What is stored in an iPhone or iCloud backup?

Updated

iPhone backups taken via iTunes/Finder and iCloud each contain a lot of data, and they're broadly similar. However, there are a few important differences, as we show in the table below.

Status iTunes iCloud
Always stored Documents, data from third-party apps, location history, device settings, voice memos Documents, data from third-party apps, location history, device settings
Only stored if encrypted Health data, Keychain, Screen Time passcode N/A
If iCloud Photo Library disabled Photos & videos Photos & videos
If cloud-based Contacts service not enabled Contacts Contacts
If "Messages in iCloud" not enabled Messages Messages
Never stored Email, Apple Pay data, Face ID and Touch ID settings, iTunes or iCloud Music Library Music, Apple Books Email, Apple Pay data, Face ID and Touch ID settings, iTunes or iCloud Music Library Music, Apple Books

If you are using iTunes backups and your backup is not encrypted, it won't contain Health data or saved passwords (ie. your Apple Keychain and Screen Time passcode). If you are using an encrypted iTunes backup, it will be broadly similar to an iCloud backup in terms of its content.

What data is in an iTunes or iCloud backup?

  • Documents
  • Data from built-in Apple apps: Notes, Calendar, Messages (iMessages, SMS, MMS), Call history, Safari browser history, Photos, Videos, voicemail
  • Data from third-party apps which store it in the backup. In practice, this is most of them. WhatsApp, Kik, Hike, Viber, WeChat, etc. all store rich data in backups.
  • Location history data
  • Device and network settings
  • Keychain, keybags and password data
  • Lots of forensic data

Note that it is possible to manually configure your backups so as not to include some of this data.

What data isn't included in an iTunes or iCloud backup?

  • Email messages from the default Apple Mail app
  • Your iTunes music and videos
  • Your iOS app installation (.IPA) files
  • Touch ID and Face ID data

We've got a guide on what each of the files in an iTunes backup are.

Why might data be missing from an iTunes or iCloud backup?

Choices you make with Apple's services can affect the types of data that are stored in your backups. For example, if you enable iCloud Photo Library, that service will act as the main store of your photos and videos. Yes, they'll be synced on your phone if you use it, but they won't all necessarily be backed up, irrespective of whether you choose "Optimise iPhone Storage" or "Download and Keep Originals".

This seems odd at first, but it makes sense when you think about it: if Apple are storing all of your photos in iCloud Photo Library, would you also want them to store a duplicate of all of your photos in a backup? After all, your iPhone wouldn't be the primary home for that data: the iCloud is. So including them in an iTunes backup would slow down the backup process, and eat up your storage space, and backing them up in the iCloud would essentially mean each of your photos was stored twice.

Enabling following services will mean data isn't always stored in your backups:

  • iCloud Photo Library -- as your photos and videos will be stored in iCloud Photo Library and only synced with your phone when needed.
  • iCloud or Gmail Contacts -- as your contacts will be stored in the cloud and synced with your iPhone when needed.
  • Messages in iCloud -- as older messages may be removed from your iPhone and stored in the iCloud, and thus won't be on your phone to be backed up.

The free version of iPhone Backup Extractor will let you easily examine your backup, if you're concerned that it might be missing data. If you'd like to read more, we've got articles on key files in iTunes backups and where apps stored data in iTunes backups.

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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