"How can I recover a file I accidentally saved over on a Mac?" This message often arrives in our inbox, with concerned users hoping their data isn't gone forever.

Can you recover overwritten files on a Mac? It depends on how you replaced them, but several proven methods can help, some even retrieving all lost data.

Before discovering how to get back replaced files on a Mac, let's see what they are and when you might need to part with them.

In this article
    1. Recover Overwritten Files on a Mac From a Time Machine Backup
    2. Restore the Overwritten Files to a Previous Version
    3. Recover Replaced Files on a Mac From iCloud Backups
    4. Recover Overwritten Files on a Mac Using Data Recovery Software

What Are Overwritten Files?

a macbook with overwritten files

Overwritten files are those you've replaced with new data. Whether you've hit Replace when saving a new file matching another's name or wiped your storage and added new data, you've overwritten data with new entries.

The former, all-too-familiar instance is an honest mistake. The latter is often a case of handling multiple storage devices like external HDDs and USB drives and not checking which has data before wiping it and adding new files. Is there hope either way? Let's find out.

Are Overwritten Files Lost Forever?

a macbook user with overwritten files

Whether your overwritten files are salvageable or gone forever depends on how you replaced them.

Here's an example: you create a new Excel spreadsheet and save it under an existing Image name. Excel warns you that a file with the same name already exists, but you hit Enter too soon, noticing that you confirmed the Replace option when it's too late.

Fortunately, you can recover an overwritten Excel file on a Mac with several tried-and-tested methods. The same goes for other data.

Here's a less favorable situation: you wipe or format a USB drive containing 50 GB of data. Then, you save 30 GB of new files over the newly available space. Unfortunately, the replaced 30 GB of data is lost forever, but you can recover the remaining 20 GB.

Let's see how to find replaced files on a Mac and return them where they belong.

How to Recover Overwritten Files on a Mac

You don't need to recover overwritten files using Mac Terminal or other complicated methods. You can do it effortlessly with the solutions below.

Recover Overwritten Files on a Mac From a Time Machine Backup

Time Machine is an excellent Mac utility for replaced file recovery. After all, it lets you create backups of all apps, documents, emails, photos, videos, and other data on external drives.

The best part is it creates hourly (24 hours), daily (one month), and weekly (all previous months) snapshots, saving them locally and erasing the oldest when your backup disk is at capacity.

Here's how to recover an accidentally replaced file on a Mac from a Time Machine backup:

  1. Connect your backup drive to your Mac.
  2. Go to the Apple menu > System Settings (macOS Ventura or newer) or System Preferences (macOS Monterey or older) > Time Machine and tick the Show Time Machine in the menu bar checkbox.
    enter time machine
  3. Hit the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and click Enter Time Machine.
    enter time machine
  4. Open the folder with your overwritten file and browse the previous versions using the arrows, the timeline, or the multiple windows.
    browse all backups
  5. Once you find the desired version, preview it with the Spacebar and hit Restore.
    restore a backup
  6. Choose whether to replace the file with the selected version or keep both.
    backup restoration options

Here's how to recover a file you replaced on a Mac if you've enabled automatic local Time Machine backups (snapshots):

  1. Hit the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and click Browse Time Machine Backups.
    browse time machine backups
  2. Open the folder with the overwritten file, browse the snapshots on the timeline, and click Restore once you find the desired version.
    restore files from snapshots

Restore the Overwritten Files to a Previous Version

What if you don't have a Time Machine backup? You can still undo a Replace File on a Mac. You only need to browse its previous versions within the associated app.

Here's how to recover an accidentally replaced file on a Mac without Time Machine by restoring it to a previous version (we'll use the Pages app for demonstration purposes):

  1. Launch the Pages app, open the overwritten document, and go to File > Revert To > Browse All Versions.
    browse all versions in the pages app
  2. Like with Time Machine, use the arrows or windows to find the desired version and click Restore.
    restore a previous document version

The process is similar for Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. Follow these steps to recover an overwritten Word document on a Mac:

  1. Open the replaced file.
  2. Go to File > Browse Version History if you use Office 2016 or 2019 for Mac. If you use Microsoft 365 for Mac, click the document's name in the title bar and select Browse Version History.
    browse version history in microsoft word
  3. Click Open Version when you find the desired one.
    open a previous version
  4. Hit Restore.
    restore the word document

Recover Replaced Files on a Mac From iCloud Backups

iCloud offers another way to recover a replaced file on a Mac without a Time Machine backup. However, like Time Machine, it requires a previous backup.

Here's how to restore replaced files on a Mac from iCloud backups:

  1. Log into your iCloud account, click the candy box menu icon (the twelve dots), and select Data Recovery.
    icloud data recovery
  2. Click Restore Files.
    restore files from icloud
  3. Tick the desired files' checkboxes (or click Select All) and hit Restore.
    choose and recover files from icloud

Recover Overwritten Files on a Mac Using Data Recovery Software

Data recovery software is your only hope if you don't have Time Machine or iCloud backups. It's also ideal when restoring files to previous versions doesn't apply because you've wiped or formatted your storage before overwriting data. The same goes if you've accidentally deleted a file before saving another in the space it had occupied.

However, you can recover a replaced folder on a Mac (or individual files) if it remains in the newly available space on your storage device. Remember the USB example above? You can't restore the data over which you've saved new entries. You can only retrieve the remaining files (if any).

Wondershare Recoverit is among the top-performing solutions for replaced folder recovery for Mac. It supports 1,000+ file formats and 2,000+ storage devices, making it ideal for every Mac user. Moreover, it can retrieve data in 500+ scenarios with a 98% success rate.

Free Download
Free Download

Here's how to recover replaced files on a Mac with Wondershare Recoverit:

  1. Download and install the software on your Mac.
  2. Go to Hard Drives and Locations and select the storage unit with overwritten yet recoverable data to initiate an automatic scan.
    data recovery sources
  3. Use filters to accelerate the process. For instance, you can instruct the software to recover an overwritten folder on your Mac or a specific file type.
    scanning for replaced files
  4. Preview the salvageable files and click Recover. This example shows how to preview and recover an overwritten PowerPoint file on a Mac, but it's the same for other data.
    a powerpoint file preview
  5. Browse your Mac for a secure file path (not the original location) and hit Save.
    data recovery destination

How to Prevent Overwriting Files in the Future

a macbook user creating folders

Now that you know how to recover overwritten files on a Mac, it's time to dive into the prevention steps. You don't want to overwrite valuable data again.

Here's how to prevent overwriting files on your Mac:

  • Don't ignore warning messages when saving, renaming, copying, or moving files or folders. They might alert you about existing names. Naming a file or folder the same as another will replace the older version.
  • Stop using a drive after formatting it or accidentally deleting files. Otherwise, you'll overwrite data. Use trusted data recovery software immediately to increase the chances of retrieval.
  • Don't save recovered files in the original location because you might cause data corruption.

Sear these tips into your mind and use them as your North Star when handling files on your Mac to avoid preventable data loss and associated headaches.

Conclusion

Although preventative measures are crucial, knowing how to retrieve replaced files on a Mac can help you avoid stressful data loss.

Time Machine and iCloud backups are ideal if you've previously backed up your overwritten files. Otherwise, you can restore them to a previous version.

On the other hand, data recovery software like Wondershare Recoverit is your best bet if you've formatted or wiped your storage or accidentally deleted files before adding new data. However, you can only recover the remaining files in the newly available space, not those over which you've saved new data.

Free Download
Free Download

FAQ

  • Where do deleted Mac files go?
    Deleted files on your Mac go to the Trash unless you bypass the Trash using the Shift + Delete shortcut. However, even permanently erased data is recoverable because it remains on your disk until you overwrite it with new entries.
  • Is overwriting a file the same as deleting it?
    Overwriting a file isn't the same as deleting it. Erasing it only removes its reference from the file allocation table. The file is still on your disk, ready for retrieval (with data recovery software). However, saving new data over the space it had occupied will overwrite it, making you lose it forever.
  • Do overwritten files go to the Trash?
    Overwritten files don't go to the Trash. If you replace them with their namesakes, they remain in those files' original location, becoming their new versions. However, you can browse all previous versions to restore the desired one. See how to undo a Replace File on a Mac in the guide above.
  • Can you recover an overwritten file?
    You can restore an overwritten file on a Mac if you've named it the same as another or previously backed it up with Time Machine or iCloud.
    However, you can't recover deleted files (after accidentally erasing them or formatting a drive) if you save new data over them. Data recovery software can help you retrieve only the unaffected data remaining in the newly available space.
  • How can I recover a replaced file on a Mac without Time Machine backups?
    You can restore a replaced file on a Mac from a previous version or an iCloud backup (if any). If those methods don't apply, you can use data recovery software like Wondershare Recoverit.
Theo Lucia
Theo Lucia Jun 14, 24
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