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Recovering Deleted and Unsaved Files in Windows 2000

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This article by New Riders author Grant Miller tells you how to recover files in Windows 2000 that may have been accidentally deleted. Two third-party tools that will assist in this process are described.
This article is excerpted from Windows 2000 Power Toolkit, by Barry Shilmover, Stu Sjouwerman, et al.
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Windows 2000 offers new methods for working with files and folders using Windows Explorer. The Offline Files and Folders utility enables users to work on files stored on the network if the network resource is not available. Files and folders are also indexed, meaning you can search for them based on their content, author, size, and other items.

There will be times when it becomes necessary to remove some files and folders to make space for new ones. There are also times when you simply need to clean up a PC's hard disk. The most likely way to proceed in a situation such as this is to open Windows Explorer, map to the drive where the folders and files are contained, and then begin deleting them. There may be times when a file or folder is deleted by accident, either by you or a careless user. What happens next and how do you recover them if needed?

The files and folders that are deleted are transferred to the Recycle Bin, where they are held until you either empty the Recycle Bin or they are automatically deleted by the Recycle Bin based on the settings for the amount of disk space to use and the amount of time a file or folder has been there.

When a file or folder is removed from the Recycle Bin, or if it has been deleted from the command prompt or by another application's Delete function, it can no longer be found in the Recycle Bin. The file or folder is not actually deleted off the hard drive. That's the good news. Getting at it is the hard part. The file or folder is renamed, with the first letter being changed to a tilde (~), which hides the file. It is stored in the same location on the hard drive until the hard drive needs to free up space, at which point it is permanently deleted from the hard disk.

There are third-party tools that you can use that assist in recovering these deleted files. Undelete 2.0 from Executive Software is a good tool (www.execsoft.com). Undelete looks for files that have a tilde as the first letter, so if you use Undelete immediately after a file has been deleted, you have a very good chance of recovering that file (because the operating system may not have over-written the space the deleted file was occupying).

However, how can you search for a file that was not saved? Take for example, a Word file that was not saved at all. In this case, there is no file that you can search for in the Recycle Bin, nor can you use third-party software to find the file with the ~ in front of it because there was no file created to begin with. This is a job for DiskProbe, which is part of Windows 2000 Support Tools. You can find the setup executable on the Windows 2000 CD (\Support\Tools) and on the Windows 2000 Resource Kit CD. DiskProbe asks you to enter text to search for and locates the sector that the text was written to. When the file is found, you can save it and then open it with the same application that created it.

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