How to update an iPhone without backing up

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

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Comments (3)

After following this guided process, I'm receiving an error right after the update software is extracted and itunes says "preparing iphone for update." Itunes indicates it was unable to update the phone, due to unknown error (4000). I'm running windows 10 with all updates installed, Itunes version is current, iphone os 13.7 (i'm trying to update to 14), and there's over 80gb available space on phone. Only reason I'm trying to update through iTunes, is that iOS 14 is not appearing for me in the update settings of my phone. I've contacted Apple support, who instructed me to utilize iTunes for update. My laptop operates on a flash drive, and does not have enough space to hold a backup for my phone - plus, my phone automatically backs up to the cloud each night. This is why I'm trying to circumvent the annoying forced backup in iTunes' update process.

Any idea what may be causing the error? I also have restarted both my laptop and phone, which made no difference...

Thanks!

Hi Mishell, that doesn't sound good. We'd strongly recommend taking a backup before an upgrade like this. However, if neither the phone itself nor iTunes can upgrade the phone, kit sounds like something's going wrong.

The likely solution is to back up the phone, erase and restore it, and then upgrade it. You mentioned you don't have enough space to create a backup. One solution to that would be to plug in a USB stick, and move your backup location there temporarily.

Thanks for that guide. best regards from Brasil.

Very useful and MUCH NEEDED information, THANK YOU!!!! So much for posting this! :-D I am trying to update my iPhone XS Max on iOS 13.1.2 to 13.1.3, I'm using the latest iTunes for Windows version as of today's date on Windows 10 Pro... the update hasn't completed yet but it certainly skipped the "Backing up iPhone..." that I tried to 'x' out of a few times.. I wish it would just proceed to the update process instead of quitting all together, like it does for syncing. Anyhow~this article has helped! It seems to work, Yayyyy!!!!! Thank you!

We're glad it helped! 🙂


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