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How to Recover Deleted Files from an APFS Hard Disk

How to Recover Deleted Files from an APFS Hard Disk

When it comes to managing and storing data on Mac systems, Apple File System (APFS) has become a standard. However, like any storage medium, APFS drives can encounter data loss due to various reasons. Having experienced the sting of data loss myself, I’ve learned that knowing how to recover data from APFS drives is a crucial skill for any Apple user. Through trial and error, I’ve gathered several effective methods that can help restore lost files from APFS formatted drives, which I’m eager to share.


Common Scenarios:

Accidental Deletion 🗑

  • One morning, while trying to free up space on my APFS drive, I inadvertently deleted a folder containing important documents.
  • I immediately realized my mistake, but the files were not in the Trash Bin.
  • This led me on a quest to recover my precious data without having any backups available.

Volume Corruption 💥

  • After a macOS update, I found that one of my APFS volumes wouldn’t mount, and I could no longer access the data stored on it.
  • Usually, disk utilities would resolve such issues, but this time it was evident that the volume’s data structure was severely corrupted.
  • I needed a recovery solution that could traverse the corrupted file system and extract the files intact.

Drive Failure ⚠

  • Without warning, my external APFS drive, which housed years of work, became unresponsive.
  • Neither my Mac nor Disk Utility could recognize it, suggesting a hardware issue might be at play.
  • With typical troubleshooting methods falling short, I was compelled to explore advanced recovery techniques that could work on a possibly failing drive.


Step-by-Step Guide. Apfs Data Recovery:

Method 1: Check Recently Deleted 🔄

  • Open the Finder and navigate to the ‘Go’ menu, then select ‘Go to Folder’.
  • Type in ‘.Trash’ to access the hidden Trash folder of the APFS drive.
  • Look for the recently deleted files and restore them as needed.

Note: This method works if the file was deleted recently and has not been permanently removed from the APFS drive’s Trash.

Conclusion: Checking the Recently Deleted folder is a quick and easy first step that can sometimes yield immediate results.

Method 2: Use Time Machine Backup 🕒

  • Connect the Time Machine backup drive to your Mac.
  • Open Time Machine and browse for the lost files.
  • Select the files and click on ‘Restore’ to recover them to your APFS drive.

Note: This method assumes you have a recent backup of your APFS drive with Time Machine.

Conclusion: Recovering data using Time Machine is straightforward, provided you have a current backup.

Method 3: APFS Snapshots Recovery 📸

  • Navigate to the folder where the deleted files were located.
  • Enter Time Machine and look for available snapshots made by APFS.
  • Select the appropriate snapshot with the files and click to restore.

Note: APFS automatically creates snapshots before significant system events, like updates. You can restore the entire state of your APFS drive to a previous point using these snapshots.

Conclusion: APFS snapshots are a robust feature for reverting changes and recovering data without needing a full backup.

Method 4: Disk Utility’s First Aid 🛠

  • Launch Disk Utility from the Utilities folder.
  • Select the APFS volume with data loss issues in the sidebar.
  • Click on ‘First Aid’ and let Disk Utility attempt to repair the drive.

Note: First Aid can fix minor software-level problems but might not recover files on corrupted or physically damaged drives.

Conclusion: Disk Utility’s First Aid is an effective tool for repairing logical issues within the APFS file system.

Method 5: Third-Party Data Recovery Software 💽

  • Download and install a trusted third-party data recovery software like Disk Drill.
  • Connect the APFS drive to your Mac and launch the recovery software.
  • Select the drive and begin the scanning process.
  • Once the scan completes, preview the recoverable files.
  • Select the files you wish to recover and save them to a safe location.

Note: Make sure not to save the recovered data back to the same APFS drive to avoid data overwriting.

Conclusion: Third-party data recovery tools offer advanced scanning algorithms and often succeed where built-in tools fail.

Method 6: Target Disk Mode Recovery 🎯

  • Use a Thunderbolt or USB-C cable to connect the Mac with the affected APFS drive to another Mac.
  • Restart the source Mac and hold down the ‘T’ key to boot into Target Disk Mode.
  • The APFS drive should appear on the destination Mac, allowing you to run data recovery software or manually copy files.

Note: This method relies on the drive being functional enough to be recognized in Target Disk Mode.

Conclusion: Target Disk Mode can be a lifeline for data recovery from APFS drives that are inaccessible in normal boot mode.


Precautions and Tips:

Data Loss Prevention Strategies 🛡

  • Always maintain regular backups with Time Machine and consider additional offsite or cloud backups.
  • Be cautious when deleting files or performing disk operations and consider enabling APFS snapshots if you have the storage space available.


Understanding APFS Data Recovery

The Apple File System (APFS) is a modern file system that was introduced in 2017 to replace the old HFS+ system used by Apple devices. APFS is designed to be more efficient, reliable, and capable of accommodating the storage needs of today’s users.

One notable feature of APFS is its snapshot technology, which allows the system to capture a read-only instance of the file system at a specific point in time. This can be incredibly useful when recovering data because you can revert your entire system to a previous state.

Data recovery from APFS stands a good chance of success due to its space-sharing capabilities. Multiple volumes can share the same container without requiring partitioning, which can simplify the data recovery process.

Furthermore, it’s worth highlighting the role of specialized third-party software in the recovery process. Professional data recovery tools often come with features tailor-made for the APFS file system, including the ability to traverse the complex structure of APFS containers and volumes, even when the drive’s metadata is corrupted.

For more detailed insights into APFS and recommendations for data management and recovery methods, visit the Apple Support website.


Recovering data from an APFS drive is often feasible, thanks to macOS built-in features and advanced third-party tools. With careful application of the methods outlined, you stand a good chance of retrieving your lost files. It’s also vitally important to take preventative steps such as regular backups and the use of snapshots to safeguard your data. Recovering data from APFS drives can be straightforward if you stay informed and prepared.


APFS, or Apple File System, is the default file system for macOS and iOS devices. Its significance in data recovery stems from its modern architecture, which can affect recovery methods and success rates.

Traditional data recovery tools may not be fully compatible with APFS due to its unique encryption and snapshot capabilities. Dedicated or updated APFS recovery software is often required.

APFS data recovery can be more complex due to its encryption, space-sharing, and container structures, differing significantly from HFS+ or FAT file systems.

File system corruption in APFS is often recoverable using specialized tools that can rebuild or repair the corrupted structures to regain access to the data.

Common causes for APFS partition loss include accidental deletion, software failure, or disk utility errors. Recovery requires tools that can recognize and restore lost APFS partitions.

Encryption in APFS adds a layer of complexity to the recovery process as data must be decrypted using the correct key before it can be recovered.

Attempting APFS data recovery carries the risk of further data corruption or loss if not done properly, especially when writing to the same drive.

If an APFS data recovery attempt fails, a user should cease all operations on the drive to avoid overwriting data and consult a professional recovery service.

Users can find professional APFS data recovery services through reputable companies like Cleverfiles or other data recovery specialists with experience in APFS.

APFS snapshots can greatly assist in data recovery by providing a point-in-time copy of the file system, which can be used to restore lost or corrupted data.