How to Recover Deleted Files on a Mac With Freeware

by Avery Martin

Deleted files are removed from the system and stored on the hard drive in an invisible Trash folder on your Mac computer. The space is technically being used, since the files are still available, but hidden. Once you write over the file with a new one, the deleted files are erased permanently. While file recovery tools can sometimes recover deleted files, in most cases you can do it yourself simply by finding the invisible files using the built-in options on Mac OS X.

Click the "Go" menu, select "Utilities" and open "Terminal."

Type "defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE" in the Terminal window and press the "Enter" key. Then, type "killall Finder" and press the "Enter" key to show all hidden files on the computer and restart and refresh Finder.

Click the "Go" menu and "Computer." Select your hard drive.

Right-click the ".Trashes" folder in the Finder window and select the "Get Info" option.

Click the "Lock" button at the bottom of the window. Click the drop-down menu for each Name's read and write options in the Privilege column. Press "Shift-Command-3" to take a screenshot of the settings. Set the permissions to "Read and Write." Keep this window open.

Open your "Trashes" folder and locate the files you want to recover. Right-click on each file and click "Get Info." In the Name & Extension section, remove the period from the front of each file. Drag the files to your desktop.

Return to the Trash folder's "Get Info" window. Double-click the screenshot on your desktop and configure your folder back to its original permission settings.

Type "defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE" in the Terminal window and press the "Enter" key when finished. Then, type "killall Finder" and press the "Enter" key to hide all the hidden files and restart and refresh Finder again. If hidden files are still shown, restart your computer or try entering the code again.


  • If you want to try using a free program to recover your files, you can download and install Disk Drill or TestDisk. Once installed, use the Find Files option to locate deleted files on your hard disk.


  • Information in this article applies to Mac OS X Mountain Lion. It may vary slightly or significantly with other versions or products.

About the Author

Avery Martin holds a Bachelor of Music in opera performance and a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian studies. As a professional writer, she has written for, Samsung and IBM. Martin contributed English translations for a collection of Japanese poems by Misuzu Kaneko. She has worked as an educator in Japan, and she runs a private voice studio out of her home. She writes about education, music and travel.

Photo Credits

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