How to recover a file saved under temporary internet files in Windows 7

This is an interesting one. Send yourself a file (lets say a text file) in your favourite webmail (lets says gmail). Download the file using Internet Explorer (I checked this with ie9 under windows 7). Don’t save the file, instead click Open when prompted by ie. The file will open in notepad (or whatever the associated file is). Make some changes and do File-> Save and then Exit.

Where is your file? For all intents and purposes, it is gone! Historically, the file was in a temp directory somewhere (and with other browsers it still is). But with IE9/Win 7 it actually isn’t in the file system as such as more and retrieving it took way more thought and trial and error than you might imagine. To save you all that, here is how to do it :)

Temporary internet files are actually stored in a kind of database that Windows Explorer is able to read. You can view these files by going to IE, click on the gear icon in the top right, go to Internet Options. On the General tab, in the Browsing History section, click Settings. On the next dialog box click View Files. This opens up a Windows Explorer window in the right temporary folder (note is also possible to browse directly to this folder as well). Problem number one is evident here – the downloaded file is not saved by it name! This is a change from previous behavior (and definitely different from Firefox etc.). This means that even if you do a computer full search for the file it wouldn’t be found in the temp folder – very confusing! Instead the file is named by the bit of the url after the domain name of the place you downloaded it from – so for example for a download gmail attachment you might see something like this…

ui=2&ik=8824862567453&view=att&th=13werf5f73dwerv0ba&attid=0.1&disp=safe&realattid=f_werewyrkdd0&zw&saduie=AG9B_P-J242348q1z2342C784732IbNUI&sadet=1323432283423482&sads=Jo2PqlsA3erwerKHFVb4jMdhYsdfjkEzc&sadssc=1

and the internet address will be the full url to the downloaded file (e.g. the above with https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/? added to it for a gmail attachment).

The key to finding the right file is to look at the File Type column and the File Accessed column – so look for a file of the right type (excel word etc) that was downloaded at the right approx time. Note that even though you have saved the file since you downloaded it, the Date Modified will not be updated.

Now we face problem number two – if you double click (or right click Open) the file, it will just try to re-download the file! Assuming you’ve spent some time editing the attachment, this isn’t what you want :) So this is the magic bit. Copy the file (right click on the file name and Copy). Then paste it into a normal windows folder (like your Documents folder). Hey presto, the file is copied to the folder with its correct name and it will have all the content you added since you downloaded it. Yay :D

One final point – how to avoid this in the first place? Always either Save downloaded files in IE or else always do a Save As in the program you Open a downloaded file in and make sure you save it into a normal working folder.

Hope that helps :)

Colm

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22 comments to How to recover a file saved under temporary internet files in Windows 7

  • Brian

    Perfect solution and apparently the ONLY solution for IE9/Win7. I just spent >2 hr looking for solutions to this problem and wasting a lot of time with info that applies to older Windows OS/older IE versions. You saved me from having to re-invent a lot of important work.

    Many thanks for the post!

  • admin

    First reply that actually referenced the post in a sea of literally thousands of spam responses! Glad it helped and that you retrieved your data.

    Colm

  • admin

    Ha, that’s great :) Always nice to know there are more Colm’s coming into this world :)

  • Sandy

    Thanks SOOOO much for this post!! I just spent 2 hours working on a work document that I opened from gmail and I thought it was lost for good. You are a life saver!

  • Jackie

    What if you have been saving the file, but your Internet Explorer deletes all of the temporary files when the browser is shut?

  • admin

    If you have your IE set up to automatically delete temp files on close then I’d say the saved file is gone for good…

  • andi

    YOU ARE A LIFESAVER!! So thankful right now!

  • Buggz

    THANK YOU!!! You are a life saver!!

  • R

    THANK YOU!!!! Worked brilliantly. There are many posts about this online – this was the most effective solution and explained very well. THANK YOU!!

  • admin

    You’re welcome :)

  • Angeline

    This is fantastic, thank you so much ….

  • Champ

    Thanks so much for this!!! this really recovered what i been doing for the last hour(office 2010 window7).

    You are a real life saver!!!

    Could anybody tell me why microsoft IE & office just delete the file and we have to recover it like this?

  • TE

    Brilliant. Thankyou

  • Diann

    You are awesome! Just in case anyone is wondering, this works in Windows 8 as well.

    Thank you!

  • Misty

    Thank you soooo much! You just helped me recover a 7 page research paper!

  • admin

    Excellent, advancing the cause of academic research one blog post at a time :D

  • channy

    Thanks for your comments. I tried that and I can’t seem to relocate my file. Is there any folder it’s saved in?

    I checked and my IE doesn’t auto delete my cookies or temp files…so I don’t know what to do..

    Please let me know..

  • admin

    Very late in replying :) If it isn’t in the folder you get to via the View Files option in IE then I don’t know where it is. Remember you are not looking for the filename, you are looking for a file of that type with an accessed date/time of around when you first downloaded it.

  • Rachel

    Is there a solution for Firefox users? I have found what I think is the right files as per your description above but I can’t find my file and the copy/paste thing doesn’t work…

  • LRN

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! Super helpful!!

  • Kelly

    If we tried to re-download the file from its original source would it overwrite the temporary document that we were working on and trying to recover? I’m able to locate the file and open it but when I do it doesn’t have any of the changes made while I was editing. I think all hope is lost :(

  • admin

    Did you do this part?…

    Now we face problem number two – if you double click (or right click Open) the file, it will just try to re-download the file! Assuming you’ve spent some time editing the attachment, this isn’t what you want :) So this is the magic bit. Copy the file (right click on the file name and Copy). Then paste it into a normal windows folder (like your Documents folder). Hey presto, the file is copied to the folder with its correct name and it will have all the content you added since you downloaded it. Yay :D

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