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Recovering a deleted Microsoft Outlook PST file

  • Have you just discovered that one of your users has lost their Outlook data store (PST file)?
  • Are you using POP3 instead of IMAP or Exchange, and therefore don’t have a copy on the mail server?
  • Was the PST file stored in a location that isn’t backed up for some reason?
  • Did it happen to a very senior member of staff, and through no fault of their own?
  • Are you starting to think you, as the Network Manager, might be totally boned?

Welcome to my Tuesday afternoon.

Recovering the data

Under normal circumstances, Pirform’s Recuva is my go-to program for quick and easy file recovery. However, this problem proved too much even for the deep scan option to find a trace of the file. This needed a more thorough solution:

  1. PhotoRec is a recovery program that completely ignores the file system on the disk, and instead siply scans the underlying data looking for patterns that match known data types. It was originally designed to recover photos, hence the name, but currently works on about 100 different file types, including Outlook’s PST files.
  2. Once I’d recovered some data, I quickly found the recovery wasn’t perfect; I couldn’t open the PST fies in Outlook. This was hardly surprising given that part of the data store had been overwritten and Recuva couldn’t even begin to attempt a recovery. I then turned to Outlook’s Inbox Repair tool (Scanpst.exe), which is installed by default with Outlook. After running the recovered files through Scanpst, I was able to open them in Outlook.

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Never forget:

Your all-singing, all-dancing backup server, which cost you a four-figure sum to buy and backs up every file server on the site, is worth absolutely diddly squat if your users have their most important files saved on their local C: drive.