How to change the iTunes backup location

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The default iTunes backup location is set to the PC or Mac's primary disk, and in macOS 10.15, iOS backups as created by Finder are stored in the same place. Many users have large backups or backups from a number of iOS devices, and as a consequence they find themselves running low on disk space.

It is possible to configure a computer such that iTunes backs up to a secondary hard-disk, or to an external HDD or NAS.

Simply put, this is done by replacing the iTunes backup folder with a symbolic link to the desired location. This is an easily reversible change, so it is possible to restore the default backup location to its original directory.

Please note that if the iTunes backup location is changed to a volume that is not available at all times, the iTunes backup process will fail when the new location is unavailable.

What you'll need

In order to change your computer's default iTunes backup location, the following is necessary:

  • Medium competency with a PC or Mac
  • 10 minutes
  • An understanding of the desired new backup location path
  • A Mac running macOS 10.7 or newer, or a PC running Windows Vista or newer
  • The Reincubate support team are on hand to help, and can advise customers on how to do this.

Changing the iTunes iOS backup folder automatically

The free version of iPhone Backup Extractor will automatically show you your computer's default iTunes backup location -- and let you change it.

  1. Download and install iPhone Backup Extractor.
  2. Choose Preferences from the main menu
  3. Select Backups from the Preferences window
    The "Preferences" pane showing backup locations
    The "Preferences" pane showing backup locations
  4. Click the Change button to start the process of changing your iTunes default backup folder.

Manually changing the iTunes iOS backup folder on Windows

  1. Open the default Backup location in Explorer using the Windows Run command. Press ⊞ Win + R and the Run window should appear. Enter %APPDATA%\Apple Computer\MobileSync and press ⏎ Enter.
  2. The Explorer window that opens will show a folder named "Backup". This contains any iTunes backups which are already present on the computer. In order to change the backup folder's location, this folder must be renamed, moved or deleted. As an example, one could rename it to "Backup (Old)".
  3. Once the "Backup" folder has been renamed, moved or deleted, a symbolic link can be created to the desired backup location. In order to do this, a Command window must be opened. By holding ⇧ Shift and right-clicking in the recently opened MobileSync Explorer window, users will see a menu with the option "Open command window here" or "Open PowerShell window here". Click that.
  4. Use the following command mklink /d Backup "[desired-new-backup-path]". Once this command has been entered, press ⏎ Enter and the change will be complete.
  5. After restarting Windows, iTunes will store its backups in the new location.

Manually changing the iTunes iOS backup folder on macOS

  1. Launch the macOS Terminal application. This can be found using Finder, under Applications / Utilities / Terminal. Alternatively, it can be launched using Spotlight by pressing ⌘ Cmd +  and typing "Terminal" before pressing ⏎ Enter.
  2. Instruct the Terminal to change to the default iTunes backup location, by entering cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync and then pressing ⏎ Enter.
  3. Reveal the current backup folder in Finder by entering open . and then pressing ⏎ Enter.
  4. The Finder window that opens will show a folder named "Backup". This contains any iTunes backups which are already present on the computer. In order to change the backup folder's location, this folder must be renamed, moved or deleted. As an example, one could rename it to "Backup (Old)".
  5. Once the "Backup" folder has been renamed, moved or deleted, a symbolic link can be created to the desired backup location. Use the following command ln -s [desired-new-backup-path] ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup. Once this command has been entered, press ⏎ Enter and the change will be complete.
  6. After restarting the Mac, iTunes will store its backups in the new location.

How to restore the iTunes backup folder to its original location

If you've taken the steps above, and you'd like to rever the change, the process is straightforward:

  1. Browse to the iTunes backup folder.
  2. Delete the Backup symlink that will appear there.
  3. Drag your original Backup folder back in, renaming it if necessary to match its original name.

Other challenges?

We've had some users reach out who have already moved their iTunes backup folder to another location -- simply by dragging it -- and now lack the necessary symlink for iTunes to be able to see the backup.

It's easy to solve this, and there are two options:

  1. Drag the folder back to where you found originally. If you've forgotten, it should be called Backup, and it lives in ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync.

  2. Create a symbolic link pointing to it -- in the same way that the instructions above describe. If you're at this stage, you should open a Terminal and do this:

cd [location of the folder which now has "Backup" in it]
ln -s Backup ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync

It should be as simple as that.

Are there situations where this isn't possible?

This technique works on every Mac, but it won't work on Windows PCs built prior to 2000. Prior to the release of Windows 2000, Windows used FAT-formatted filesystems by default, and those aren't capable of creating symlinks. Any Windows PC build since then will almost certainly be using NTFS-format disks, and these support symbolic links just fine. If you're running FAT and try to create a link, you may see this error: Local volumes are required to complete the operation.

Fortunately, Microsoft provide some instructions on how to upgrade a disk from FAT to NTFS. It's a little more technical, but it is possible.

About the author

Aidan Fitzpatrick founded Reincubate in 2008 after building the world's first iPhone data recovery tool, iPhone Backup Extractor. He's spoken at Google on entrepreneurship, and is a graduate of the Entrepreneurs' Organisation's Leadership Academy.

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