Truly Free Mac Data Recovery Software to Rescue Files on Mac OS X (updated 2016)

Today I am going to introduce several 100% FREE data recovery software for Mac OS X, NO Kidding. I notice that there are too many mac data recovery program providers claim their products are free to download or free to try, but eventually you'll have to take out your credit card and pay for it. Why? Because the trial version won't allow you to actually recover or save the found files you deleted or lost.

Usually the price of these commercial software is not cheap -- ranging from $50 to a few hundred dollars or euros. The question is: is it worth paying for such an expensive software that you probably just use once? In my opinion, it's not.

That's why I decide to write this post, sharing a few totally free Mac file recovery programs to help you retrieve accidentally deleted or lost files. Note: I've either used or tested the following apps on my Mac and they all work nicely, though some apps may not work for your data loss situations. Please read my note before you try. 

[Update on August 5, 2016: all the apps listed below support Macs with OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, and OS X 10.6 or above.]

Please note: if none of the apps listed below helps (or you are uncomfortable handling command line tool), and the lost data are really important to you. You may try some commercial Mac data recovery software, this article reviewed several great ones that are worth trying. If that still won't help, your last option would be to send your Mac or device for data recovery services.

#1 – Time Machine

Best to use for: recovering accidentally deleted files or folders on your Mac internal hard drive, provided that you've made backups before those files got removed. E.g. you emptied Mac Trash bin, formatted the disk drive, or partition became inaccessible etc.

Not sure if it's okay to put Time Machine in the first place as you probably have learned this method. Still I want to list it here as a reminder to you (especially those who are new to the Mac World) the importance of data backup. Unlike Windows PCs, Apple Mac OS X (soon called macOS) makes it convenient to do backups whenever you want. All Apple computers manufactured after November 2007 have been pre-installed with this powerful app - Time Machine. The utility is able to backup almost everything on your Mac hourly with the right setting.

You can easily recover data from Time Machine backup once you deleted or lost your some critical files such as applications, documents, photos etc. Learn how to set up and restore backup from this Apple Support page. This YouTube video made by MacAdvisor also shows how to restore your files from Time Machine backup.

Time Machine failed to help or you didn’t have the right backup? Go try a third-party Mac data recovery app. See below.

#2 – TestDisk & PhotoRec

Best to use for: retrieving Mac files when Time Machine fails to help, and you’re comfortable with command line (like old Windows DOS).
TestDisk was primarily designed to help recover lost partitions and make non-booting disks bootable again when these symptoms are caused by faulty software, certain types of viruses or human error (such as accidentally erasing your Partition Table). PhotoRec, the sister of TestDisk, is designed to recover lost files from external device (memory card, pen drive, removable disk), even hard disks and CD-Rom.

Simply put, if you have lost partition or strange problem with your Mac hard disk partitions, try TestDisk. To recover lost pictures, documents, videos, and other types of files, try PhotoRec.

Note: This free recovery tool is non-GUI software which requires to operate through command line. But it isn't that hard as long as you follow the corresponding instructions within the software.

#3 – Exif Untrasher

Best to use for: recovering photos (in JPEG format) deleted from a digital camera, memory card, USB flash drive, and other types of removable storage devices.
Exif Untrasher (version 1.5 as of 10/07/2014)) is able to recover deleted or formatted photos from external devices such as digital camera, SD card, CF card, thumb drive, external drive, etc. on Mac OS X for free. But, it doesn’t support recovery from internal Mac hard drive. So it's more like a free memory card photo recovery for Mac. And it can only be used to retrieve JPEG files (thanks to SoftwareHow for pointing out this). Digital photographers who are using Macs will most likely find it useful. The freeware requires Mac OS X 10.6 or higher (Yosemite and El Capitan included) and is localized with English, German, French and Italian.

By the way, if your lost files were stored on an external device, you can also use a Windows PC to try recovering the data. There are more freeware under Windows for data recovery purposes. For example, Recuva works great, Pandora Recovery is also nice.

That's all what I wanted to share. Hope you find these free Mac data recovery utilities useful. If you have any questions using any of the programs, or if you happen to come across another totally freeware or solution, let me know. Leave a comment below.


  1. You definitely did a great job. I successfully recovered my tons of deleted photos on my Macbook. Thanks a million.


  2. John Zhang,

    Thank you so much for sharing this information. I restored about 400+ photos through Exif Untrasher which I accidentaly deleted. I almost have given up hopes.

    So grateful that I found your article.


  3. i downloaded the software but dont know how to recover my deleted pics? can you tell me step by step how to recover it? thanks!

  4. I back up using Time Machine, but it suddenly lost all emails prior to a month ago. Any idea what happened to Time Machine?

  5. i have a hard drive which i think crashed...its in fat 32 format with tons of stuff in it and i cant seem to repair it with disk utility to open it pls recommend a software(free) to help!!! thanks alot!

  6. some really crucial information here .Can anyone recommend any free recovery software for sandisk CF cards thanks Adrian

    1. Adrian, you can check this site for a list of reviewed photo recovery programs. Regards!

  7. Thanks i will check it out and give yo feedback