Undelete VMDKs with VMFS

As you probably already know none of the VMFS-versions so far has an “Undelete” function.
So there is no way to restore a virtual disk if it was deleted manually by accident in a reliable way.

In the past few years I learned some procedures to work around this VMFS-limitation.
But to tell you the bad news first  – none of this procedures is 100% reliable.
So if you ask me : “Can you recover a vmdk that I deleted accidentaly ?” the answer will always be: “it depends …”

The most critical aspects are:

Condition Bad Good
activity on the VMFS-datastore after the VMDK
was deleted
production use
creation of new
vmdks or snapshots
no activity
attempts to recreate files using dummy disks
a la VMware Knowledgebase
yes none
Size of the VMDK large small
ESXi Version 6.0 and later 3.5 – 5.*
free space on the datastore at the time the VMDK was created no free space
or almost full
lots of free space

To estimate the chances for a recovery it is required to understand that there are 2 possible cases:

Case 1:  the location of the VMDK inside the VMFS-volume is still referenced in the VMFS-Metadata.
Case 2:  the location of the VMDK inside the VMFS-volume has to be guessed

ESXi 3.5 upto 5.* usually simply dereferenced the name of the VMDK without cleaning the Inode and the mapping details.
The Linux-tool vmfs-fuse very often still displayed the VMDK as if it had never been deleted.
This behaviour seems to have changed with ESXi 6. With the new version the “delete file” process now does a cleaner job.
Unfortunately  vmfs-fuse no longer works with VMFS 6

Let me give you a quick overview of the procedure that I use nowadays:

1. user deletes a VMDK
2. as soon as this gets noticed the following steps will improve the chances for a successful recovery:
– do not create new VMs on the datastore
– do not create new snapshots on the datastore
– if possible power off all VMs that use thin-provisioned VMDKs
– collect information about the lost VMDK such as size, filesystem, provisioning type, guestOS
3. create a dump of the first 1.5 Gb of the VMFS-volume
4. contact me
5. the dump of the VMFS-header-files can then be used to find out if an attempt to recover the deleted VMDK makes sense or not.

I need about an hour to analyse the dump and once I got the results we can discuss what to do next.


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  1. Owen O'Donohoe says:

    Hi I’ve just deleted a vmdk from a datastore in ESXI 5.5
    Can you help recover it please

  2. continuum says:

    Hi Owen
    lets continue this via skype …

  3. Isaac K says:

    Hi Ulli, I tried moving files between devices using the ESX 5.5 datastore browser. The destination was full. The process failed, but corrupted the files on the source drive. Then I accidentally deleted the disk files. Can you help me please???

    • Ulli says:

      Hi Isaak
      please call me via skype “sanbarrow”
      With 5.5 we have a decent chance for recovery

  4. Alejandro Lara says:

    Hi I’ve just deleted a vmdk from a datastore in ESXI 6.0
    Can you help recover it please

    • Ulli says:

      Hi Alejandro
      please call me via skype “sanbarrow” so that I can check wether I can help you.