How to Recover a Deleted or Unsaved .TXT File on Mac

December 9, 2020
 / 4 minutes


No matter if it’s a massive multinational or home user, data recovery is likely a problem many will face. For multinationals the prevailing threat of ransomware is always a worry, resulting in massive budgets been set aside for recovery and data protection. For the home user, such steps are unnecessary but losing files can be a pain. A real-life example that keeps cropping up for that write code regularly is how to recover that .txt file you accidentally deleted? Or, how to recover the .txt file that was unsaved just before disaster struck? For those on a Mac, often getting the answers to this question can be hard as the vast majority of articles on the topic are tailored for Windows users.

Prevalence of .TXT across Platforms

Before looking at answering the two questions above it is prudent to look at exactly what a .txt file is. The basic answer is, it’s a text file, or more correctly but a plain text file. Applications like Notepad and the ever-popular code editor Notepad++ use .txt files, for all intents and purposes a .txt file is a .txt file no matter on what application you view it on and whether your OS is Mac or Windows. In general, .txt files require no special formatting, unlike .doc or .docx which are quite large in comparison. The simple and uncomplicated nature of plain text files, plus their small size, make them far easier to recover if disaster strikes.

There is also some confusion as to whether .txt files are the same thing across applications and platforms. While this was mentioned above it does deserve to be mentioned again. A .txt file is identical in format to other .txt files. Their content differs but how the file format is read doesn’t change across platforms or applications. Even if your chosen code editor is not Notepad++, but Sublime, Atom, or Vim. For those looking for an alternative to running notepad++ for mac, those mentioned previously may just be the thing you’re looking for. If you’re not willing to run an emulator or virtual machine so that you can run Notepad++ relatively problem-free, great alternatives do exist.

The First Step

With the theory class out of the way, now the practical advice can begin. The first step in the process once a disaster has struck is to download and install a data recovery software package. There are several great options for Mac users in this department. Luckily, if it’s just .txt files you are looking to recover even free open source tools can be used. Beware, these do lack nice interfaces and ease of use, but if you are willing to sit in front of a program for a bit, they are perfectly serviceable. Even many of the top-rated paid options have a free version with a size limit on how much data you can recover. Some range from hundreds of megabytes to a couple of gigabytes.

Many of these data restoration packages work in an incredibly similar way but do normally have a caveat in that the files you want to restore need to be recoverable. If not, not all hope is lost, many of the programs can scan data to determine familiar patterns and restore from the patterns it detects. This can be a time-consuming process. This means that, in general, files that have not been overwritten are salvageable. In terms of time needed, the more complex the file format or the larger the file the longer it can take to recover. If you are attempting to recover an entire drive, this can take days. As mentioned above if you are just looking to restore a .txt file, you won’t need to dedicate a whole weekend to the process. Once you have chosen a data recovery solution it may be helpful to watch a few tutorials or read the documentation but for the most part, they are easy to use.


Recovering a .txt file is not the onerous process of recovering more complex formats. However, while having a data recovery solution is a great option for when the worst happens, prevention is better than cure. For that reason alone having a dedicated backup, be it a physical drive or a cloud storage solution, can save a lot of heartache in the future.

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