This article was updated in September 2016
How to handle a corrupt iPhone or iPad backup from a failed iOS upgrade
Every now and then, when creating an iTunes backup, it can turn out to be corrupt, sometimes without you realising it until you need to restore. This can be a real problem for Apple fans and invariably it happened to many of us at some point.
Maybe you lost data from your iPhone after a failed iOS upgrade, or maybe a precious backup has been overwritten. Maybe you are simply trying to restore data from a previous iTunes backup which iTunes refuses to restore.
iPhone backup is corrupt: Common iTunes error
Error messages shown in iTunes for a corrupt backup can vary depending on the main issue, sometimes without giving us any clues on the real problem. Here are some of the most common messages:
- The iPad could not be restored. An unknown error occurred
- iTunes could not restore the iPhone because the backup session failed
- iTunes could not restore the iPhone because the backup was corrupt or not compatible with the iPhone that is being restored
Can I repair an iPad/iPhone corrupt backup file?
In most instances, it’s almost impossible to repair corrupt backups, and certainly not without a full understanding of what is missing and how to fix it. The next best option is the recovery of data and files that still exist, by simply using the Lite version of the iPhone Backup Extractor that can show you what data is in a backup.
Corrupt iTunes backups can be affected in different grades depending on what has happened. For example, an iOS upgrade or a power failure can determine different levels of data corruption. If the backup process is not complete the result will be an unusable iTunes backup file. Depending on how far iTunes was in completing its task, the data can be recovered or not.
If you don’t have experience with the iTunes backups, it’s very difficult to determine whether a backup has all the data and files.
If you are in this situation, we recommend you to contact our expert team, they are ready to help and explain exactly what is possible.
Below you’ll find a few ways to recover data from a corrupted iTunes backup, depending on the file type.
Do you need to get back iPhone data?
Data such as contacts, calendars, SMS messages, location, notes is stored in sqlite databases named as specific iTunes hash files within the backup folder.
Our application can convert these databases to user-friendly CSV, Vcard or HTML format for your convenience. Here are the steps to follow if your backup is corrupt and you need the data inside:
- Try the quick links for data extraction from “Overview” – this is the simplest way to extract your data
- Use the "File" Menu to convert files to the format you need (CSV, VCards, ICAL for calendar or HTML for notes or messages)
- Use the "Extract" Menu to extract the files you need (contacts, calendar, SMS, notes, etc.)
- Use "Expert Mode" of the application to extract the SQLite databases and work with them directly if possible
How to recover iPhone photos and videos
You may still find photos and videos in your iTunes backup even if the iTunes process was incomplete and led to a corrupt backup file. Usually the size of the backup folder itself is the tell-tale sign: a backup folder of 1-2 GB or more might mean that some photos and videos may still be inside. Try the following:
- Extract photos and videos by the quick links in the iPhone Backup Extractor
- Use the "Extract" menu to extract photos or videos
- Enter "Expert Mode" of the application and navigate to Camera Roll Domain > Media > PhotoData, Camera Roll Domain > Media > DCIM, Media Domain > Library > SMS > Attachments or Media Domain > Media > Recordings to see if there are still media files you can recover.
If you still have problems and you’re unable to extract the images or you videos, you can follow the instructions below:
- Find the backup folder in question and make a copy of it. Make sure that the selected folder is a copy because you’ll destroy it in the end.
- Sort the files inside by size and remove all files smaller than 300 KB.
- Download the Bulk Rename Utility. It is a free tool and a great help for what we want to do.
- Once the software installed, open the "Bulk Rename Utility" and navigate to the copy of the backup folder you made, then select it. If you need to extract the images from the backup, add "jpg" (without dot) to the "Extension Section (11)" or “.jpg” (with dot) using the "Add > Suffix (7)" menu.
- Select all the the files in the top window (they’ll appear in green). Click the “Rename” button and all the selected files will then be converted to "jpg" files.
- In the folder where you saved them, select "Thumbnails view". Now you should be able to see which files are photos. Move the photos to a safe new folder, then repeat the process for videos by using the ".MOV" extension instead of ".jpg".
How to recover iPhone app messages
The iTunes backup file can contain WhatsApp / Snapchat / Viber / Kik / WeChat / Line and Hike databases as well. If you have installed these apps on your iPhone and you want to recover your messages, the iPhone Backup Extractor can help you to extract them, if data can be recovered.
Try these methods for extracting your iPhone app messages:
- Check the “Preview” tab to see if any data is available for extraction. If data is there, you should click on the app name, select the messages you need and download them in the format you want.
- Use the “Extract” menu to export the available messages as HTML or as CSV. The difference between these formats consists in the way that the data is displayed. If you need to extract it into an easy readable format, the HTML version is what you need. The extracted file can be opened with any browser and you will get the attachment files, too. If you want to extract the data in text format, then the CSV format is what you need. Basically you will obtain a list with the messages extracted in a text format, readable with any plain text reader. If you extract the database content in this format, you will not be able to get the messages attachments.
- Use the “Expert mode” tab then choose the database you want to recover. After extraction use the “File” menu then select the databases you have and convert them to the format that you need (CSV, HTML).
Use the table below to extract the necessary data from the correct path.
|Chat App||Stored to||Backup filename|
Documents/chats.plist (private messages) or stories.plist (public snaps)
These databases can be used in the following ways:
- Can be imported into another iTunes backup. To import them into another iTunes backup, you should use the iPhone Backup Extractor in “Expert mode”. Once here, go to the path where you need to import the file, right click on the element you need to be imported, select “Replace file” and choose the database you want to import. Remember that the database from the iTunes backup will be replaced by the new database, so the data from the backup will be deleted
- Can be converted into CSV or HTML (you can use the iPhone Backup Extractor then the “File” menu to convert the database into the format you want)
- Can be opened with an SQL editor (like SQL Manager, for example)
What are manifest files and why do I need them?
The manifest files in the iOS are best described in layman’s terms as a directory that lets the iOS, iTunes and our application know what files are in the iTunes backup, their name and where they are located.
The manifests also contain important information about keychains and encryption, so if they are corrupted or deleted it can cause iTunes huge problems when restoring the backup. The main manifest and info files are:
If you get an error message saying "There is no iTunes backup stored" or the backup shows as incomplete and gives no stats, this means that the manifest files are partly corrupted or even missing. If these files are corrupted or missing, the backup cannot be restored via iTunes. In this situation the iPhone Backup Extractor could "miss-report" the iTunes backup contents.
Encrypted backups are even more difficult to work with when corrupt, as missing or damaged manifest files make the backup unusable.
Can I avoid iTunes corrupting my iOS backup?
Given the many ways through which an iTunes backup can become corrupt, it is difficult to prevent all instances of iTunes failure. However, there are best practices to follow to avoid losing precious photos or important contacts and also protect data already safely backed up in iTunes. When carrying out major iTunes process like iOS updates or full backups, we suggest backing up safely to prevent data loss.
- Always make a copy of the iTunes backup before an iOS update
- Store the safety copy on another location on your computer, other that the default iTunes folder
- Do not disconnect the device while iTunes is making a backup
If your backup has been corrupted, tell us more below. Missing manifest files is a case for our support team, so contact us!