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How To Create a Full Android Phone or Tablet Backup Without Rooting or Unlocking Your Device

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Android includes a built-in way to back up and restore the contents of your phone or tablet. All you need is a computer and a device running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or newer.

We’ve also covered backing up and restoring your Android phone with Titanium Backup. Titanium Backup is a great app, but it requires rooting your Android. This feature isn’t exposed in Android’s user interface, so you should consider it experimental.

Installing the Android SDK

We’ll need to use the adb (Android Debug Bridge) command to perform a backup or restore. This command is included with Google’s Android SDK, which you can download for free.

First, you’ll need to install Oracle’s Java Development Kit, which the Android SDK requires. Download and install the 32-bit version – the Android SDK wants the 32-bit version, even if you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows.

Next, download and install the Android SDK from Google. If the SDK informs you that it can’t find Java, you may have installed the 64-bit version of the JDK – ensure you install the 32-bit version.

After the SDK is installed, open the Android SDK Manager from your Start menu (search for “SDK Manager”).

Enable the Android SDK Platform-tools checkbox and click the Install button to install the platform tools package, which contains adb. If you see an error, you may need to run the SDK Manager as Administrator. (Right-click the SDK Manager shortcut in your Start menu and select Run as Administrator.)

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Device Setup

You’ll need to enable USB Debugging on your Android device – you can do this from the Developer Options screen in Android’s settings.

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You can now connect your Android smartphone or tablet to your computer using a USB cable. You’ll need drivers for your device installed on your computer to communicate with it – you can often find these drivers on your device manufacturer’s website. Installing the Google USB Driver from the Android SDK Manager window (look for it under Extras) may also work.

Testing ADB

Note the path where you installed the Android SDK. It’s displayed at the top of the Android SDK Manager window, next to SDK Path.

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You’ll find the adb.exe file in the platform-tools folder. With the default installation settings, the location is: C:\Users\NAME\AppData\Local\Android\Android-sdk\platform-tools

Navigate to this folder, hold Shift and right-click inside it, and select Open command window here.

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To test whether adb can communicate with your device, run the following command:

adb devices

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You should see a device in the list – if you see no devices, adb can’t communicate with your device because its driver isn’t installed properly.

Backing Up Your Device

You can now use the adb backup command to back up your device. To back up everything, run the following command:

adb backup -apk -shared -all -f C:\Users\NAME\backup.ab

This backs up all your installed apps (APK files) and shared storage (SD card) data to the C:\Users\NAME\backup.ab file on your computer. Replace NAME in the command with your Windows username or provide another location for the backup file.

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After running this command, you’ll have to agree to the backup on your device. You can also encrypt the backup with a password here, if you like.

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Depending on how much data there is to back up, the process may take some time.

Restoring a Backup

To restore your backup in the future, run the following command:

adb restore C:\Users\NAME\backup.ab

You’ll be asked if you want to do a full restore – this will replace the data and apps on the device with the ones from your backup. If you encrypted the backup with a password, you’ll have to enter the password to restore it.

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This is a useful feature, but the complexity of using the Android SDK to create and restore backups is a bit much for the average user. Hopefully this feature will be given a convenient button in Android’s interface in the future.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/27/12

Comments (31)

  1. rKiller

    There is an easier way use titanium Backup

  2. Random Andy aka Randy

    @rKiller – Titanium Backup requires root, this article was about how to backup your android device WITHOUT having to root it. The article even mentions Titanium Backup in the beginning. Please read it fully before posting.

  3. tomko44

    @rKiller Did you not read the second paragraph? They have already posted an article on Titanium and that it requires rooting, whereas this method does not.

  4. brandon

    Doing this now.. THANKS! I couldn’t get “open command window from here” option to show up for me but everything else went smoothly.

  5. brian

    Great step-by-step tutorial! I especially like the embedded debug comments regarding 32-bit vs 64-bit Java, verifying comms with the phone, etc. Very detailed – excellent!

  6. lynnsharpe

    If you have a Samsung android, you can backup and restore easy using free Kies software, if not then this method looks like a good approach.

  7. N0s7rum

    @brandon As the article states at the time of my reading. In order to get the “Open Command window here” option to show in the right click context menu, you have to hold shift the right click in the folder. It can come in handy for those of us that are lazy about navigating to the 10 folder deep location of the files we want to work on/with. Also note, that when working in CMD you can type “Prompt #” to change the prompt from current folder location to a simple # symbol. Then when you need to know what folder you are in just type “CD” (Current Directory). It works the same as PWD in linux systems.

  8. Krysaenaar

    Very nice article. Many thanks!

  9. tbkblues

    This just backs up apps and data, not the OS, bootrom, etc? If this is true, could it theoretically be used to: backup an unrooted device, root the device, then restore without loosing the root? Dealing with re-installing and cnfiguring all my apps is what’s keeping me from rooting presently.

  10. MadMav

    Why I can’t get any backup? I’ve installed everything (already installed), “adb devices” command works fine and shows me my device correctly attached, but when I digit the backup command, the feedback is “adb: unable to connect for backup”

    My device is a Packard Bell G100W, Android 3.2.1 not rooted all stock.

    All drivers are installed, anyone could help me? Big thanks! :)

  11. Dantv

    How do you stop Google from spying on me and tracking me when I use Android?

  12. Hoo

    Not working for Jelly Bean. I tried “adb shell ls -l /data/data” just to view file list but it return “opendir failed. Permission denied”.

  13. Emilio

    My Sony Neo V can get the
    adb device
    42………………………………53 device
    but the next line of backup says ‘unnable to connect for backup
    so I do not understand or what can I do. May be there is something missing between backup –
    -shared?
    regards
    Emilio

  14. 4G Reaper

    @Dantv

    I’m pretty sure they have that baked in to the core. I wouldn’t go messing around with Android’s system files if I were you.

  15. Wayne Riker

    Will this work on a B&N Nook Tablet?

  16. 4G Reaper

    @Wayne Riker

    Not stock, I think the Nook runs off of Gingerbread.

  17. DecimatedEclipse

    There’s an app called App Backup and Restore that backs up all your apks to your sd card. It worked well when switching phones. Its very simple to use.

  18. Rania

    doesn’t work with myAT&T sony xperia ion .
    I get this message
    adb: unable to open file FullBackup.ab

    Please Help

  19. stfamanda

    There is apps in the market that already automatically do scheduled backups, i personally use G cloud it does not require rooting and its free there is other options but not free.

  20. 1mb

    What about Linux?
    Google Usb Driver is NOT compatible with linux.

  21. Teo

    anybody has an answer to tbkblues’ problem:

    could it theoretically be used to: backup an unrooted device, root the device, then restore without loosing the root?
    just backs up apps and data, not the OS, bootrom, etc?

  22. john

    I tried the installation, but no option for “Android SDK Platform-tools” shows up in the SDK Manager. Only “Android SDK Tools”. In the SKD Manager folder is a file “adb_has_moved.txt” which states,

    “The adb tool has moved to platform-tools/. If you don’t see this directory in your SDK, launch the SDK and AVD Manager (execute the android tool) and install “Android SDK Platform-tools”.

    “Please also update your PATH environment variable to include the platform-tools/ directory, so you can execute adb from any location.”

    I also launched “AVD Manager”, but found no way to install Platform tools, as suggested by the text file..

  23. Kamal

    Amazing!!! Thanks a heap mate.. Download took some time but Worked like Charm. No Hassles! Great Guide for noobs like me :P

  24. Ost

    Chris, great tip, it worked as a charm in my Asus TF300T! I can’t thank you enough for such an invaluable and didactic step-by-step tutorial. May God bless you!

  25. Ost

    Hi Chris, another Q: the full backup using your advice has been made, but my plan is to migrate from this current Asus TF300T to another device platform, very likely the Galaxy Note II or Galaxy S III. Can restore be done anyway? Othewise, what’s the best approach when changing the platform and not loose all apps and data? Thanks for any heads up.

  26. SS

    Will it work on unrooted froyo 2.2?

  27. Andy

    Perfect. Ran and it backed up perfectly. Haven’t tried a restore, but i assume it works.

    Great post. Without it, i was on the verge of rooting my phone, just to support backup. That would have been serious overkill!

  28. gabe

    i need help with my phone

  29. Rich

    @Teo

    I’m going to try this in reverse – I’ve got a rooted nexus 7. I’m using this backup method to create a full backup, then I’m going to unroot my device, update to Jellybean 4.2 and see if I can restore all my data from my rooted backup. If it works, then I guess it’s safe to assume that backing up an unrooted device will allow you to root and restore without losing the root.

  30. Jeroen

    @Rich Or you use Voodoo OTA rootkeeper. It restores the rootfiles after an OTAupdate and worked for me when I updated my Nexus7 from 4.1.2 to 4.2.

  31. WinskiTech711

    These instructions need to be updated. In the section explaining where to download the Android SDK, there needs to be additional text telling you after clicking on the link you need to click on the “setting up an existing IDE” link to get just the tools. The link currently points you to download the ADT bundle, which does not help.

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