How to Use Windows File Recovery Tool (+ List of Commands)

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Windows file recoveryWindows 10 May 2020 update (i.e., Windows 10 version 2004 build 19041) introduced Windows users to the Windows File Recovery tool. The Microsoft Recovery Software is available on the Microsoft Store. However, if you’re running an older version of Windows, you won’t be able to install Windows File Recovery.

Also, note that the utility doesn’t have a graphical UI and can be used only through the Command Prompt or PowerShell. If you’re not comfortable working with command-line utilities or using an older version of Windows, consider using a robust third-party recovery tool.

What is Windows File Recovery Tool?

Windows File Recovery software (also called WinFR) is a recovery tool created by Microsoft. It can help you scan your hard drive’s file system for lost files. The utility can scan storage devices like HDD, SDD, flash drives, and SD cards with file systems like NTFS, FAT, exFAT, and ReFS.

WinFR came with three recovery modes—Default, Segment, and Signature—when it was first introduced. However, the recovery options have since been boiled down to two: Regular and Extensive.

  • Regular mode is a quick scan only for NTFS partitions. There are no limitations on the devices you can scan though. You can recover files from many devices including SSDs, external HDDs, or flash drives as long as they’re formatted as NTFS. Regular mode is best suited when you’re trying to recover files that were deleted only recently.
  • Extensive mode performs a more thorough scan and supports NTFS, FAT, exFAT, and ReFS partitions. If you’re trying to recover files from a corrupted or formatted disk, or files that you deleted a while ago, you should use the Extensive mode.

Note: Microsoft recommends using the Extensive mode in most cases, except when you’re recovering recently deleted files from an NTFS partition.

How to Install and Start to Use Windows File Recovery

Windows File Recovery software isn’t similar to using other recovery tools because of one reason—it’s a command-line utility that doesn’t have a GUI. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to use the Windows File Recovery app for recovering your files within a few minutes.

Installing and using Windows File Recovery software is quick and easy. Following are the steps involved in using Windows File Recovery for recovering deleted files.

1. Download and install Windows File Recovery

You can download and install the Windows File Recovery utility from Microsoft Store for free. Once you find the utility in the store, click on the Get button to start installing it.

downloading windows recovery

Once the download completes, click on the Open button.

opening windows file recovery

You’ll see an elevated Command Prompt window pop up. You can also use the Windows Terminal or PowerShell if you prefer, but be sure to launch them with administrative privileges.

2. Run Windows File Recovery commands

At this point, you’ll need to execute Windows File Recovery commands to start recovering files on your Windows PC. Here’s how a Windows File Recovery command looks:

winfr E: F: /extensive /n Projects\2022

This is a basic command that scans the location “D:\Projects\2022” in Regular mode and recovers the files in a folder created by default in drive F. When you run a winfr command, you’ll be asked if you want to continue. Type Y and press Enter to continue.

running winfr command

However, there are several methods you can use to scan your storage device using the Windows File Recovery app.

Method 1: Scan specific folders

You can also choose to filter the scan location. For instance, if you know where the deleted file was stored, you can add a location filter in the command like so:

winfr D: E: /extensive /n Projects\2022\ClientA.pdf

Method 2: Search for a specific file

The above-mentioned command specifically looks for a PDF file named ClientA.pdf in C:\Projects\2022. If you do scan for a specific file that has a space character in its name, you’ll need to enclose the file path in double quotes like so:

winfr D: E: /extensive /n "Projects\2022\Client ABC.pdf"

Method 3: Search for a specific file type

If you don’t remember the name of the file, you can search only for a certain file type. For instance, if you want to search only for MS Word documents, you can use the following command:

winfr D: E: /extensive /n "Projects\2022\*.docx"

If you want to recover more than just one file type, you can add as many of them as you wish. For instance, here’s how you can scan for both Word and PDF files:

winfr D: E: /extensive /n "Projects\2022\* .docx" /n "Projects\2022\*.pdf"

Method 4: Search file with a specific text string

Say you remember only a part of the file name, but want to narrow down your search to save time. For instance, you know that the file name has the word “client”. Regardless of where the text string is in the file name, you can do so using the following command:

winfr D: E: /extensive /n "Projects\2022\*Client*"

An Extensive scan will take longer than a regular scan. Both modes, however, will try to scan and recover all files in your source location, including hidden files.

3. Access recovered files

Once the scan completes, go to the destination folder path. You’ll find a folder with a name that starts with the word “Recovery” and that’s where you’ll find the recovered files.

opening recovery folder

An Alternative of Windows File Recovery

Windows File Recovery is a nifty tool. However, it requires some familiarity with using command-line utilities, which means it’s not all that user-friendly. It also comes with limitations like not being able to run a regular scan for file systems other than NTFS.

A smart recovery tool like Disk Drill can come in handy when you need an easy recovery solution. Plus, you shouldn’t have to search for appropriate commands online when you need to recover files quickly. Disk Drill has a user-friendly interface that can help you recover data. You can recover up to 500MB of data on the free version.

Following are the benefits of using a robust tool like Disk Drill:

  • User-friendly GUI
  • Supports a large number of file systems and file types
  • Intelligent algorithm that scans your devices accurately
  • Option to preview files before recovering them
  • Built-in features for backup and data protection

Here’s how you can recover files with Disk Drill in 4 easy steps:

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill

Run the Disk Drill setup wizard and follow the instructions to complete the installation.

installing disk drill

Step 2. Select the partition and recovery method

Select the partition you want to scan from the Disk Drill home screen. Then, select a recovery method from the right of your screen. By default, Disk Drill uses All recovery methods. It’s the recommended method, but you can choose to either run a deep or quick scan as per your preference.

selecting scan method

Step 3. Start the scan

Click on the Search for lost data button to start scanning.

starting the scan

Step 4. Recover your files

Once the scan completes, you can select the files you want and start recovering them. Check the boxes next to the files you want to recover, click on the Recover button, and select a recovery location. You should choose a recovery location that’s not on the partition you’re recovering files from to avoid overwriting. Once you’re done, click OK.

selecting location for file recovery

Arjun is an Tech ninja, codes HTML and CSS, and has received an honorary mention as the family’s go-to tech help during get-togethers. He has been writing guides for about six years and he’s currently a contributor on major Tech websites like MakeUseOf, HelpDeskGeek and 7 Data Recovery.
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Senior Data Recovery Engineer. Master's degree in Physics, Information Technology for Science Experiments.