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How to back up your iPhone on a Mac

The best way to protect your iPhone’s files and app data is to back up, especially when using a variety of methods. Learn how to back up an iPhone on a Mac, with these helpful tips for protecting your files.

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It’s hard to imagine life without your cell phone.

From taking and storing photos, accessing emails and files on the go, to almost anything else the internet makes possible—we rely on our phones for pretty much everything these days.

So when your iPhone suddenly stops working or goes missing, it can leave you feeling helpless. Once you’ve got the replacement device, setting it up—along with transferring your contacts, files, and data—can be a real headache too.

That’s why backing up your iPhone is a great idea, not only to preserve your files and data, but to make switching to a new device as painless as possible.

In this guide for Apple and macOS users, we’ll be exploring the various methods for backing up your iPhone on a Mac.

Jump to section

  1. Why should you back up your iPhone?
  2. How to back up your iPhone on a Mac
  3. Where are local iPhone backups stored on a Mac?
  4. How do you know if your iPhone is backed up?
  5. How to restore an iPhone backup on a Mac

Why should you back up your iPhone?

iPhone users should make sure their files are protected by backing them up. Backing up and restoring your iPhone with a Mac 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 in case 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 with your Mac ensures that you’re always prepared to easily recover your personal data if unexpected issues arise.

How to back up your iPhone on a Mac

First, you’ll need to decide where you want your iPhone backup to live. You can store iPhone backups on a computer, like a desktop Mac or MacBook laptop, or on the cloud. iPhone backups tend to be pretty large files, so while we will explain here how to back up to your Mac or MacBook, 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 disk space.

Back up your iPhone with iCloud storage

To back up your iPhone content to Apple’s iCloud, first make sure your Mac, MacBook, or MacBook Air device is connected to a Wi-Fi network. 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 automatically back up certain data 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 an 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

Back up your iPhone on a Mac

You might prefer to store your backups on your Mac desktop computer or MacBook laptop.

If your computer is using macOS 10.15 (also known as Catalina) or later, you can use Finder to back up your iPhone:

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac or MacBook via a USB cable
  2. In the Finder sidebar on your Mac or MacBook device, select your iPhone
  3. At the top of the Finder window, click General
  4. Press Back up all of the data on your iPhone to this Mac
  5. If you’d like to encrypt your backup data and add password protection, select Encrypt local backup
  6. Press Back Up Now

For earlier versions of macOS, up to version 10.14 (also known as Mojave), use iTunes to back up your iPhone:

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac or MacBook via a USB cable
  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 Mac or MacBook

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.

Store your iPhone backup on the cloud with 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:

  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:
    • Application Support
    • MobileSync
    • Backup
  4. Once you’re in the Backup folder, make sure it’s arranged in chronological order, so that your most recent backup will be the first file on the list
  5. Open your Dropbox files either on your browser or via the Desktop client
  6. Drag the most recent backup folder into your Dropbox window and wait for it to upload

Once these steps are complete, a copy of your backup will be stored on your Dropbox cloud storage. You can now access and restore it anywhere—and from any device—in the future.

An illustration of a person using their laptop to backup a mobile device

Where are local iPhone backups stored on a Mac?

On your Mac or MacBook device, your backups will be stored in a central folder by default.

To find a list of your backups, follow these steps to locate the folder:

  1. Click the magnifier in the menu bar (usually in the top-right corner, next to the date and time)
  2. Type or copy and paste the following: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
  3. Select the Backup folder, which is found under Folders

If you need to find a specific backup and have macOS Catalina (also known as macOS 10.15) or later, you can do so with the following steps:

  1. Open the Finder
  2. Locate and click on your iPhone to select it
  3. Under the General tab, click Manage Backups to see a list of your backups
  4. Right-click on the backup that you were looking for, then select Show in Finder, to view it
  5. You can also select Delete or Archive if you no longer need the file and want to remove it from the directory
  6. When you’re finished, press OK

How do you know if your iPhone is backed up?

If you made your backup with iCloud:

  1. To view your iCloud backups, go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Manage Account Storage > Backups
  2. To delete a backup, select a backup from the list, then click Delete & Turn Off Backup

If you made your backup locally, simply navigate to the folder as explained in the previous section of this guide.

How to restore an iPhone backup on a Mac

The method for restoring your iPhone backup will depend on a few factors, including:

  • How you created the backup
  • Your version of the macOS operating system (if you created a local Mac backup)

Depending on the method you used for creating the backup, follow the instructions in the corresponding section below.

Restore an iCloud backup

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

  1. Turn on your iPhone 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 into your iCloud account using your Apple ID. After doing so, follow these steps:
    • Select the backup you wish to restore, which is probably the most recent
    • You may be asked again to sign in with your Apple ID to restore apps and purchases
    • Now, wait for the iPhone to restore your backup

Restore a local Mac backup with iTunes or Finder

If you’re restoring from a backup on your Mac or MacBook, you’ll need to make sure your phone is hooked up to your computer, and then follow the steps below for your version of macOS.

If you are using macOS 10.15 (Catalina), use Finder to restore your local backup:

  1. Open the Finder
  2. Locate and click on your iPhone to select it
  3. Click Trust
  4. Click Restore from this backup
  5. Keep your device connected while the restoration completes
  6. Your iPhone will restart automatically once it’s done, keep it plugged in while it syncs with your Mac after restarting

If you are using macOS 10.14 or earlier, use iTunes to restore your local backup:

  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
  6. Your iPhone will restart automatically once it’s done, keep it plugged in while it syncs with your Mac after restarting

Restore a cloud backup from Dropbox

To restore a backup file from Dropbox, you’ll need to first download it back to your Mac or MacBook device. 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.