What is stored in an iPhone or iCloud backup?

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iPhone backups on your computer and iCloud backups each contain a lot of data. Whilst they're broadly similar, they don't always store the same data.

How do the contents of iPhone and iCloud backups differ?

There are important differences in what the different backup types store.

  • If you are using an encrypted iPhone backup, it will be broadly similar to an iCloud backup in terms of its content.
  • If you are using an unencrypted iPhone backup, it won't contain some important sensitive data (eg. Health data, your Apple Keychain and Screen Time passcode).

What data is in an iTunes or iCloud backup?

Data type Encrypted Unencrypted iCloud
Messages (SMS, iMessage) Yes, unless "Messages in iCloud" is enabled Yes, unless "Messages in iCloud" is enabled Yes, unless "Messages in iCloud" is enabled
Notes, Calendar, call history, Safari browser history, voicemail, location history Yes Yes Yes
Photos Yes, unless iCloud Photo Library is enabled Yes, unless iCloud Photo Library is enabled Yes, unless iCloud Photo Library is enabled
Contacts Yes, but for non-cloud Contacts services Yes, but for non-cloud Contacts services Yes, but for non-cloud Contacts services
3rd-party apps
eg. WhatsApp, Kik, Hike, Viber, WeChat
Yes, depends on app Yes, depends on app Yes, depends on app
Health data Yes No Yes
Keychain & passwords Yes No Yes
Screen Time passcode iOS 12 and under: yes
iOS 13: no
No No
Device and network settings Yes Yes Yes
Apple Pay data, Face ID and Touch ID settings No, too sensitive No, too sensitive No, too sensitive
Emails No No No
Licensed content like iTunes or iCloud Music Library Music, Apple Books No No No

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. Enabling the 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.

    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.

    However, there is often data from Photo Stream archived in the backup, and this can include Photo Library content that users want to recover.

  • 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.

  • iCloud or Gmail Contacts: as your contacts will be stored in the cloud and synced with your iPhone when needed.

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

What data is never included in an iTunes or iCloud backup?

The following data types are never included in any form of iPhone 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

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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