How To: CD and DVD Data Recovery

This article offers advice on CD recovery and DVD recovery.

Quick summary:

Writeable CDs and DVDs - CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW and so on - are a popular medium for backing up important files. These optical media have a large capacity, are readily obtainable and are cheap. But they are not especially reliable. Software problems can cause data corruption, and cheap unbranded media may be unreadable in many CD and DVD drives.

To reduce the chances that your backup copies are unreadable:

Disc appears empty

If a CD containing data is reported as containing no data, the problem may be because the CD or DVD session is not finalized. CD writing software allows data to be written in multiple sessions to a disc, by not closing the session after data is written. However, this may cause another drive not to recognize the data. If possible, use the original CD writer and software to close the session or finalize the disc. This should allow the CD or DVD to be read by another drive.

CD recovery software

If you need to attempt DVD or CD data recovery then you will need special CD or DVD data recovery software. CDs and DVDs store data in a different format (or file system) to that used by hard drives, floppy drives, memory cards and other rewritable media. Data recovery software uses its understanding of how data is stored to find files that are invisible to the computer operating system. So you cannot use undelete software or data recovery software designed to work on hard disks to try to recover files from a CD. has tested several CD recovery programs for Windows and many of them were surprisingly poor. Some were even unable to find data on a disc where the session had not been properly closed.

Our recommendation for CD and DVD data recovery is CD and DVD Recovery. This product is capable of recovering lost files and photos from CD and DVD in most cases. The user interface is easy to understand, and there a built-in file preview to help identify the files it can recover. Even non-technical should have no trouble using it.

For the more technically minded IsoBuster is a powerful tool. It supports a wide range of CD, DVD and Blu-ray disc formats and file systems as well as the ability to access "raw" data and "deleted" files belonging to old write sessions. It also interfaces directly to your CD or DVD drive, bypassing Windows, to get additional control invaluable when trying to recover data from damaged discs that Windows considers unreadable.

Audio CD and movie DVD recovery

The recovery of unplayable or damaged audio CDs and movies is a slightly different problem from recovering data. The technique is essentially to try to copy or "rip" the audio or video to your hard drive, so that you can then burn a new playable copy. Success will depend to a large extent on your computer CD or DVD drive being more tolerant of faulty or damaged media than your CD or DVD player. For the best chance of success, rip at the lowest speed possible.

If you need to attempt to recover unplayable or damaged audio CDs and DVD movies try AVS DVD Copy.

CD recovery tips

Remember that the capabilities of the drive, as well as the CD recovery software, will have an effect on whether files can be recovered from a CD. If your CD recovery attempt is unsuccessful, try using a different computer or CD / DVD drive.

If you are unable to recover files from CD or DVD, and the data is extremely valuable, then a specialist data recovery service may be able to recover the files. By using special drives, a data recovery service may be able to recover data that is unreadable by ordinary CD or DVD drives as fitted to your computer.