Recovering a Deleted Draft in Gmail

So, here’s a funny thing about Gmail. If you delete a regular email, it gets moved to the Trash folder. However, if you discard a draft, it just vanishes in a puff of smoke. My wife discovered this frustrating behaviour tonight after spending an hour writing a message to her sister via gmail.com. Something went wrong when she tried to insert a picture and she hit the Discard Draft button in haste.

Given that the draft is not moved into the Trash folder when this happens, there are only a few options for recovery:

1. The “Undo” text appears on-screen, but only until you click on another folder / message. It’s easy to panic and click on something else once you realize that you’ve just discarded your draft.

2. If you have another device hooked up to the same account, you can quickly put it into airplane mode and perhaps recover the draft.

3. In some cases, the back button *may* work.

None of these worked in our case and so I thought of a hail mary option:

4. Scan the browser process memory for the discarded draft. This can only work if you have not yet closed the Gmail browser tab, and if the process memory has not yet been overwritten or reclaimed. Also, there need to be some reasonably obscure words in the text you are looking for (‘bazaar’ was the winner in my wife’s draft).

There are lots of tools to read process memory; I used HxD to search the process memory for keywords from the draft.

hxd0

Actually, HxD is a little clunky since it doesn’t show you the process ID of the process you are viewing. Incidentally, you can get the process ID for a Chrome tab via the Chrome Task manager (right-click on the tab bar).

hxd1

After about 9 attempts, I found the correct chrome.exe process and found the text of the discarded draft. Of course, by this time, my wife had already introduced another mitigation:

5. Rewrite the email.

hxd2

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120 Responses to Recovering a Deleted Draft in Gmail

  1. Mary says:

    Thank you Alnoor. I used HxD, took forever to figure out what to do, but it sort of worked! I found the email, or about half of it anyway. I can’t seem to find the other half of the email draft, but some is better than none! Thank you. 🙂

  2. Liza says:

    Based on your advice I quickly did a word search in the search tool right in gmail and it found the last version —-I quickly opened it and got 98% of my email back Bless you!

  3. Eduardo Briceño says:

    #2 did the trick for me, thanks so much!

  4. Krishna says:

    Hi, I deleted a draft mail couple of days back from my desk top and later tried to search for it in trash, it was not found. can you help me !

  5. kiaker says:

    Airplane mode(trick #2) has just worked for me! Thank you so much!

  6. i found the file in hxd but couldnt put it back in gmail. could you please help me?

    • I think the best you can do is to select the contents of the email and then do a right-click -> Copy. You can then right-click -> Paste it into your email client. You will lose some formatting and such, but hopefully it doesn’t take you too long to redo it.

  7. Schroder says:

    Thank you for Needle in a Thread Stack. Tip Top.

  8. Phillip says:

    YES!!!!! This actually worked for me too! Thank you so much. Accidentally deleted a draft on my iPad and couldn’t find any undo, not in trash, or by search! Eek! (I was quite surprised not to see it in trash.) My heart fell, but before it hit the floor I decided to search the issue, found this page, grabbed my charging phone and switched it to airplane mode. I was convinced it was gone, but no. Did I say it worked already? It worked! Thanks again and god bless the internets and my google cache. I immediately sent a copy to myself. My new best practice.

  9. Nivas says:

    Wow, this just helped me recover two hours drafted mail, thanks alot for the pointer.
    I wonder why drafts are not moved to trash

  10. janet says:

    Okay, I found the thread and highlighted it. But now what? Pasting it into gmail search doesn’t work. What are the next steps to recover the lost, unsaved email? Help!?

    • I think the best you can do is to select the contents of the email and then do a right-click -> Copy. You can then right-click -> Paste it into your email client. You will lose some formatting and such, but hopefully it doesn’t take you too long to redo it.

  11. LM says:

    Any way to run HxD or similar program/extension on chromebook?

  12. Jordan says:

    just incase anyone on here doesn’t know how to do all of that, I simply went into gmail and did a search for some words I knew were in the email. It had moved my draft to my spam folder.
    Happy searching.

  13. jef pol says:

    HxD would not work on Win 7 x64… Out of memory when trying to load even the smallest image in RAM and I have 16GB of RAM!

  14. Phyllis Wolff says:

    Alnoor Allidina – Thank you so much for finding some solutions to this ongoing Gmail issue. I have lost many drafts over the years. And was relieved to find the ‘undo discard’ option in W-10. But I too have had issues lately. I send drafts to myself and that has helped. Today nothing helped. I’m not computer savvy enough to try #4.

    I sure hope an internal solution is found and Gmail drafts can be recovered.

  15. Varad says:

    Great! It helped me thanks!!!

  16. Sebastian says:

    Thanks for the tip! After accidental delete and finding your article I remembered my phone’s data connection was off and retrieved it that way. Phew!

  17. Niki says:

    Hi Alnoor, using latest version of Opera and accidentally deleted a really important and long gmail draft almost 2 hours ago. Steps 1 -3 didn’t work for my, so I attempted your hail mary (as my browser is still open), however, I have no idea what I’m doing – can’t find/access the process ID or task manager for Opera, can’t find my cache or view it and I’m totally clueless about how to go about it. Any advice for a non-techie like me?

  18. donmark godfrey says:

    please i mistakenly discarded my assignment in the draft folder and now, i was not able to see it in trash, and i need does file back because they mean so much to me, please anybody with useful information on how i can recover it back , please do not hesitate say ,God bless anybody with useful information

    • fitzfulke says:

      Follow the instructions at the top of this post. They worked for me.
      Do NOT turn off the computer or close your browser. The deleted information is in temporary memory. It will disappear completely if you shut down before you follow the instructions.

  19. Ivo says:

    Thank you SOO MUCH

  20. Sarah says:

    I could not find it. Please help me. I am unable to find the deleted file even by searching for specific words!!!

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