storage. But, there are huge caveats involved, and it’s best to keep expectations to a minimum.

For one—Google introduced File-Based Encryption (FBE) in Android 7.0. At first, FBE was limited to an Android device’s internal storage, but from Android 8.2, Google expanded FBE support to adoptable storage (SD cards formatted as internal storage) as well. Recovering deleted files from FBE enabled Android devices is practically impossible. However, data recovery programs can still recover cached copies of these files, and things like thumbnails.

Recovering data from devices running older versions of Android (6.0 and below) is more feasible.

Additionally, most data recovery apps require you to root your Android device if you wish to recover anything more than deleted photos and videos.

How to Recover Data from SD Card Formatted as Internal Storage

Third-party data recovery tools are your best bet when recovering data from an SD card formatted as Internal Storage. But, even the most capable data recovery tools will only be able to recover deleted photos, videos, and cached files from an adoptable SD card (thanks to FBE encryption on Android).

There are several data recovery programs on the web. We recommend Disk Drill, which also happens to lead our list of the best data recovery apps. The program is easy-to-use, and supports data recovery from drives formatted with the ext4 file system (used by Android).

While Disk Drill is available for both Windows and macOS, only the Mac version can access an Android device’s internal memory and recover data from it. You’ll also need to root your Android device so that its internal memory is accessible by your Mac and Disk Drill.

Here’s how to recover data from an SD card formatted as internal storage, using Disk Drill:

  1. Ensure that your phone is rooted.
  2. Enable USB debugging on your Android device and connect it to a Mac using a USB cable.turn on usb debugging
  3. Download Disk Drill and install it on your Mac.
  4. Open Disk Drill, go to the Android Devices section and select your Android phone. Grant the necessary permissions to Disk Drill.
  5. Click on Search for lost data.start scan android device with disk drill
  6. Click on Review found items to view the recoverable data.scan results window
  7. Select the files you wish to recover. Disk Drill displays a preview of the currently selected file, but you can manually preview any file by clicking the eye icon next to its filename. Click on Recover.preview files in results
  8. Choose a recovery destination for the files and click Next. Choose a recovery destination on your Mac, not on the Android device.Choose a recovery destination
  9. Disk Drill will recover the selected files.recovery process

Conclusion

Using an SD card as internal storage is a great way to increase the capacity of your phone’s memory. But in case you forgot to back up your files before formatting, you need to find a way to get that data back.

Thankfully, data recovery software like Disk Drill is equipped with the capability to recover files from formatted cards without any issue. All you need is to connect your SD card to your computer and let the application do its magic.

Unless the files have been overwritten with new data, you should be able to retrieve everything in one piece.

FAQ

Unfortunately, there is no simple ‘decrypt’ option. The files already present in the card before being formatted as internal storage cannot be directly accessed. Your only option for retrieving those files is to use a data recovery tool. In case you just want to be able to use your SD card normally again, you just have to format it as portable again. Just head to Storage Settings (under the Storage tab in the Settings of your phone) and select the Format as portable option.
If you format your SD card as internal, you will be able to add its capacity to your phone’s base memory. Your phone will start using the card to store installed apps and related data, allowing you to download a lot more apps than you could otherwise keep. SD cards work slower than a phone’s internal memory, so be prepared for some drop in performance.
First, ensure you’re not running an ancient version of Android. The adoptable storage media feature was introduced in Android 6.0. Additionally, if you formatted the SD card as internal storage in another device and attempt to connect it to the current Android device, it won’t work. Android encrypts the SD card to prevent unauthorized access. You’ll need to reformat the SD card.

 

A frontend developer turned writer, Levin brings his in-depth knowledge to bear in breaking down complex technical topics into a layman's perspective. A believer in emergent technologies, Levin writes about Machine Learning and Internet-of-Things to explore how people and businesses can benefit from innovation. He also likes going into the nitty-gritty details of software or hardware products to bring an unbiased review that adds value to his readers.
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Strong knowledge in data recovery, computer forensic and data litigation. 12 years experience in software development, database administration and hardware repair.