Using Testdisk to recover lost files from deleted partitions

I installed ubuntu on my home desktop recently. While doing so I choose the “Replace Windows …” option which like title suggests, should have just replaced the windows partition with a ubuntu partition and should have kept everything intact (or so I thought). However, in reality the option is misleading and is actually used to format the whole drive and use all of it for linux. It is like doing a fresh single boot install of ubuntu on your machine. I would highly advise against using this option even though it is the second suggested option (issue with user experience).

In my 500 GB HDD I had 4 partitions:

  • C:\ – Windows, ~50 GB
  • D:\ – Personal files, ~200 GB
  • E:\ – Personal files, ~195 GB
  • F:\ – Backup files ~ Rest

I wanted to just replace Windows and instead have Ubuntu on my C:\ drive. Also, I wanted to keep all my data in the other partitions. However, using the “Replace Windows…” option was disastarous and I ended up with one large linux partition of size ~490GB. I spent the rest of the day, trying to recover parts of my original data.

This is when I found out about testdisk, a utility for recovering files and lost partitions from a device. The utility is suggested in many threads related to solving the exact same problem I was having [1,2,3]. After digging through the step by step wiki as well as going through many other links [4,5,6] I recovered many important files from my partitions. This video guide was also very helpful.

Some important things to note while doing the recovery are:

  1. First go through the following links in detail: and step by step wiki
  2. DO NOT USE the HDD once you realize the partitions were removed or corrupted.
  3. Have another external storage device like HDD or USB stick which can store the data you want to recover.
  4. Have a Live Ubuntu USB Image. [You will need to boot using this and not use the HDD of your computer. ]
  5. Have an internet connection. [Or else you need to have an executable of testdisk with you]
  6. Boot into the live ubuntu and open software and updates, and make sure the “Universe” repository is checked. [3]
  7. Run the following commands “sudo apt-get update” and “sudo apt-get install testdisk”
  8. Once testdisk is installed you need to run it as administrator “sudo testdisk”
  9. Follow the steps in
  10. Quick search might not yeild best results especially if your Ubuntu was installed over your windows partitions.
  11. Try Deeper Search [Be warned this will take a lot of time depending on your HDD size, mine took around 1.5 Hrs]
  12. Once finished it should probably list your original partitions usually with first column of results as HDFS – NTFS.
  13. You can go inside each partition and look at the files using option “P”. You can also mark paritions for deletion or as Logical Drive using the Left/Right arrow keys.

I used the list files option and copied all important files from my partitions to my external HDD. This will take some time depending on the data you need. I recovered ~5000 photos and few 100 documents and ~5000 other files. The process was easy and the external HDD had the correct files stored.

My attempt to recover full partitions, failed with Invalid partition sectors error. However, I was happy with the capabilities of the tool and its user friendly approach. I believe, it would have been possible to recover my partitions as well but I made some mistake on my side.

Overall, testdisk is a great utility and is recommended for recoveing files which you accidently deleted or lost during partition deletion. It is recommended by the Ubuntu data recovery page as well.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s