My USB flash drive says it has 15.7GB of space used but inside all the folders are empty!

I was updating my computer from Vista to Windows 8, so I had to save all my files somewhere so I got this 32GB USB flash drive and put all the pictures and videos on it.

I have put lots of photos on the USB flash drive that are very important to me but when I put the USB flash drive into my computer today the folders were all empty!! There is only one folder (with videos) and one document that are still visible.

I really need to get those photos back.

  • 3
    Does it work on another computer? Did you safely remove the USB pen drive after writing the data to it, or did you just yank it out?
    – Hennes
    Jan 2 '13 at 18:35
  • I simply took it out. When everything was written on it I took it out. It says, when I check the properties, that there is 15.7GB on it but when I actually go inside the USB all the folders apart from videos are empty. How can I retrieve them when it says they exist??
    – Angelica
    Jan 2 '13 at 18:57
  • 3
    except the most probable case that the files didn't finish going into the usb by just pulling it out, just hope you didn't buy one of those 'fake' usb sticks (small capacity chip, usually 2Gb; faked high capacity reporting eg. 32Gb)
    – CSᵠ
    Jan 2 '13 at 21:02
  • No, I'm pretty sure it is a 32GB USB as when I was moving the files over, there was about 16GB of them, there was no problem. And I only took the USB out after all the files have been transferred over so I doubt that would be a problem.
    – Angelica
    Jan 2 '13 at 21:17
  • 7
    @Angelica, you need to always eject or safely remove a storage device before disconnecting it. Read the post here for an explination as to why. Jan 2 '13 at 21:19

Ok... First of all your USB (as well as other) drives can show space used that isn't really used, especially if the file system was corrupted. That's the worst case and you won't be able to recover data/pictures from the USB drive that are not there to begin with.

Second, don't try to write or otherwise modify the USB drive until you get a recovery program running. Most of them can non-destructively scan a drive and tell you if there are any files there to be recovered. Some of them do the scan for free and require you to purchase the program to do the actual recovery.

A good free one that works on a variety of storage media including USB drives is recuva. There are other ones that cost a bit but try this one first. If you want to read a comparison of recovery software packages (including recuva) see this article, or google for 'usb recovery programs'

  • In that case do you know a program that will be able to find the files that I cut out from disk C?? As that is what I have done before the upgrade from Vista to Windows 8. Because if all the other methods don't work this one should as I cut the files out from disk C and then pasted them on the USB so I think that it should be possible to find them somehow. Honestly :( I'm not really good with all the computer stuff and I need some help.
    – Angelica
    Jan 2 '13 at 20:46
  • Recuva claims to be able to recover deleted files from hard drives as well, so it may be able to find deleted files on your disk C:... Check out the review and the app's home site for details.
    – BobT
    Jan 2 '13 at 20:50

It seems that you either forgot to "Safely remove" your USB or your filesystem got corrupted. In case of simple physical USB stick removal, the data never existed on the USB and you can't do anything about it. But you can still recover some part of it FROM YOUR HARD DRIVE, which you formatted during Windows 8 installation. For that you have to use good data recovery software. On the other hand, if you actually did "safely remove" your USB stick, you can use the same data recovery software on the USB drive. My suggestions are: Recuva (simple) and R-Tools (very powerful, but hard to use).

Also, in case you haven't formatted your hard drive while installing Windows 8, there should be folder Windows.old. Here's a simple how to retrieve them: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/restore-files-upgrade-windows-old

  • I just took it out. I didn't safely remove it. But the problem is they are on the memory stick as half the memory is full!! :( And like I said all the folders are empty. What I think is really strange is that after I saved those photos on the USB I took it out and put it back in again to check if the files were there, and they were. Secondly, only 2 out of the 10 folders of photos were actually there (didn't say they are empty). I'm really unsure what to do :(
    – Angelica
    Jan 2 '13 at 19:03
  • And... I forgot to add... I cut the photos from my folders and pasted them into the USB. I'm not sure if that helps.
    – Angelica
    Jan 2 '13 at 19:06
  • It probably marked that space as allocated in your USB drive, but did not write the files to the USB yet. Just try Recuva or other program I mentioned.
    – Ernestas
    Jan 2 '13 at 20:15
  • don't jump to corrupted data so quickly...it could be simply a mischief of a virus Jun 4 '13 at 11:40

In Windows, you may want to first try to set all the files as visible.

In Windows 7 / Vista:
Go to start, in the search box type cmd and right click on the result and choose "Open as Administrator" to open an Elevated Command Prompt.

In Windows 8:
+ R to open the "Power Users Tasks Menu" and select "Command Prompt(Admin)".

From there switch to your thumb drive e: or whatever it is and then run ATTRIB -S -H *.* /S /D This will remove "hidden and system" flags from the files. Try and see if you can see them now.

If not, then they got corrupted by a bad removal. I had a bad thumb drive that wouldn't eject right and I had a program that I would have to run all the time to recover the files. Of course I can't find it now, but recuva is good and will probably do the same thing better.

If that fails too, chkdsk /r on it as a last resort. Close all open windows looking at the thumb drive, other than the cmd window. chkdsk may still ask "Do you want to force a dismount?" If you are sure you're on the thumb drive say "y". It will scan the drive and look for errors. If it finds your files were damaged, it will grab them and put them back on the drive, but possibly with different filenames.

Also--- don't put anything else on the drive while you are trying to recover your data.

Edit: Another thing you should consider is that you dropped the photos folder inside one of the other ones, maybe the videos folder.

to check, pull up cmd switch to the thumb drive e: (or whatever) and run dir /S /A /p -- this way you can scroll through all of the legitimate files on the disk. You can also compare the size of the video folder to the 15.7 GB you mentioned above. Keep in mind that dir's output is in bytes, and 15.7 GB is something like 16,857,700,000 Bytes.

  • She could have easily had her pictures set as hidden. One reason, they already were that way. Also they may be marked as SYSTEM files, since they may have been marked that way as windows wrote them to the flash drive. This is a common fix to this problem, so I'm assuming it applies to OP as well.
    – MattPark
    Jan 2 '13 at 20:23
  • Ok. I've done what you told me to do khaki54, the first part, and then went into the USB and still nothing showed up. Secondly, why did you write that I should do the chkdsk -r as a last resort? Is it dangerous for the computer??
    – Angelica
    Jan 2 '13 at 20:41
  • chkdsk /r is the windows disk repair tool. /r will repair any orphaned files. It's not dangerous, but make sure you are in your thumb drive. Same as the ATTRIB above, don't run it from c:\
    – MattPark
    Jan 3 '13 at 18:03
  • I agree...try the attrib command first...PS: Run it with elevated command prompt Jun 4 '13 at 11:40

It's very simple. The files maybe hidden on your device. First you go to RUN using + R.

Go to cmd, type your device partition, for example if ur device f: type f:. Then type the following command: attrib -h -s -r /s /d *.* then your files are shown in your storage device.

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