How to update an iPhone without backing up

Updated

If you update iOS on your iPhone using iTunes, you'll find it insists on updating your iTunes backup before it does so. In doing this, it'll overwrite your latest unarchived iOS backup unless you can cancel it rapidly enough. Whilst we regularly stress the importance of updating your backup, in some cases this isn't helpful: particularly if you're running this process because your phone is in a partially broken state.

Apple's over-the-air ("OTA") update mechanism avoids the need to update your backup when installing. If you're reinstalling a particular version of iOS or restoring your phone, that might not be helpful to you.

There's a simple approach to avoid being forced to backup when updating your iPhone.

Updating iOS without an iTunes backup on Windows

  1. Ensure that iTunes is completely closed.

  2. Open a Command window. Press ⊞ Win + R and the Run window should appear. Enter cmd and press ⏎ Enter.

  3. Type the following command into the black Command window that will have opened:

"%CommonProgramFiles%\Apple\Apple Application Support\defaults.exe" write com.apple.iTunes AutomaticDeviceBackupsDisabled -bool true

From this point on, if you open iTunes it will allow you to update your iPhone's version of iOS without automatically starting the backup process. If you'd like to undo this, follow the same steps 1 - 3, but run this command, instead:

"%CommonProgramFiles%\Apple\Apple Application Support\defaults.exe" write com.apple.iTunes AutomaticDeviceBackupsDisabled -bool false

Updating iOS without triggering an iTunes backup on macOS

  1. Ensure iTunes is completely closed. (Use "Quit" in your dock.)

  2. 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.

  3. Instruct the Terminal to change disable automatic iTunes backups, by entering the following command before pressing ⏎ Enter:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes AutomaticDeviceBackupsDisabled -bool true

From this point on, if you open iTunes it will allow you to update your iPhone's version of iOS without automatically starting the backup process. If you'd like to undo this, follow the same steps 1 - 3, but run this command, instead:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes AutomaticDeviceBackupsDisabled -bool false

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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