Recovery of MS Word Content from Temp Files

Microsoft Office has extensive AutoSave and Auto Recovery options that allow you to rescue your work in the event that it is lost due to a power failure, system crash or plain human error. However many people don't know how to use these features or that they even exist.

Even if you don't have these features enabled, you can sometimes recover data from the various temporary files that are created by Office while you are working on the document.

Microsoft have changed the way AutoSave and Auto Recover works in different versions of Office. Therefore you may want to experiment before you rely on this information.

Finding the Temporary Files

When a new file is started a temporary file is created. This can be either in the windows temp directory, in "C:\ Documents and Settings\<username>\Application Data\Microsoft". If the file is stored on a network drive then it will be temporarily created there.

This temporary file will have a few different letters after the tilde (or squiggly line " ~ ") . These are good ones to look for to find some lost info. There are others, but these are the ones most likely to contain data that can be recovered.

Finding and using the temporary and auto save files

The default auto save time for word documents is 10 minutes. You can control this time in Options under the "Save" tab. The auto save files are placed in one of the following two locations, which is where you should look to recover the data.

  1. "C:\ Documents and Settings\<username>\Application Data\Microsoft\Word".
  2. "C:\ Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Temp"

On Windows 7 and Vista, the locations will be

  1. "C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Word"
  2. "C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Temp"

If you are looking for files used by word, then the following file types should be looked for, where "xxxx" is a number.

When you have found a file that looks like it might contain data, you may want to open it in notepad instead of trying to get Word to reassemble it. The easiest way to do this is to open Notepad from the start menu then drag and drop the file in to it. The file will then be opened so that you can view the contents. 

If the document was open when the system failed (power failure or crash) then you could try just opening Word again (not the document, just Word itself from the start menu). Word will then try to recover the lost document.

Office 2010 and Higher

In Office 2010 and higher, you have an additional option, built in to the product, called Recover Unsaved Documents

  1. Click on File tab in the upper left corner.
  2. Choose Recent
  3. In the bottom left corner is Recover Unsaved Documents

The Saved Drafts folder will open. Find your file and double click on it to open. Then save the file.

These files can also be found in the following locations:

Windows 8/Windows 7/Windows Vista

Windows XP
C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Office\UnsavedFiles

Other Useful Information

If you have been working on a file for hours and the document was created via copying and pasting or at one point had cut the entire page or document to paste some place and then placed something else on the clip board, the data may not have been lost. This is because when any info is copied it is sent to a temp file with the name ~wrlxxxx.tmp. Therefore you could search your system for files of this name and then use the same "Drag and Drop" technique to view the data in Notepad to recover the data.

Another interesting thing to note is that when a change is made to a document that requires a temp file to be created, when you press the save button all the temp files are merged together into one file and the file is renamed to what you called it. The original document that you created is then deleted.

Further Information

Microsoft Knowledge Base

Description of how Word creates temporary files

How to recover a lost file in Word 2007 or in Word 2003

How to recover a lost Word document

Automatically save and recover Office 2007 files

Automatically save and recover Office 2011 MAC files

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Last Page Update: 27/03/2015

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