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File carving

File carving

File carving definition

File carving is a digital forensic technique used to recover files from a storage medium (like a hard drive or memory card) based on the file’s content rather than its metadata. It’s particularly useful when the filesystem’s structure is damaged or deleted, making traditional file recovery methods ineffective.

In essence, file carving is like piecing together a puzzle by recognizing and collecting specific patterns in a vast sea of data. It’s a valuable technique for situations where traditional recovery methods fall short.

See also: cloud forensics, computer forensics, network forensics, memory forensics

File carving breakdown:

  • No Metadata Required: Unlike standard file recovery, which depends on intact metadata (like file tables or directory entries), file carving searches the raw bytes of the disk.
  • Headers and Footers: Most file formats have unique header and footer signatures—specific sequences of bytes that mark the beginning and end of files. File carving software looks for these signatures to identify and extract files.
  • Continuous Blocks: Ideally, the file being carved is stored in a continuous block. If not (i.e., the file is fragmented), carving can become more complex and may require additional analysis to reassemble the file correctly.
  • Applications: File carving is commonly used in digital forensics, especially when investigating cybercrimes, to recover evidence. It’s also used in data recovery scenarios where a file system is corrupted.


  • It may produce “false positives” if random data matches file signatures.
  • Recovering fragmented files can be challenging.
  • Some carved files may be incomplete if parts have been overwritten.
  • Popular Tools: Several software solutions exist for file carving, with Photorec and Foremost being among the popular open-source options.

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