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How Your Recycle Bin Works

Windows Recycle Bin sits nicely on your desktop just waiting to gobble up those files you don’t want.

Are these files gone forever? What happens to them?

When you move a file or folder to the recycle bin, the file is not actually deleted from where it was. All that happens is the file is left sitting precisely where it was, and the the filename of the file and its’ complete path (c:\users\yourname\desktop\filename) are moved and put into a hidden folder. These names are stored in the recycle bin. With the filename gone, you can no longer see the file where it was, even though it is still there.

When you open the recycle bin and choose to restore a file, the name and complete path of the file are restored and your file is shown to be where it was.

But what happens if instead of clicking restore, your fabulous fingers are distracted, and you accidentally or intentionally empty the recycle bin? Is your file still there? Actually yes. At least for a while. And maybe for quite a while.

When you emptied the recycle bin you have informed the operating system that it may use the space made available by the deletion. How fast this happens will probably depend on how much drive space you have available. Your file may then be overwritten. According to the experts, it is important that if you accidentally delete a file that you do not do anything that causes disk activity such as creating or storing new files.

Can you now get your file back through any of the normal Windows methods? No. But you can get it back through some third party software.

The most important thing to understand about this though, is that experts agree you cannot install the third party software on the same drive where your “deleted” file is lest you destroy the file you are attempting to rescue! It’s kind of like dropping a small coin on the ground, and you can’t see it until you move out of the way.

In writing this article I tested out three file recovery tools, Recuva (free), Puran (free), and WinUndelete (free to find the files $49 to buy the recovery portion. This was my test. I created a word document called Eggsperiment. I then created a folder by the same name and put the file in it. I put it into the recycle bin and emptied the recycle bin. I then downloaded each one of the three recovery tools onto a thumb drive.

Not one of them found my file. Not a single one. The earliest file I could find was dated 9-14, and the date of my experiment was 9-18.

Even if the file you are looking for is in there somewhere, you may still have trouble finding your file because as it is deleted Windows makes a mish-mosh of the name of the file, and you may have to be very persistent to find it. For example your file named File.doc might be turned into something like $s2z3 followed by a long list of stuff. I did find some of the files that had been in the recycle bin longer, and a few of them even had names that made sense.

All in all, using these programs was an unsatisfactory experience at least if you want your file recovered immediately.

Ultimately what do you really need to know about your recycle bin?

1. It is not safe to dump confidential files there.

2. You need 3rd party software to recover the files once you’ve deleted them.

3. Sometimes you can find the files and sometimes you can’t.

For further tips visit ZookaWare on LinkedIn.

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