Please Note: Mac OS X Has No Network Trash Can

Question:

Geoff Writes: I was trying out my new trackpad and experimenting with Lion’s new file move feature when I accidentally deleted a folder on an external drive connected to my Mac via my Time Capsule.  I figured I could simply go to the Trash and recover the folder and its contents but when I looked, the folder wasn’t in the Trash.  I could find no sign of the folder, no “undo” option, no way to bring back this folder.

Why wasn’t this folder in the Trash and how can I recover it?

Answer:

When deleting a file or folder from a networked drive, which includes your Time Capsule-connected external drive, there unfortunately is no Trash Can.  Once deleted, the file or folder is gone.  The Finder attempts to alert the user to this with a warning, shown below.

Mac OS X Network Trash WarningThe Finder attempts to alert the user when deleting files from a network-connected drive.

But don’t fret, all may not be lost.  Just because a file or folder is not recoverable from within the file system doesn’t mean it’s not recoverable at all.  When OS X “deletes” a file, it merely marks the space that file occupied as “available.”  The next time an application or the system needs to write to the drive, it has the option of writing over the space that now “deleted” file occupied.  The deleted items remain on the drive and are often recoverable with third-party software so long as they are not physically overwritten on the disk.  It is therefore crucial to stop using the Mac (or at least that particular hard drive) as soon as you realize that you need to recover a deleted item.  The longer you continue to the use the drive, the higher the likelihood that you or the system will overwrite the deleted file.

As for third-party software recommendations, Prosoft’s Data Rescue 3 (US$99) and MacKeeper (US$39) are good options to try.  They both offer limited trials that may allow you to recover your deleted folder for free depending on its size.