Hard Disk Data Recovery

A friend of mine recently asked me to help recover data from an old hard disk that was barely readable. The file system was badly damaged, the disk could not be recognized by the OS at all. I managed to copy whatever data sectors were readable — but then, how do I recover the files?

First, I tried writing a simple Python script to look for JPEG files. It worked, but not that great since it only handled contiguous (non fragmented) files — so I only got few hundred of usable files. Still, it was encouraging to see that the data is still somewhere in the hard disk image.

Next, I searched online for different recovery tools but many of them look like marketing or simple undelete utilities. They also tend to be a bit expensive and some even require monthly subscription — I guess they assume their users will lose data every month!

Time for a big shoutout to Christophe Grenier’s PhotoRec data recovery software!

PhotoRec is free (donations welcome!) and does a great job! It performs a low-level hard disk scan, recognizes few hundred common file formats, and even handles some level of file fragmentation. Altogether, after running overnight, it recovered 5000+ images and hundreds of documents, zip files, presentations, etc. from my friend’s damaged hard disk.

Definitely nice tool to have on hand!

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