What Everybody ought to Know about iPhone Backups

Do you have a backup strategy for your iPhone? You know you will need a backup someday in the future. Just syncing your iPhone or iPod touch with iTunes is not enough. Syncing your data between the iPhone and your computer is not the same as making backups. Synchronizations and backups deal with different data. Here is a quick rundown of what data gets synchronized and what data gets backed up.

Syncing will safeguard the following data:

  • Music
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Bookmarks
  • Settings (mail account settings, device settings, etc.)

Backups, on the Other Hand, will safeguard the following data:

  • Text messages
  • Notes from the notes application
  • Locations from the maps application
  • Call history
  • Contact favorites
  • Cookies
  • Settings (sound, widget, network)
  • Photos (Yes, they get backed up and synced)
  • And most importantly it will store the data of third party apps! You see, there is a big difference as regards which data gets transferred between your mobile device and your stationary computer. You should always do both backups and synchronizations.

When you want to protect your data from being lost, there are only a few important things you need adhere to:

  1. Learn how to backup your iPhone or iPod touch
  2. Learn how to restore your valuable data
  3. Backup your data regularly

How to backup your iPhone or iPod touch

Backing up your data is easy. Just connect your iPhone to your desktop computer. Depending on your settings, the synchronization will start automatically or you need to start the synchronizationBust iPhonemanually by pressing the sync button on the Summary tab in iTunes. If you are using a laptop computer, remember to connect your laptop to the power supply as backups may take several minutes to complete with the iPhone software version 2.2. If you are using an older software version it can take considerably longer. You should configure iTunes to sync automatically when you connect your device. iTunes will backup your device only when you connect it to your computer regardless of how often you press the sync button in iTunes. If you want to enforce a new backup you must disconnect and reconnect your device. This will trigger a new backup.

Never disconnect your iPhone or iPod touch while it is backing up your device. If you do, you will have a corrupt backup.

You can see the created backups in iTunes > Preferences > Devices > Device backups. This is where you can delete older backups. The backup files have a file extension of .mdbackup. You can find these files in your home directory by following Library > Application Support > MobileSync > Backup. In Backup you will find different sub folders. For each of your devices there will be one. Beneath this directory you will see the actual backup files which have been created by iTunes. You can analyse these files by using the iPhone backup extractor as described below.

How to restore your data

In order to restore a backup you created earlier just connect your iPhone or iPod touch to your computer and press the restore button on the Summary tab in iTunes.

Though I have never tried it myself, it should also be possible to restore your iPhone backups to a different device. Naturally all data gets overwritten when you restore a backup. Therefore be extremely careful.

The backup extractor

There is a supercrazyawesome tool available with which you can have a peek into the backup files iTunes creates. The backup extractor has just two buttons. The Read Backups button will look for backup files on your computer and lists all backup files it finds. When you select one backup file from the list in the main window and press the second button labeled Extract the extractor will ask for a directory where you want to save the extracted data.

In the listing of your backup files you will see one backup which is especially interesting. It is labeled Other Files. If you extract this one you will come across lots of familiar data. For example you will see a sqlite3 data base file, which contains your address book data. As far as I know it is not possible to alter any data and play it back onto your device. The author of the iPhone backup extractor is considering adding this functionality in the future. The backup extractor tool is donation ware. So, if you use it on a regular basis please support the author by making a donation.

Do backups regularly

With the new iPhone Software version 2.2, backups get created fairly quickly. Therefore, I advise you to configure iTunes to sync your device automatically each time you connect it to your computer.

This should be everything you need to know about securing your iPhone against data loss. Go ahead, start your backup now.

Should you still feel a desire for more information on making backups, please head over to the official Apple site and check out what Apple has to say about iPhone backups.


Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo Meenen who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter

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