Posted by Sponsored Post Posted on 11 July 2024

How to Recover Data from an External Hard Drive on a Mac

External hard drives are extremely popular devices for increasing the storage capacity of a Mac or MacBook. If you back up your system locally using a tool like Time Machine, you’ll need an external drive to keep the backup files. External drives are also handy for sharing data with other users or transferring data across computers.
In this post, we will show you how to restore data from an external hard disk. 

Mac External Hard Drive Recovery: Dos and Don’ts

When faced with data loss on a Mac external hard drive, your first actions can have a substantial impact on the likelihood of successful recovery. It is critical to take a few steps to protect your data and prevent actions that may compromise its retrieval. Here’s what you need to do:


  • Avoid further usage of the drive. Continuing to utilize an external hard drive after data loss can result in overwriting the data you’re seeking to restore. Stop all write activities to improve your chances of successful data recovery.
  • Avoid formatting your device. While formatting may seem like a simple cure for some mistakes, it can result in permanent data loss. Recovery software may typically recover data without the requirement for formatting, allowing you to access lost or deleted information directly from the external drive’s current file system.
  • Do not attempt to fix any evident damage on your own. Physical injury necessitates skilled treatment. Attempting DIY repairs on a physically damaged external hard drive might worsen the situation, making professional data recovery even more difficult or impossible.
  • Choose good software. The quality and capabilities of recovery software can differ significantly. Choosing recognized, reliable recovery software is critical for increasing your chances of successful data recovery. In the next sections of this article, we will help you select the finest software solution for your individual needs.

Following these four straightforward guidelines can significantly improve the success of your data recovery attempts.

How to Recover Data from an External Hard Drive on a Mac using DIY Software

If you’ve irreversibly deleted files, reformatted your drive, or are experiencing file system issues, you’ll most likely need software to recover your data. However, not just any software will do. Here’s what you should consider while making your decision:


  • File System Support: It should support the file systems that Mac users typically utilize on external hard drives, such as HFS+, APFS, exFAT, and even NTFS.


And, yes, there is software that meets all of these requirements; Stellar Data Recovery is an excellent example. Now that you understand what to look for in recovery software, let’s go over how to utilize it. Here’s a step-by-step instruction to recovering data from an external hard drive using data recovery software on Mac.

  1. Download and install the Stellar data recovery software on your Mac.

  2. Connect the external storage device that suffered data loss to your computer.
  3. Launch the application and select an external drive from the list of accessible disks. Then click on “Scan” to search for the Lost Data and wait for the scan to finish.

  4. Preview the detected files and choose the ones you want to recover.
  5. Choose a safe location to keep the retrieved data. Do not save it to the same external disk to avoid overwriting or corrupting files during the recovery process.

Following these instructions closely will offer you the best possibility of recovering your data. Remember that the best recovery results come from acting quickly and avoiding utilizing an affected drive.


Why Should I Perform External Hard Drive Recovery?

The potential for unexpected data loss applies to all types of digital storage devices, including external hard drives. Data loss can occur for various reasons, some controllable and others not.

This article covers DIY methods for external disk recovery and repair, focusing on logical errors and human mistakes:

  • Accidental Deletion: Unintentionally deleting files or directories. Modern operating systems may temporarily keep deleted items in a “Recycle Bin” or “Trash,” allowing retrieval. However, permanently deleting or emptying the Recycle Bin/Trash removes file entries from the file system’s directory, making recovery harder. The data often remains on the storage medium until replaced by new data.
  • File System Corruption: The file system manages how data is stored and retrieved. Software faults, system crashes, erroneous shutdowns, and hardware failures can cause corruption, leading to file access loss. Corrupted file systems may misplace data, delete file information, or make entire volumes unavailable. The extent of corruption determines recovery possibilities. Some file system problems can be fixed using built-in OS utilities, while more severe cases may require specialized software with varying success rates.
  • Incompatible File System: Different operating systems may not support all file systems. If a storage device uses an incompatible file system, it may become inaccessible, leading to apparent data loss. Reformatting with a compatible file system, done carefully, can solve this issue. Often, using a compatible device or program can access the data, so “recovery” is guaranteed.
  • Bad Sectors: A sector is the smallest storage unit on a hard disk. Bad sectors, caused by physical damage or logical errors, put stored data at risk. Physical damage can result from wear and tear, while logical errors can be corrected using disk repair tools. Data recovery from bad sectors is harder, especially with physical damage. Software can sometimes bypass or repair logical bad sectors and recover some data, but success varies greatly.
  • Improper Ejection: Removing an external drive from a computer while in use can cause data loss. Improper ejection may stop active read/write processes, resulting in file damage or loss. If data corruption is minimal, recovery techniques can often restore files. If system data or file tables were being written during ejection, recovery may be more involved.
  • File Transfer Errors: Connectivity issues, machine crashes, or power outages during file transfer can lead to incomplete or corrupted data. Such disruptions can harm both the files being transferred and the file system structure, complicating recovery efforts. The level of corruption determines recovery success.

Logical damage and human error account for many data loss situations, but physical issues and external threats can also lead to data loss. These situations often require different recovery approaches and have varying chances of success:

  • Malware or Viral Infection: Malware and viruses can cause unexpected data loss. Running antivirus software on your Mac can help protect an external hard drive. Malware issues can arise when an external drive is connected to multiple computers. The possibility of recovery depends on the type of malware and the complexity of the encryption. In severe cases, like ransomware or system crashes, professional assistance is recommended. Therefore, make sure to check if your system has malicious software.
  • MacBook Crash: If your Mac crashes while connected to an external hard drive, data loss can occur. Keeping your Mac’s OS and programs up to date can help prevent this. Recovery success depends on the level of data corruption and whether the disk was directly impacted. Some corrupted files may be retrieved using software, but there are no guarantees.
  • Physical Destruction: Physical damage, such as dropping an external drive or exposing it to extreme conditions, often results in data loss. Excessive moisture or heat can damage the device. Mechanical parts might wear down over time, making data access difficult. Keeping the device cool and dry helps protect its data. Professional data recovery services may be able to recover some data, but results can be variable and costly.

Other Ways to Retrieve Data from an External Hard Drive on a Mac

It is possible to restore files from external hard drives using a variety of methods. We’ll examine every technique for recovering data from an external hard drive in the hopes that one of them will be suitable for your needs.

Method 1: File Recovery from the Trash on an External Drive

MacOS has a unique subdirectory called Trash that it utilizes to temporarily hold deleted files and folders. Depending on how you have it set up, if you delete something from a linked external hard drive, it will remain visible in the Trash until you manually empty it or roll it off.
When an external drive is connected to your Mac, the contents of the hidden Trash folder are visible in the main Trash folder. The files in the Trash are hidden when you eject the device. The following approach can be used to simply restore them after reconnecting the drive. 

  1. Attach your Mac to the external hard drive. 
  2.  Click on the Trash symbol to access it. 
  3. Find the object that needs to be recovered. 
  4. Select Place Back with a right-click on the object. 
  5. The external disk will receive the file recovery. 

On a Mac, locate the trash folder on an external disk by:


  1. Plug your Mac to the external drive. 
  2. You can launch Finder by selecting it from the Applications folder or by clicking on the Finder icon on the Dock. 
  3. To open a new Finder window, click “File” in the menu bar at the top of the screen and choose “New Finder Window.” 
  4. Click “Go” in the menu bar at the top of the screen to open the new Finder window, then choose “Go to Folder.” 
  5. Enter “/Volumes” in the “Go to Folder” dialog box and press “Go.” 
  6. Double-clicking the external drive will open it when you’ve located it in the Volumes folder. 
  7. Search the external drive’s root directory for a folder with the name “.Trashes.” Deleted files from the external disk are often routed here. 
  8. To access the “.Trashes” folder and find the folder that shares the same name as your user account, double-click on it. This is typically where the deleted data from that user account’s external disk are kept. Once the deleted files are located, you can recover them by dragging them to your desktop or to another folder on the external drive. 

Method 2: Recovering an External Hard Drive from a Time Machine Backup


You can restore data from backup media by using this technique if you regularly use Time Machine to back up your external disk. Only if you have already backed up the precise files you need to recover will this method function.


  1. Connect your computer to the storage device containing the backup Time Machine files. 
  2. Connect the external hard disk that the files you wish to recover were on. 
  3. Launch a Finder window within the external drive’s folder containing the data you wish to retrieve. 
  4. To launch Time Machine, click its symbol in the menu bar. 
  5. Use the timeline and arrows to navigate through the available backup files and find the files you wish to restore. 
  6. After making your selections, use the Restore button to return the items to the external drive’s original position. 

Method 3: Retrieve Data from an iCloud


You can retrieve the deleted files from iCloud if you previously saved them to iCloud Drive.
The steps to retrieve data from a cloud backup are as follows: 

  1. Attach your Mac to the external drive. 
  2.  Visit 
  3. Locate the files that need to be recovered. 
  4. After downloading them, move them to an external hard drive. 

Method 4: Use Disk Utility to Resolve External Hard Drive Problems


A built-in utility on Macs, Disk Utility can help fix various disk-related problems and even help you get back access to your data. This is how to apply it:

  1. Connect your external hard drive to Mac. 
  2. You can use Spotlight to find Disk Utility or navigate to Applications > Utilities to open it. 
  3. Choose your external hard drive from the sidebar in Disk Utility. 
  4. To begin the repair process, click the First Aid icon and then Run. Disk Utility will search the disk for faults and make an effort to fix them.
  5. After Disk Utility has finished, close it and see if your data is still accessible.

Method 5: Get in touch with a data recovery service provider


If your external drive sustains physical damage, your only option for recovering your data might be to use a reputable data recovery service. Advanced software and hardware approaches are available for technicians at recovery centers to try to preserve your data.

Here’s how to use a service for data recovery. 

  1. 1. To arrange a free consultation and learn how to ship your device, get in touch with the data recovery service
  2. Transport the storage media to the rehabilitation facility. After assessing the equipment, the center’s technical staff can provide an idea of how much it will cost to recover. 
  3. Experts will access the disk and attempt to retrieve its information. 
  4. The original external drive will be destroyed and the recovered data will be sent to you on fresh media. 


Your lost data should be recoverable using Mac Data Recovery Software or one of the data recovery methods mentioned above. To prevent the recoverable data from being corrupted or overwritten, you must move swiftly and wait to use the external device until the recovery is complete.
Free tools might seem nice, but they lack the capability and intuitive user interface of paid data recovery programs. You might only have one chance to retrieve your important data, so make sure to use the best tool available. I hope your data recovery goes well! 


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