The complete guide to iTunes backups and iTunes data recovery
iTunes backup recovery menu icon

The complete guide to iTunes backups and iTunes data recovery

Learn how to view, edit, export, modify and recover lost and deleted files from an iTunes backup.

Difficulty: easy

Steps: 3

Time needed: 5 minutes

An introduction to iTunes backup recovery

Apple's iTunes lets iOS users create backups of their iPhones, iPads and iPods. Over the years, these backups have come in a variety of formats, and been protected with a number of different encryption schemes.

Apple's backup system does a great job of safely copying user data so users can later reset and fully restore it to their devices. Despite this, there are many situations where a user doesn't want to completely overwrite what's on their phone and restoring their contents.

Users who have lost their phones need to extract data from these backups without having another phone to restore to. Users who are on a very different version of iOS may not be able to fully restore, and may need to manually get the files. Users who have accidentally deleted files or apps on their iPhone may need to browse iTunes backups and recover an earlier version of that data: without having to completely restore their phone to an older point in time. Being able to inspect, archive and modify iPhone backups, and Reincubate iPhone Backup Extractor allows for all of this and more. It can reset your restrictions passcode, recover content that was deleted prior to a backup being taken, and even convert an iCloud backup into an iTunes backup.

It's possible to get all of the following data -- and more -- from an iTunes backup:

Messages iOS

Messages

Videos iOS

Videos

Photos iOS

Photos

Call logs iOS

Call logs

Contacts iOS

Contacts

Notes iOS

Notes

Calendar iOS

Calendar

WhatsApp iOS

WhatsApp

App Data iOS

App Data

Everything else iOS

Everything else

Getting started with iPhone backup data

We've split this guide into sections to help you quickly find the information you need.

We recommend checking out the frequently asked questions, as we cover a huge amount of information there. We've probably heard your question before. At top and bottom of this page you'll see there's information on contacting us. Our support team -- and in fact, the whole team -- see and respond to user questions. We love to help, so don't be a stranger. 👋

In order to use this guide, you'll need three things:

Mac and Win

A Windows PC or Mac

An iTunes backup

An iTunes backup

iPhone Backup Extractor

iPhone Backup Extractor

If you don't have an iTunes backup -- or don't know whether you have one -- this guide will help you find or create one.

Finally, a word on our software, iPhone Backup Extractor. The free edition includes a huge amount. It'll list your backups, preview everything that's in them, extract four files at a time, and much more. You needn't buy a license to be able to do most of the things in this guide, but if you dig what we're doing or would like to unlock more of the app, then we really appreciate your support.

Let's start! 🏁

Easy guide to iTunes

How to see what's in your iPhone backup

Let's say you have an iTunes backup and rather than restoring it to an iPhone or iPad, you want to view what is in it, and extract its files to your computer. The best way do this is with iPhone Backup Extractor, which extracts these files (even deleted ones!) in a regular, accessible format.

Browsing an iTunes backup is easy with a clicks using the free edition of iPhone Backup Extractor:

  1. Download and install iPhone Backup Extractor, then open it. It runs on PCs and Macs.

  2. On the left-hand side you'll see an iTunes backup browser, showing all of the backups in iTunes' default backup folder. Select the iTunes backup you'd like to work with by clicking it. If the backup file is encrypted, you'll be prompted for the password needed to access it.

    If you have an iTunes backup located somewhere else, you can tap the + button and tell iPhone Backup Extractor about additional locations to search for backups.

    If no backups appear, it means you don't have one created for your PC or Mac's user account. It's easy and free to create one, and we've got instructions on how to create an iTunes backup in this guide. If you use iCloud backups, you can download your iCloud backup and convert it to an iTunes backup with our guide.

    iTunes backups shown in iPhone Backup Extractor
    iTunes backups shown in iPhone Backup Extractor

  3. Once the backup has loaded, you'll see information about your iTunes backup, and a handful of tabs for viewing and editing different parts of it.

    As you can see in the screenshot here, iPhone Backup Extractor will show you all sorts of information about your iPhone, including the firmware, IMEI, and whether it's an old classic iPhone, the latest-and-greatest iPhone, or something in between.

    You'll also get to see how many contacts are stored in your iPhone backup, whether the backup contains all those photos you've been snapping away, and whether those sentimental SMS messages are stashed away for safe-keeping.

    iPhone Backup Extractor's overview screen
    iPhone Backup Extractor's overview screen

    Select the "Preview" tab and you'll be able to see most of the main types of data available in your backup.

Creating, restoring and recovering data from iTunes sounds complicated, but it needn't be. Our iTunes backup extractor has four modes for recovering data:

  • Overview mode: easy to use summary of iPhone data, with single-click export to PDF, HTML and CSV

    iPhone Backup Extractor's overview summarises the main data types that are in the iTunes backup by showing a set of app icons. Clicking any of the icons will immediately start an export of that app's data, and you have a choice of formats for this.

    iPhone Backup Extractor in Overview mode

  • Preview mode: for previewing core iPhone data like messages, contacts and calls

    "Preview mode" gives you a look straight into the data stored in your iTunes backup: it's shown similarly to how it would be shown on an iPhone or iPad. Our preview includes data that was deleted prior to the backup, so you'll see even more than you would if you simply restored the backup. For more on how that works, see our section on recovering deleted data below. You can select entries in the preview and then click "Extract" to export them to your computer.

    iPhone Backup Extractor in Preview mode

  • App view mode: for extracting third-party app data from iTunes backups

    Our "App view" mode shows you each of the apps you had installed at the point your iTunes backup was created. It shows a list of those apps, and if you select an app, it'll let you jump straight into getting that apps' files. This mode is particularly helpful when you want to learn more about how an app stores data, or if you want to get your files from an app that we don't highlight on the overview. Easy! You can export files from "App view" with a single-click.

    iPhone Backup Extractor in App view mode

  • Expert mode: browse the entire backup's files, and export, edit or replace them

    "Expert mode" is particularly popular with our forensic users and developers, as it lets you see every file stored in an iTunes backup. You can drag them out to your computer, or right-click and edit or replace them.

    iPhone Backup Extractor in Expert mode

How to recover missing or deleted data from an iTunes backup

You might be surprised, but it's possible to recover deleted files and data from iTunes backups. There are two techniques for this. The first is obvious: if the backup was taken prior to the data being deleted, you can simply extract the data you need using the steps we laid out above in viewing an iTunes backup.

The second technique is really cool, and lets iPhone Backup Extractor recover data that was deleted before the backup was taken. To quote from our knowledge-base:

If the data was deleted before your backup was taken, all is not lost.

iOS devices don't regularly purge deleted data from their database files, so it is often possible to recover deleted data, even from before a backup was taken. This works particularly well for iMessage, SMS, WhatsApp, note and contact data. (By extracting the SQLite databases from your backup in Expert mode, and opening them in Notepad, you should see fragments of any data that has been deleted.)

Reincubate iPhone Backup Extractor has a sophisticated version of this technique integrated with it, saving the need for any forensic recovery process.

If you'd like to see some data on just how effective iPhone Backup Extractor's undeletion capabilities are, check out our benchmark against the leading forensics tools. Hint: we thrash them.

You can recover deleted data with iPhone Backup Extractor in two simple steps:

  1. Ensure that the Utilities > Show deleted data option is enabled.

  2. Proceed as normal. Deleted data will included in all exports and previews. 🎉

2 deleted messages recovered from an iTunes backup

How to create an iTunes backup

No matter if you're using the later iOS, or at an early adopter using a beta, if you haven't already created an iTunes backup you definitely should!

Backing up with iTunes will save your iPhone or iPad's data in a safe place on your PC or Mac. All your iOS device's data is stored, including messages from WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, iMessage, and regular texts. Your photos, videos, contacts, app data and so on are also saved.

Not sure how to create an iTunes backup? Let's show you how.

  1. Download and install the latest version of iTunes from Apple.

    If you use a Mac, iTunes will already be installed, and is updated through the App Store.

  2. Take your iPhone or iPad and connect it to your computer using a USB cable. After a short while, iTunes will display your connected device.

  3. Go to the File > Devices menu in iTunes, then click Back Up to start. You can also click on the "Back Up Now" button, but make sure "This computer" is selected.

    If you want to encrypt your data, select the encryption checkbox and choose a password for the backup. We recommend doing this, as it provides better protection for your information, and when it's checked iTunes will include more information in the backup.

    Generate iTunes backup

  4. Wait until the backup is finished, and don't disconnect the USB cable until then. The first time a backup is taken it can take quite a while, particularly for iPhones with a lot of data on them. Subsequent backups will be faster, as only the newer files need to be added to the backup each time.

That's it! Now you have an iTunes backup downloaded on your computer that can be restored.

How to restore an iTunes backup

Restoring an iTunes backup to your iPhone or iPad is easy. (If you want to restore an iCloud backup using iTunes, our guide describes how to download and convert iCloud backups to iTunes.)

  1. Start iTunes and connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer using a USB cable.

  2. Go to File > Devices > Restore from backup in iTunes' menu. If you have multiple backups, choose the backup you want to retrieve from the drop down menu, and click "Restore". You can also click on the device icon, which will open a summary window where you can click "Restore Backup".

    Restore iTunes backup

  3. Wait until the data is transferred to your device. Be careful not to unplugging the USB cable too early, as it could corrupt the data on your device.

Frequently asked questions

Let's take a trip through some questions or issues you might run into, and look at how we'd solve each to help recover your iOS data.

Where are iTunes backups stored?

The default iTunes backup location depends on whether you're using a PC or Mac. iTunes backups can be found in the following directories:

  • On Windows 10 and recent versions of Windows, backups are stored in: \Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\

  • On Macs, backups are stored in: \Users\(username)\Library\Application Support\MobileSync\Backup\

There are a few special cases. For instance, the Windows Store version of iTunes uses a different location, and so does iTunes on Windows XP. We maintain the latest default iTunes backup locations here, and have instructions on how to change the default iTunes backup folder.

When I look in my iTunes backup folder I just see random files, which is which? What are those files in my iTunes backup folder?

iTunes backup folders contains files named according to hex-encoded SHA-1 hashes. Their filenames can differ based on the type of data and the version of iOS that created the backup.

We maintain an up-to-the-minute summary of these iTunes backup files here but have included a short summary below for recent versions of iOS:

Contents Real filename Backup filename
SMS sms.db 3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28
Contacts AddressBook.sqlitedb 31bb7ba8914766d4ba40d6dfb6113c8b614be442
Calendar Calendar.sqlitedb 2041457d5fe04d39d0ab481178355df6781e6858
Notes NoteStore.sqlite 4f98687d8ab0d6d1a371110e6b7300f6e465bef2
Call history call_history.db 2b2b0084a1bc3a5ac8c27afdf14afb42c61a19ca

iTunes won't restore my iPhone backup

If iTunes won't restore your iPhone backup, it probably means its corrupt.

We publish a list of steps for diagnosing problems restoring iTunes backups. If that doesn't resolve the problem, see the next question.

Can I recover a corrupt iTunes backup?

Yes. We've a comprehensive guide on how to repair corrupt backups and recover your data. If you're still stuck, reach out to our support team as we can probably help further. 🚑 There's a lot of fiddly stuff we can help you with.

My iPhone won't turn on and all my data is lost, how can I recover iOS data?

If you have an iTunes backup or use iCloud, you'll be able to get data back using either this guide or our guide for iCloud. Worst case, email us and we'll help you.

How can I recover lost files after a failed iOS update

One of the most common causes for iPhone data loss is a failed iOS update. The steps in the first part of this guide will take you through pulling files from your iTunes backup.

Depending on where the process went wrong, you may need to restore your phone from a backup before starting the update process again. Good luck -- and don't forget to reach out to our support team if you get stuck.

What is in an iTunes backup?

Do you ever wonder what iTunes backs up from your iPhone when you connect your phone to your computer? It would be nice to know whether it is safely backing up your important contacts, notes, photos, calendar, texts, and so on, wouldn't it?

We've got a concise summary of just what is and isn't in an iTunes backup that we maintain in our knowledge-base. Check it out!

How can I speed up a slow iTunes backup process?

We once had a user write in after his backup had taken more than 36 hours. That's crazy -- and it led us to publish an article on how to speed up a slow iTunes backup.

Can I get data from iPad backups and iPod Touch backups?

Absolutely, yes! You'll see we tend to write about iPhone backups, but the format and functionality is exactly the same for iPad and iPod Touch backups. Anything we describe for iPhone backups will also work for iTunes backups created for the iPad or iPod Touch.

Can I find my phone number, IMEI or serial in an iTunes backup?

You certainly can. These are all shown under the "Info" tab of iPhone Backup Extractor. You can see IMEI, serial, and a range of other fields. You can read about all of that data in our explainer of the "Info" view.

iPhone Backup Extractor's "Info" tab showing IMEI, serial and more
iPhone Backup Extractor's "Info" tab showing IMEI, serial and more

Is it possible to extract data from a very old iOS backup, like iOS 3?

Yes. We painstakingly support backups from every version of iOS. We started back in 2008, after our founder lost his data with an upgrade to iOS 2. Phew! If you get stuck on an older version, get in touch with us.

How can I edit an iTunes backup?

iPhone Backup Extractor lets you edit any iTunes backup: by using "Export mode" as detailed above, you can edit or replace any file in your backup, or add new ones.

Can I copy a Windows iTunes backup to a Mac, or vice versa? Are iTunes backups portable?

Yes, iTunes backups are created in the same format by Macs and Windows, and can be moved from one to another. You can even put them in Dropbox or on a shared drive.

How effective is iPhone data recovery with iPhone Backup Extractor?

Very. We benchmarked our recovery of deleted data against the leading forensics tools, and the results are impressive.

Can I back up with iTunes wirelessly?

Yes, you can get iTunes to back up over Wi-Fi. We've got instructions on how to do this here.

How can I browse iTunes backups?

iPhone Backup Extractor has a free iTunes backup browser built-in. Once you load it (see step #1 above) it'll automatically show all of your iTunes backups and let you browse them.

Can I restore a backup from one iOS version to another? Can you convert iTunes backup versions?

It depends. You can't restore a backup from a newer version of iOS than a device is running. You can usually restore an older version, but it depends what has changed between versions. In some cases Apple make substantial changes between revisions to iOS, meaning that there's a big difference between iOS 11.3 and 11.4, for instance. If you try that, it'll to work, and you'll get most of your data.

We've got a detailed guide on techniques for restoring data like this to your iPhone.

Ready to test it with your iPhone?

See what iPhone Backup Extractor can do for you.

30 day money back guarantee
All iOS versions
Every iPhone, iPad and iPod

Compatibility

iPhone Backup Extractor runs on any Mac (10.8+) or Windows PC (Vista or newer).

Devices

Supports every iOS device

iPhone Xs, Xr, X, iPhone 8. Everything older, including iPad and iPod Touch.

iOS

Supports every iOS & beta

iOS 12 and 11, and every earlier version. We started with iOS 1!

Backups

No recovery drama

We were first to support encrypted backups, iCloud & 2FA. Corrupted backups, too!

Privacy, security and trust

We met HM Queen Elizabeth Ⅱ at Buckingham Palace, after Reincubate was awarded the UK’s highest business award for our work since 2008 on developing this technology. Reincubate invented iPhone Backup Extractor, the world's first iOS data recovery tool.

Read more about Reincubate

Reincubate's CEO at Buckingham Palace

Help us improve

Can we improve this guide or make it easier for you or others access and recover their data? We’ve been doing this over a decade but there’s always room to improve, and we love hearing from users. Why not drop us an email, leave a comment, or tweet us @reincubate? 😊


Comments (5)

Pingback icon Trackback - 19/01/2014

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please help.I want make a update for my backup Extractor. i have Version 3.4.2 please help

@Ron; you can get the latest version here.

I am trying to extract the restrictions passcode I set on my son's Ipod under the restrictions....I read a blog that said to extract the file from: Library, Preferences, com.apple.springboard.plist However I found no 4 digits in there....which file is this code in? Would appreciate any help!! Thanks!!

Hey Bridget, thanks for asking. We have a guide on how to do this. That should sort you out. 🙂 Reach out if not.

The phone records I need are further back than one hundred in my back up. How do I get them.

Adam, please reach out to us directly through the support page and we'll help!

I just wanted to say thank you so much. I just downloaded your software on my old computer to recover precious lost voice messages from my old iPhone that were left for me by my grandmother who passed away. You have no idea how much this means to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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