How to recover text messages from an iPhone

Updated
Cover image for: How to recover text messages from an iPhone

Difficulty: easy
Steps: up to 4
Time needed: 5 minutes

How to recover messages and attachments

This article will help you to recover deleted text messages (from iMessage or SMS) and attachments from your iPhone or iPad. It'll also guide you through exporting your iPhone messages in a number of different formats.

We start the guide out with the easiest approaches first, as many of these are built into the free edition of iPhone Backup Extractor, our flagship application. As the guide progresses, and the techniques get more sophisticated, we'll dig into some additional options.

Those steps in brief:

  1. Download and install iPhone Backup Extractor
  2. Add your iCloud account or local iTunes backup
  3. Browse through your messages -- including deleted ones
  4. View or export texts as PDF or HTML files

If you'd like to skip the introduction, you can click on the links above to dive straight into the action. If you're not a words person, we've included a video below to take you through it.

You'll need

Win and Mac

Windows PC or Mac

iCloud

iCloud backup and credentials

iTunes

Or an iTunes backup

How to access text messages on an iPhone

Let's start with the basics: how to access texts on an iPhone. iOS is a secure system and does a great job of protecting its data, but every now and then it's helpful to be able to extract it. At Reincubate, we've been finding ways to do this since 2008, when our founder first built iPhone Backup Extractor to rescue his own lost data.

There are four sources of text message data:

  1. Local iTunes backups
  2. iCloud backups of the iPhone
  3. Undeletion from either of the above
  4. Synchronisation with Messages on iCloud

We pioneered all four of these techniques -- and built them into iPhone Backup Extractor -- so let's use them to help you.

Getting access to an iTunes or iCloud backup for message recovery

Depending on how your phone is set up it may either back up via iTunes to a PC or Mac, or automatically to the iCloud. The quickest way to check is to look on your iPhone. Go into Settings[your name]iCloudiCloud Backup. If you have iCloud backups enabled, that section will tell you when the last backup was completed. Like this:

Checking to see if iCloud backups are enabled
Checking to see if iCloud backups are enabled

If you haven't enabled iCloud backups on your phone, you can use this screen to enable them and to take a backup straight away. However, it is quicker to create a backup on your PC or Mac, and you may already have one. If you install the free version of iPhone Backup Extractor (download) it will show you all of the backups on your computer. Here's what that looks like:

iPhone Backup Extractor showing iTunes backups
iPhone Backup Extractor showing iTunes backups

If you are satisfied that your backup is recent enough, you can skip this section. If not, let's get your backup created or updated. For users of iCloud backups, that's pretty straightforward: again, go into Settings[your name]iCloudiCloud Backup. Hit "Back Up Now". That'll start the process of updating your phone's iCloud backup. It's helpful to be in range of a fast wireless network when doing this, as that'll make the process quicker.

If you aren't using iCloud backups and want to create or update an iTunes backup, the first step is to ensure you have iTunes installed. Apple has a clear guide which explains how to get your backup created.

Recovering deleted or lost messages from an iPhone

Now we've established there's a backup available, let's take a look at the data available in it.

Having loaded Reincubate iPhone Backup Extractor, you'll be presented with a list of iPhone data on the left-hand side of the application. It'll show your iTunes backups, and has a section which explains how to add your iCloud account and iCloud backups. (It's safe to do this, but if you're keen to learn more, you can read more about who we are and how we feel about privacy and data.)

Once the backup is added, select it in the left-hand menu of iPhone Backup Extractor. That'll lead to an overview of available data being shown, like so:

iPhone Backup Extractor showing messages available for recovery
iPhone Backup Extractor showing messages available for recovery

The overview will show you how many messages can be seen in the backup, and you can extract them by clicking on the familiar green messages icon. In order to examine them, though, there's no need to export them straight away. Instead, if you choose "Preview" from the tabbed controls on the overview, you'll see you can select "messages" and dive straight into a list of the message history on your iPhone.

At the bottom of that window, there's a drop-down control which lets you include the display of deleted messages. Setting it to "show everything" will include deleted messages in the previews. We highlight these in red, like so:

iPhone Backup Extractor showing a preview of deleted messages
iPhone Backup Extractor showing a preview of deleted messages

Exporting iPhone messages, attachments and texts

With SMS and MMS messages on your iPhone shown in iPhone Backup Extractor, it's easy to export them. The free edition of the app will export up to four at a time, whilst the licensed edition removes this limitation. (If you only need a handful of messages, you could get around this by getting your messages out four at a time, although it's easier just to register!)

To export your iPhone's messages, click back on the "Overview" tab, then click the "Extract Messages" icon. That'll prompt you to choose a format in which to extract your messages. Can you export them in the following formats:

  • PDF
  • HTML
  • CSV

For most users, PDF format is the best choice. PDF files can be read by any computer or smartphone, and always look the same. They're also most useful if you ever need to supply proof of message, for instance if you're showing cancellation of an appointment or order.

Need help getting your texts or SMS messages back?

If the earlier techniques haven’t led you to get all of your texts and iMessages back, then not all is lost. Reincubate’s iPhone Backup Extractor is built around a piece of technology which we call the Cloud Data API. This lets us do some pretty advanced things which are unique to Reincubate. We can use it to recover the data in question from a “partial snapshot” which has older data than your iCloud backup. If your data was stored on an unencrypted disk, it may be that a disk recovery has potential.

We have a number of tricks we can harness for you, and we genuinely love talking to our users. 👩‍💻 Don't be a stranger: reach out to the support team with the email address at the bottom of this page, and let them know what you’ve tried and how you’ve got on.

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.

Reincubate's CEO at Buckingham Palace

Pictured above are members of Reincubate’s team meeting HM Queen Elizabeth Ⅱ at Buckingham Palace, after being awarded the UK’s highest business award for our work with Apple technology. Read our position on privacy, safety and security.

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