When the need arises to recover your data, it is very convenient if data recovery with original file names is possible. Also, if you can restore the entire directory structure, then that’s also a plus. Whether data recovery with original file names is possible largely depends on to two factors:
- State of the file system
- Software you use to recover the data
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State of the file system
In most common scenarios where data is lost only certain pointers to the files are corrupt. Corruption somewhere in the chain from the first sector of the hard disk, up to the individual structure holding file data makes it impossible for the operating system to locate the data. Examples, are RAW file systems and lost partitions.
Apart from corruption, user initiated operations such as file deletion of formatting a volume also leave file system structures largely intact on conventional hard disks. On an SSD these actions will most likely irreversibly delete the data.
Although rare, it is possible that the file system is damaged to such a degree that it can not be reconstructed in which case only RAW recovery is an option.
RAW file recovery or carving
By RAW recovery we mean the process of software scanning the disk for file headers and footers rather than for file system structures. As soon as a header (a JPEG header for example) is detected, a file is opened and the raw data is dumped to the file. When the footer is reached, the file is closed and saved with a .JPG extension.
Software you use to recover data
So there is data or file recovery software designed to do recovery based on file system structures. And on the other hand there is software that scans for individual files instead, ignoring the file system.
The latter can not do data recovery with original file names and directory structures. Often this type of software is specialized in specific file types, such as digital photos. When recovering digital photos from memory cards original file names or the directory structure are of less importance. The file typically have generic file names with no relevance to the subject photographed and are mostly stored in one folder (DCIM).
Many products that do file system based recovery are also capable of RAW recovery as a kind of fall back mechanism. Typically apart from the directory structure they create a folder called RAW. When you expand this folder you’ll find files ordered by file type such as .JPG, .DOC, .ZIP etc.. In general if the software was able to reconstruct the directory structure, you can ignore this RAW folder. Most likely, most files that were found using the file system, are also detected during the RAW scan.
If the software only picks up generic file names (File0067.doc for example) and no directory structure you may be using a RAW file recovery tool, or the software failed to reconstruct the directory structure. The latter happens more often than you think and you may simply need better software.
File recovery software falling back to RAW recovery
Many mainstream and popular file recovery tools can not handle too complex situations very well. I discovered this during my testing of data recovery tools against a fairly complex case. Many were only able to produce recoverable files based on a RAW scan. So, they were able to recover files. But those tools were not able to reconstruct the file and directory structure. However, a few tools proved that it was possible to reconstruct a more or less complete and coherent directory tree.
Others (better) produced a directory structure and in addition tens of thousands of files were detected using a RAW scan technique. Problem with those is that you can not tell how many of those RAW files were duplicates of the file already detected complete with file names and directory path.
Data recovery with original file names + RAW the right way …
Ideally you’d use a software that does both file system reconstruction and also performs a RAW scan. At the same time you do not want duplicate files. So files that were detected file system structures, including their name and directory path should not show up in the RAW file listing. I know of one tool that does this: ReclaiMe File Recovery.
ReclaiMe is superb when it comes to file system reconstruction. Apart from that it also scans for 250 or so file types using a RAW scanner. For each file it detects using any of the two methods, it checks if it also detected using the other method. If so it will add the file to the directory structure and remove it from the files in the RAW folder. This to avoid duplicate files.