If you want to recover files from an SD card on a Mac after deleting them, speed is key in your initial reaction. You need to immediately disconnect the device (in a safe manner, of course) to ensure that it doesn’t get written to any further. Then you should take a step back and assess the situation, planning your approach carefully.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the easiest ways to recover deleted files from a Mac, including ones that you can’t recover from Trash.
With the right tools, you should be able to recover a good portion of the data you’ve lost – in some cases, even all of it. However, you have to realize that this also involves a dose of luck, so even if you do everything right, you might still lose your files in the end.
First things to do in case of SD card data loss
- 🛑 Stop using the SD card. On many modern computer systems, deleting a file doesn’t actually delete the data associated with it. That would be too time-consuming, especially for large files. Instead, many computer operating systems – including Mac – simply mark the file as deleted instead, and treat the space it used to occupy as free for writing new files. This means that deleted files can still be recovered, especially immediately after the deletion incident.However, you must stop using the card immediately. Any additional writing operations to it might end up overwriting parts of the data you’re trying to recover. In some cases, this might not be fatal. Formats like images, videos and audio can often still be reproduced even when chunks of them are corrupted. But for a binary format (applications and most of their data), even one wrong byte can completely ruin the whole file and make it unusable.
- ❌ Do not format the SD card. You may be tempted to just format the card and start fresh – but this is actually a good way to completely block any attempts at data recovery. Unlike a simple delete or a quick format, a full drive format actually goes every bit of data and erases it. Once you’ve done that, there’s no going back – the data is physically gone from the card, and there are no tools that will help you get it back.
- 📁 Create a byte-to-byte backup. Before you proceed any further, you should take the time to create a byte-to-byte backup of the SD card. This can be done with the help of tools like Disk Drill. It’s important to understand that this is not the same as simply copying the contents of the card to another location. A byte-to-byte backup will create an exact clone image of the original file system of the SD card in its current state, including data belonging to deleted files.
Copying files the traditional way will not carry over any information about deleted files, which is what you’re actually after. It will only copy any currently existing files on the drive. What’s worse, some copying utilities may create temporary files during the process, which can further corrupt the SD card for the reasons we outlined above.
That way, even if you make a mistake during the recovery process and end up corrupting the card even further, you’ll still have the original backup to fall back on. This is an important step when working with any kind of sensitive data, because you won’t get any other opportunities to revert back to an earlier state.
To do that with Disk Drill:
- Start Disk Drill and click on “Byte-to-byte Backup” in the left panel
- Click on your SD card in the device list and click “Create Backup”
- Choose where you want to store the image file – make sure it’s not on the SD card!
How to recover deleted files from SD card on Mac: Honorable mentions
- Check the Trash bin and .trashes. Perhaps the most straightforward solution, and also one that can occasionally work. To recover an SD card on Mac, start by checking to make sure that the files were actually deleted, and were not just sent to the Trash bin. Check the .trashes file in the root folder of the SD card as well. It’s a local version of the Trash bin specifically used for portable devices, and your files may occasionally show up there if you’re lucky.
- Check the tmp and cache folders. On a related note, check your tmp and cache folders. The tmp folder can be accessed by simply opening a terminal and typing “open $TMPDIR”, while cache folders are located in “~/Library/Autosave Information” and “~/Library/Caches”.
- Time Machine. The integrated backup solution for macOS, Time Machine, can occasionally prove useful when you need to recover deleted files from an SD card on Mac. However, this relies on several factors which you can’t change retroactively. First, you must have specifically added the SD card as a backup source in Time Machine’s settings. Second, the card must be in your computer at all times for the program to regularly pick up changes and create backups of it. If you’ve enabled backups for this card in the past, it’s definitely worth checking out Time Machine, as it may save you from having to go further with any additional tools.
- Professional Data Recovery Services. If your data is really valuable to you and you can’t afford to make any mistakes, it may be best to leave things in the hands of professionals. There are companies out there which provide professional SD card recovery for Mac, and will utilize all modern tools and approaches in an attempt to recover your data. It’s also not a 100% guaranteed solution, like everything we described above, but if that fails, you can rest assured that there was nothing you could have done yourself in the first place. Keep in mind that these services can be quite expensive, and can take a long time to retrieve your data (several weeks, even months).
As you’re probably guessing, though, you shouldn’t expect too much from this step. It’s just a basic precaution to ensure that you’re not about to waste your time digging into more advanced recovery procedures when the files are right there for the taking to begin with.
Whether you’ll get anything useful out of those folders depends on what types of files you lost, and how you were originally working on them. The main idea here is that some applications store temporary versions of currently opened files in those folders, so you might be able to recover at least some of your work, perhaps a few versions older than the last one you had.
How to recover deleted files from an SD card on Mac using DIY recovery software
Disk Drill is a convenient tool that can help you undelete files from an SD card on Mac with practically no technical expertise. The program offers a free trial and is known for its reliability and ease of use, making it the ideal choice for the average user who just wants to get their data back with minimal hassle.
- Download and install Disk Drill. The application is available directly from the developer’s website, and comes with a free trial in case you don’t want to spend any money straight away.
- Choose your drive and scan it. Disk Drill will present you with a list of available drives on the left, starting with removable media at the top. Simply navigate to the appropriate category, click on your SD card, and click “Search for lost data”. The application will work for a while, and then present you with a preview of files that can be recovered.
- Browse around the recovered files. Disk Drill will show you all files it’s managed to recover, providing you with some additional information about the state of each one. You can, for example, choose to only recover files that are available 100% and don’t have any minor corruptions.
- Do not recover to the same location to avoid overwriting! Even if there’s enough free space on the SD card, you have no control over which parts of it are going to get written to first.
PhotoRec is a similar utility, aimed at SD card recovery on Mac (as well as recovery from other storage devices), though aimed at a different group of users. It’s a bit more complex in its functionality, and can take a while to get used to. In addition, PhotoRec’s interface can be a bit clunky compared to options like Disk Drill, so if you want something that’s easy to navigate and operate, you may want to look elsewhere. The main downside compared to other similar utilities is that, at least on macOS, you are limited to a console tool without a proper graphical interface.
- Download PhotoRec and launch it from your terminal. The application will launch in your console, and present you with a list of detected disk drives and some of their parameters, like size.
- Choose the appropriate drive. Navigate to the SD card in the list using the arrow keys, and select “Proceed” by pressing Enter.
- Choose the right filesystem for the SD card from the list.
- Choose the folder where the recovered files are going to be saved. Make sure it’s not on the same SD card that you’re trying to recover!
- Start the recovery process. Any successfully recovered files will be saved to the folder from the previous step.
Recovering deleted files is not impossible, but it does take a combination of the right tools, some patience, and a bit of luck. If you do things right and react in time, you should be able to get most of your data back, or at least bring it to a workable state from where you can proceed with additional recovery steps. And if the data is valuable enough, it’s never a bad idea to consider a professional recovery service.