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How to back up iPhones and restore them

Learn how to back up your iPhone data with tips for protecting your files.

Files, videos and photos saved in the Dropbox iPhone app

Why should you back up your phone?

iPhone users should make sure their files are protected by backing them up. Backing up and restoring your iPhone can actually be a straightforward process. And even if you can’t foresee yourself needing it, having backed-up files at hand is a vital bit of insurance if disaster strikes.

There are a few scenarios where you’d need a copy of your iPhone data. It may be that your phone is broken, lost or stolen, or perhaps it’s as simple as upgrading to a new iPhone and needing to transfer data over. There are also some cases where data goes missing after upgrading to a newer iOS. Regularly backing up your iPhone ensures that you’re always prepared to easily recover your personal data if unexpected issues arise.

How to back up iPhone data

First, you’ll need to decide where you want your iPhone backup to live. You can store iPhone backups on a computer or on the cloud. iPhone backups tend to be pretty large files, so while we will explain here how to back up to your computer, if you want to be economical with your storage, it would be best to keep it on the cloud, where it won’t use up disc space.

How to back up your phone with iCloud storage

To back up your iPhone content to Apple’s iCloud, first make sure your device is connected to a Wi-Fi network, and then follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings, tap on your name and then tap iCloud.
  2. Tap Backup and toggle iCloud Backup into the ‘on’ position. This allows iCloud to back up certain data automatically when your phone is charging, locked and connected to Wi-Fi.
  3. On the same Backup page, tap ‘Back Up Now’. You’ll need to stay connected to Wi-Fi while the backup takes place. Beneath the ‘Back Up Now’ button, you’ll be able to see the date and time of your last backup.

When you back up iPhone using iCloud, not every file or setting will be included. Data that won’t be in the backup includes:

  • Data you already store in iCloud like Calendars, Contacts, Notes and iMessages
  • Apple Mail data
  • Apple Pay settings
  • Touch ID and Face ID settings
  • App Store content
  • iCloud Music Library content
  • Any music you haven’t purchased or downloaded from iTunes or Apple Music

How to back up iPhone to your computer

You might prefer to store your backups on your computer:

  1. Connect your iPhone to your computer via USB
  2. Open iTunes or install it if you haven’t yet done so
  3. In iTunes, click on the small iPhone ‘Device’ icon
  4. Under ‘Backups’, select ‘This computer’
  5. Press ‘Back Up Now’
  6. Your iPhone will then start backing up your data to your computer

Make sure to never alter the files contained in the backup folder. You can save this folder to Dropbox, which we’ll explain below, but avoid changing file or folder names or adding and removing files from the backup. This could lead to issues when it comes time to restore your phone.

How to back up your phone on Dropbox

Relying on iCloud does have its limitations. iCloud can be restricting for those who don’t only use Apple devices, and it can be confusing to decipher which files are being stored where when you use iCloud’s services and have files stored locally on your phone.

The most fail-safe way to ensure all the files you need are protected and still easily accessible would be to use Dropbox as your primary storage across all of your devices. We’ll discuss that further below, but for now let’s look at how to store an iPhone backup on Dropbox.

To upload a backup file to Dropbox, you’ll have to first back up to your computer by following the iTunes backup process outlined above. Once you have your backup saved on your computer, complete the following steps:

For Windows:

  1. Open the Start menu and then open File Explorer
  2. Click ‘This PC’ from the left-side menu
  3. Double-click on your computer’s hard drive, generally labelled ‘Local Disk (C:)’
  4. Under ‘Show/hide’ in the ‘View’ tab at the top of the File Explorer window, tick the box for ‘Hidden items’
  5. Open the ‘Users’ folder within your hard drive’s folder.
  6. You’ll see a list of users who have access to your computer. Select the folder for your account. If you haven’t set your own account name, this will likely be called ‘Admin’
  7. In your user folder, you should see a folder called ‘app data’. Open that, then click through the following folders:
    1. Roaming
    2. Apple Computer
    3. MobileSync
    4. Backup
  8. Once you’re in the ‘Backup’ folder, make sure it’s arranged into chronological order, so that your most recent backup will be the first file on the list.
  9. Open your Dropbox files either on your browser or via the Desktop client.
  10. Drag the most recent backup folder into your Dropbox window and wait for it to upload

For Mac:

  1. Open Finder, and from the top menu bar, select Go
  2. With the Go drop-down menu open, hold down the Option key and you’ll notice a Library folder appear in the menu
  3. Open the Library folder and then click through the following folders:
    1. Application Support
    2. MobileSync
    3. Backup
  4. From here, the process is pretty much the same as on Windows. Locate your most recent backup folder, drag it into your Dropbox window and wait for the upload to complete.

How to restore iPhone from backup

To restore your iPhone from an iCloud backup, follow these steps:

  1. Turn on your device and follow the setup process until you reach the Apps & Data section
  2. Tap ‘Restore from iCloud Backup’ 
  3. You’ll be prompted to sign in to your iCloud account using your Apple ID. After doing so, follow these steps:
    1. Select the backup you wish to restore, which is probably the most recent
    2. You may be asked again to sign in with your Apple ID to restore apps and purchases
    3. Now, wait for the iPhone to restore your backup

If you’re restoring from a backup on your computer, you’ll need to make sure your phone is hooked up to your computer, and then follow these steps:

  1. Open iTunes and tap the iPhone icon to open your device settings
  2. Select ‘Restore Backup’
  3. Locate and select the correct backup file
  4. Click ‘Restore’
  5. Keep your device connected while the restoration completes. Your phone will restart automatically once it’s done. Keep it plugged in while it syncs with your computer after restarting.

To restore a backup file from Dropbox, you’ll need to first download it back to your computer. It will need to be placed back in the Backup folder that you initially extracted it from. However, this folder only exists when there are backups saved on your computer, so you might need to create a new iPhone backup file first so iTunes can create the correct folder.

Download your backup file from Dropbox and place it in the Backup folder. Then, follow the same steps you would to restore a backup from iTunes.

Storing files on your computer poses its own threats. If anything happens to that computer and the files are lost, you won’t be able to recover them. Cloud storage doesn’t have that risk – everything lives online where it’s encrypted and safe.

Keeping your files on Dropbox also means you can be sure that all your important files are where they should be without any confusion about what’s been backed up and what hasn’t. As mentioned, iPhone backups don’t make copies of absolutely everything, but if you manually upload your files to Dropbox then you know you’re in complete control of what goes where, including things like music you’ve downloaded that wouldn’t be included in iPhone backups.

Make the most of the cloud

While keeping your iPhone backed up is always a good idea, an even more reliable way to protect your content would be to simply store all of it on the cloud. That way, should your iPhone ever experience any issues, or you replace your phone, your files will always be safe and sound without needing to restore your content.

Protect your iPhone data from sudden disaster

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