How to Preserve an iPhone or iPod Touch Backup

iTunes is a great way of managing our media and devices and leaving a lot of the more complex aspects behind the scenes. This works well a lot of the time, but every once in a while, there’s some things that leave a lot to be desired in terms of iTunes’ functionality. In this video, I’ll show you a workaround to preserving your iPhone or iPod Touch backups, even if iTunes insists on overwriting your most recent backup.

The device back up feature is one of these features. Normally, it works perfectly fine, but when I upgraded my iPod Touch to iOS4, I noticed a very disturbing feature. Before installing the upgrade, I did (what I thought) was my due diligence by doing a sync and backup before installing. Everytime you plug in and sync your device with iTunes, you will automatically backup the device. But to do it manually, right click the device icon in the left column and select Back Up.

Now, if you go into Preferences > Devices you’ll see a list of all the back ups you have. As you see here, the time of my most recent back up was today at 8:31pm, and since it’s still 8:31, I know that this is the back up that I just ran. The problem I noticed was that after I installed iOS4, iTunes did an automatic sync and backup, overwriting my most recent backup! If I’d had a problem and need to do a restore, I would have lost nearly 3 months worth of data on my iPod Touch, simply because iTunes automatically deleted it.

In this video, I’ll detail just how you work around this problem. First, let’s find where these backup files are. I’ve pulled these file paths from the Apple support site:

  • Mac: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
  • Windows XP: \Documents and Settings\(username)\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\
  • Windows Vista and Windows 7: \Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\

Here’s our backup files. Based on the filenames, you can sort of guess at what file corresponds to which backup. We’re interested in the most recent backup, so we’ll just open up this most recent one at the top that doesn’t have any time and date information. Just to make sure, though, we can look at the folder info. Here you can see it was last modified Today at 8:31pm, which if you’ll remember is the time that I ran my last backup.

I’m going to right-click and select duplicate (Windows users can just do a copy and paste) and make a copy of my backup file. Now, the problem with this is that this backup and the original backup will have the exact same name in iTunes. If they have the same name, how are we going to differentiate them? This requires doing a pretty simple hack. Go into the folder and find the info.plist file. This is an XML file that provides iTunes with metadata on the backup. If you don’t know the first thing about XML, it’s not a problem. All you need to do is find the line that says Display Name. The line under it (in between the tags) is the name that will show up in iTunes, and currently you’ll see it’s just the name of my device. So let’s change it to something that makes sense – in this case, I’ll just add the date and time of my backup. Save the file and it should be good to go.

If you go back into iTunes, and reopen the Preferences screen, you can see the name I just typed into that field, as well as two backups with a timestamp of 8:31pm. Now just to make sure that backup sticks, I’ll go ahead and run another backup. Go back into the preferences screen and you can see that the backup I just ran at 8:35pm, wrote over the most recent backup – but you’ll also notice that you have another backup saved at 8:31pm. This file should now be safe from being overwritten. If I want to restore from this backup, I’ll just right click the device and select Restore from backup. Then I can select the June 22 backup and hit restore.

If you’re having problems with your iPhone or iPod Touch, and doing a restore from backup does not help, you may want to do a full restore, by clicking the restore button on the device screen. After this has completed, restore from the backup.

Other resources

When I was attempting to research this, I found almost zero info on the web relating to this problem. Mainly people just seemed to enjoy grumbling how iTunes obscured the device backup process. Apple itself does provide some information in their knowledgebase regarding backups, but no mention of how to prevent iTunes from overwriting backups.

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Outstanding. Clear and concise. While this may be common knowledge to Apple users around the globe, it is just great to have it for the rest of us. Thanks for the help!

  2. SW
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Still relevant Sept 2012. Great. Thank You. Didn’t realize that itunes would recognize a backup folder with the word -copy in the folder file name. This opens so many possibilites. Also, if your a jailbreaker and have saved your shsh blobs, and want to roll back your firmware and restore from a higher firware backup, you can. Just modifiy the Product Version line in the same plist. i.e. from 5.1.1 to 5.0.1. Gonna try a to restore a 5.1.1 backup to 4.3.3.

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