What is RAW data?
Raw data is what we get when we recover files without their folder and file names. Instead of a My Documents folder, with photos and documents arranged into separate folders, what we get is a folder named JPEG for example, with thousands of consecutively numbered jpg files. The same with office documents, you would get a folder with thousands of doc, xls, docx or xlsx files.
These raw files will be fully usable and contain all the same info that they did originally. You will still be able to open them, edit them and save them, they are just unnamed.
Why is this data in RAW format?
When we recover data, we always prefer to get it back in the original structured form. When data has been deleted from a Mac, or when a hard drive has been reformatted and then partially overwritten, it can be impossible to rebuild all of the data in structured form, as the structure has been overwritten or damaged. This is when we opt for RAW files.
With a RAW recovery, what we are basically doing is searching the whole hard drive for files in known formats. This means we usually get a lot of office documents, jpg images, photoshop psd files and some others. If we need to find an unusual file type then we need a few sample files to be able to generate the correct scan info. RAW recovery is not always possible for every type of file. An example is Apple Garageband project files, which are actually just folders with the name .band on the end. On the mac, these folders are treated as packages, with folders and files inside that you don’t usually see, (If you right click one and choose ‘Show Package Contents’ you will see what I mean,) but for the purposes of RAW recovery we cannot get back those files. (We would however get back the RAW AIFF files and recordings from within the projects. It’s not ideal but may be better than nothing.)
What to do with the RAW files
If there is only a small number of files, then you can manually open them all up, see what’s inside and then rename them to something useful. Luckily, for certain file types, there are other ways to make sense of them. It’s called meta data, meta tags or EXIF data.
This meta information is stored inside the files, so even if the file and folder names are lost, we still have the tags.
A brilliant piece of software called Amok EXIF sorter will plough through thousands of jpg files, read their date tags and then place them in dated folders. It can also do other fancy things with tags, but default setting will create a decent structure.
For music, iTunes or any other music manager will usually rename the files in the library based on the artist and album tags. In iTunes, just make sure it is set to: ‘Keep iTunes media folder organised.’
Document files such as doc, docx, xls and xlsx also have some useful tags that we can use to make sense of the masses of numbered files.
In Windows, set the View to ‘Details’ and you should see a series of headings such as Name, Date Modified, Type, and Size. Date modified will show the date that the files were recovered so is useless for this task, however if you right click on this heading you will see other available columns, with ticks beside a few of them. The ‘More…‘ option at the bottom contains loads of tags that we can use to sort the data.
Good headings for office documents are Author and Date last saved. You can experiment and see if any of the other tags are more useful to your specific data.
Good headings for jpg files are Date taken (Date picture taken) and Camera model. Again, there are others which may be useful.