What to do when files go missing

Things generally go right. It’s simply that when they go wrong it can be painful. And with computers it usually happens just when you need them to go right very badly indeed. So, once the initial shock and enthusiastic language subside, here are some suggestions for how to handle files going wrong in Windows.

Let’s start with some preparation which will give you nicer options later on. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong with files from casual deletion through corruption to malicious mangling.

Backing-up your files is generally a good idea. If the prospect of them vanishing gives you a queasy twinge then the solution is as simple as occasionally plugging in an external storage drive or as automatic as having a cloud-based service to handle it all for you. Backup is your insurance against what the future may hold – and it is cheap. Starting at £50, it is very much cheaper than the unpredictable results of fixing a problem without a backup.

We regularly hear about fire alarm drills, but who ever talks about backup drills? Boring and dull though it may be, occasionally checking that your backup is working can save you from that awful swooping-stomach feeling when you discover that your backup has not been working. Take a moment once a month to ensure that your cunning preparations are still in good shape.

Let’s look at some solutions. Casual deletion happens in the twinkling of an eye. Usually it can be solved as quickly simply by holding down the CTRL button and tapping the letter z. This will undo the last action. Assuming that this was deleting your valued file, your file may well spring back into life. If this does not happen then pop over to the trash bin and see whether your file has found its way there.

Yet not all files come home that way. Whether deleted a while back, corrupted by some unknown hand or missing in action, you may need a different solution. Don’t worry, we still have options.

For those who maintain a backup, the way forward is beautifully simple: restore the file from your backup. Whether online or from a handy external drive, your backup will save your bacon in short order.

But the path is not always that easy. Perhaps your backup has not worked for… a while or you never had one. First step, relax. Windows does some clever things behind the scenes. One of these is to keep some spare copies of your data, called shadow copies. You can take a look at these by downloading a program called ShadowExplorer. Free and easily installed, ShadowExplorer lets you wander through your files to find and recover your missing gem with just a little good luck.

Failing all of these, we begin to eke out our hopefulness to its further extent. There are useful utilities for recovering deleted data such as Recuva which are certainly worth a try – and the sooner the better before the data is overwritten and its recovery muddied. There is powerful forensic software – for a price. At which point we start grasping at straws such as memory sticks, email records and other unlikely avenues.

Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a simple, working backup?