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4 free programs to recover deleted files

Accidentally deleting an important file is heart stopping. The moment you realize a crucial photo or document is gone seems to last forever. Then the panic hits.

Before you panic, however, take a deep breath and relax. Your file might not really be gone. It could be just waiting for you to recover it, if you stay calm.

First, you have to understand how a hard drive works. When you delete a file and empty your Recycle Bin, the information isn't actually gone.

It's still on the disk, but it's hidden and the space it occupies is essentially marked as "free" space. That means that until other data overwrites it, you can recover it.

That's why having one of these recovery programs on hand can be a lifesaver.

Recuva - Recuva scans your hard drive for deleted photos and other files such as emails, videos and documents. It can scan flash drives, memory cards and iPods too.

It lists any deleted files it can recognize. It also rates the condition of each file, as some may be partially overwritten. The process may take a while.

FreeUndelete - FreeUndelete works very similarly to Recuva. Select a drive, scan it and choose from a list of files the ones you want to "Undelete."

If you only have a C: drive, FreeUndelete suggests you save recovered files to a USB flash drive so that you don't overwrite deleted data while saving. As with Recuva, this process could be lengthy.

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