What Does Recovering Orphaned File Mean?

By Karen Carter

Orphaned files are any type of file that is associated with programs that have been uninstalled or separated through computer error. These files are usually small files and little bits of data that have remained behind and are now unnecessary. When separated through error, orphaned files need to be recovered before the parent program will run properly. Some files resemble orphaned files, but they are shared files necessary to run several programs. When shared files are orphaned, multiple program will not run.


Orphaned files are sometimes created when a program is deleted instead of being uninstalled. Occasionally these small files are left behind when an uninstaller does not uninstall all the associated files with the program. Free trial programs leave orphaned files behind on purpose so the programs know that the user has already used up the free trial period. Disk errors can move small bits of information and data to a new location. Access to the file is lost since the parent program cannot locate the orphan file.


A parent program will attempt to recover orphan files when it is reinstalled. The installer searches the hard drive for the orphaned file that was left behind when installing again. This recovery attempt occurs when a necessary data file or user data was not uninstalled when the parent program was. One example is user game data developed for role playing game characters. This data is not used by any program but the original program. This type of orphaned file is saved in case the user wishes to play the game again with a previously built character.

Manual Recovery

Special software is needed to recover an orphaned file manually. These recovery programs are purchased software and are available from online sources. The program scans the computer looking for the file, which can take several minutes to an hour depending on the size of the hard drive. The program user can also tell the recovery program the file location and name, if it is known. Once the file is located, it is reunited with the parent program or relocated to its original location.

Automatic Recovery

Chkdsk.exe is a program built into most Windows operating systems. This program scans the computer’s hard drive and creates a new index of files that are found. This program attempts to recover orphans while cataloging them. The index lets the parent program know where the orphaned file is located. Chkdsk.exe also attempts to fix any disk errors and bad sectors when it is run.