File Recovery Tool's Portable Vs. Installable Option?

Which Option is Better for Data Recovery: Installable or Portable?

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Most data recovery programs come in two forms, portable and installable, but which do you choose?

Is portable better than installable when it comes to file recovery programs, or vice versa?

The following question is one of many you'll see in my File Recovery FAQ:

"I found a file recovery program that looks good but there are two download options: 'portable' and 'installable.' Which one should I use?"

The most important thing to know is that both versions of the tool do exactly the same thing.

In other words, they're identical programs, aside from a very important difference:

The installable version installs to your hard drive, placing files all over your computer in the process - like most programs you download or purchase do.

The portable version does not install to your hard drive, but instead runs self-contained in the folder that you extracted the downloaded file's contents to.

In general, I like portable, self-contained programs. They don't leave shortcuts, DLL files, and registry keys all over your computer. They also don't need to be uninstalled, just deleted from where they stand. It's an overall "cleaner" experience, in my opinion, to use portable software when you can.

Now, multiply my preference for portable software in general 1,000,000 times and that comes close to how much I prefer portable file recovery programs over installable ones, and here's why:

If you've been reading through all the questions in my FAQ, then you already know that the single most important thing you can do to make sure a file you've deleted will be recoverable is to stop writing information to the drive that had that file on it.

If you didn't know that, now you do.

Installing software is one of the most write-heavy things you could possibly do, so "installing" a file recovery program is a very ironic, and potentially destructive, thing to do.

In a perfect scenario, which may or may not be possible for you, you'll choose the portable version of a free file recovery program, download it to another drive, like a flash drive or second hard drive, and run it directly from there.

Where you run a data recovery tool from doesn't impact where you search for deleted files on, so don't worry about that.

See Will a Data Recovery Program Undelete Anything Ever Deleted? and How Long is Too Long Before a File is Unrecoverable? for more about why it's important to be careful what you do after you realize you need to undelete a file.

A related concern I've heard is whether the data recovery file scanning process itself writes data to the drive, potentially impacting any future recovery if the program in use doesn't pan out. The answer to that, luckily, is no. Feel free to scan with as many tools as you want - just remember to use the portable version!