Undelete a file without being an Administrator

'iBook G4 laptop' by Nic McPhee, via Flickr

Check the Trash or Recycle Bin first; files are often in there.

Sometimes files need to be deleted, and sometimes the wrong files are deleted along with them. In the worst case scenario, this requires a full reinstall from backups or the use of specialist software to scour the drive where the files were stored in the hope that they can be recovered. This often requires administrative rights but when these are unavailable, all is not lost. It is possible to undelete a file without administrative rights, under the correct circumstances.

The Recycle Bin

  1. Open the Recycle Bin on Windows, or the Trash on a Mac.
  2. Check the contents of this folder for the file, as modern operating systems do not delete files fully on first instance unless explicitly told to do so.
  3. If the file is in the Recycle Bin or Trash, click on it then click “Restore this item” to return it to where it was originally deleted from.


  1. Insert the latest backup CD for the computer on which the file was deleted.
  2. Browse the folders on the CD until you find the folder where the file was stored.
  3. Check the contents of that folder to find the file in question.
  4. Right click on the file and select “copy”.
  5. Browse to the folder on the computer where the file was deleted from.
  6. Right-click and select “paste” to restore the file from the backup.


  1. Find the installation CD for the software that installed the file in the first place, if it is part of a software package.
  2. Open the CD folder and double-click on “Setup” or “Install”.
  3. Install a new copy of the software over the top of the old copy.
  4. The file will be restored during re-installation.
  5. Alternatively, if the installation software has a “repair” function, use that.

Always keep regular backups of your important files, either on a separate physical hard drive (which is not simply a partition on the same hard drive, as both will be inaccessible if the drive is damaged) or a CD/DVD. If using a CD or DVD, it is a good idea to keep older backup discs around, in case the newer backup is lost or damaged.

Please Note
It is not always possible to undelete a file without administrative rights. If a file was user-generated and is not on the last backup, or any previous backup to that, and it is not in the recycle bin then there is little a user can do to restore it save for contacting the administrator of the system. The administrator can install and run specialist file recovery software that can scour the hard drive for deleted files.

Photograph by Nic McPhee, via Flickr

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