View All R&D Articles

How (And When) To Use Microsoft’s Windows File Recovery Tool

December 28, 2023

Windows 10 and 11 include a built-in file recovery tool, which is capable of restoring corrupt or deleted files in certain circumstances. It does not have a graphical user interface (GUI) — it’s a command-line utility — and like all data recovery software tools, it cannot repair hardware issues. 

That means that if your hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD) shows signs of physical damage, you should not use Windows File Recovery. 

Below, we’ll explain how to access and use the tool. First, we’ll provide some general tips for avoiding permanent data loss when using any data recovery utility.

Before using Windows File Recovery, follow these steps.

Generally, you’ll have one chance to recover deleted or corrupt files. You can improve your chances by making a sector-by-sector clone of your target device. 

Here’s a basic process:

  1. If your device has physical symptoms, do not proceed. Contact a professional data recovery provider. Physical storage media symptoms include boot failure, unusual noises (such as clicking or whirring), widespread file corruption, and failure to recognize the device within your operating system.
  2. Do not run utilities to check the health of your HDD/SDD. This is particularly important with hard drives: Disk utilities may perform defragmentation, which can make data recovery impossible (or at least much more difficult). 
  3. Disconnect the target device (which contains the damaged/deleted data) to another working computer.
  4. Clone your device to another HDD/SDD. Here is a guide for cloning hard disks with ddrescue. 
  5. Run data recovery tools (such as Windows File Recovery) on the cloned device, not on the original media. 

By creating a clone, you reduce the chances of permanent data loss. If you’re uncomfortable at all with the process, we strongly recommend working with a reputable data recovery provider. provides risk-free media evaluations, and we support all of our services with a no data, no charge guarantee. To learn more, call 1-800-237-4200 or set up a free evaluation online.

Running Windows File Recovery

Windows File Recovery is part of Windows 10/11, but you may need to download it from the Microsoft Store to access the app. Once again, you should not install the app on the target device that contains the missing data. Use another computer.

After you’ve installed File Recovery (if necessary), you can access it from the Command Prompt.

  1. Press the Windows key and enter Windows File Recovery in the search box. Open the app.
  2. Windows will prompt you to allow the app to make changes to your device. Select Yes.
  3. Enter the command: winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/mode] [/switches] , replacing the /mode and /switches variables using the information below. 
  4. Enter Y to start the recovery operation.

File Recovery has two modes: Regular and Extensive. The Regular mode is intended for NTFS drives, while Extensive is suitable for other file systems. Extensive may also be preferable if you’re dealing with significant corruption, if you deleted a file a long time ago, or if you’ve formatted the disk.

You can use wildcard characters to recover specific file types. For example, this would attempt to recover all .JPG files from the Pictures folder on your C: drive to a recovery folder on your E: drive:

Winfr C: E: /extensive /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.JPEG /n\Users\<username>\Pictures\*.PNG 

Windows File Recovery has limited capabilities.

File Recovery is intended for deleted and corrupt files. It’s not ideal for every data loss scenario. 

It’s less powerful and configurable than professional data recovery utilities, and you should review Microsoft’s support documentation if you don’t understand command-line syntax or the differences between recovery modes.

But while File Recovery isn’t ideal for every case, it has one big advantage: It’s free (or, at least, free with new versions of Windows). We do not recommend any data recovery utilities; read why we advise against data recovery software — but if you decide to use File Recovery, creating a clone prior to the operation is the best practice.

Again, if you’ve lost data for any reason, we’re here to help. Schedule an evaluation online or call 1-800-237-4200 to speak with an expert.