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How To Backup and Copy Data Between iOS Devices

backupbirds

Although iTunes usually does a good enough job backing up your data, the backups are encrypted and inaccessible save for totally restoring your system. What if you want to copy your saved games to a new device? Read on to find out how.

When it comes to backing up your entire iOS device, iTunes does a pretty decent job and should your device be lost, stolen, or destroyed you’ll be happy to have those backups as a restoration point. When it comes to selective backup and restore, however, iTunes isn’t so hot. Further more it doesn’t always effectively back up 3rd party data. If you’ve spent a lot of time customizing a third party application or you really want to make sure that your Angry Birds run with 3-stars on every level is secure, we’ll show you how.

What You’ll Need

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The requirements for this trick are pretty minimal. You’ll need the following items:

  • A PC or Mac with iPhone Explorer installed.
  • An iOS device (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad) you want to selectively backup data from
  • A sync cable

Note: If you want to selectively backup system applications (such as the calendar and email app) you’ll need to have a jailbroken phone in order to secure root access to the system directories. We’re focused on retrieving data from third party applications which do not store their data in the root directory.

Getting Started

We’d recommend plugging in your iOS device and performing a full backup before proceeding. Although we’ve never had any issues backing up and restoring individual application data using the method we’re about to outline it never hurts to have a full backup stashed away.

Once you’ve completed the backup, download and install free application iPhone Explorer. It’s available for both Windows and Mac OS X machines. iPhone Explorer is a great little app for easily browsing the system files on your iOS device. As we noted above, non-jailbroken devices will be limited to browsing the 3rd party data—jailbreak if you want to browse in the root directory.

After installing iPhone Explorer tether your iOS device to the computer via the sync cable. If it automatically mounts in iTunes, dismount it (but leave it plugged in). If iTunes takes control of the device then iPhone Explorer will error out and tell you that the device is inaccessible.

When iPhone Explorer is open you should see a default screen like the one below, minus the “Root Directory” entry (we only see that here because our iPad is rooted).

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Click on the Apps entry to expand the tree. Within the directory tree is the data folder of every third party application on your device. For this tutorial we’re going to find the data for Treasure Island and transfer it off one iPad and onto another. Let’s scroll down and find the data folder. It’s kind of a pain to decode the directory names but typically they’re organizes like com.developmenthouse.appname. Once you locate the directory for the app or game you’re interested in backing up, click on it and simply drag and drop the contents of the folder from iPhone Explorer to a folder on your computer like so:

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When the transfer is complete you have a total backup of your app on your local machine. Now while you can limit yourself to only backing up individual files you’ve confirmed are the true data files you’re interested in (such as a .SAV or a . LUA file), we recommend starting by copying the entire directory. If you’re ambitious you can mess around with isolating the individual files you need to copy for each specific app.

When the files are safe on your computer you can then archive them or, if you’re in it to copy them, plug in the other iOS device. In this case we’re copying the save files from one iPad to another so we can continue to play the game when the original iPad is out in the field. Plug in the second iOS device and simply reverse the process: navigate to the application data folder and then drag and drop the backup from the computer to the iOS device:

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There you have it. Whether you’re trying to transfer your Angry Birds high scores and level unlocks between devices or just clone all your Pulse newsreader customizations between your iPads, this technique allows you to reach into your iOS device sans iTunes and backup and restore individual app data.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/25/11

Comments (39)

  1. David Levine

    I’m definitely going to have to try this. Thanks for the walkthrough.

  2. Will

    I tried to copy the Angry Birds save data from my iPhone to my iPad and now neither application will start. It had some trouble copying the Angry Birds.app file to my desktop. It said something like, “iPhone source may be corrupted and could not be copied”

  3. Will

    I never figured out the error but I did make a realization. The app save files are located within the “Documents” folder which is one of the folders that appears after you click on com.developmenthouse.appname. So copying the documents folder was sufficient for me in order to get the correct save file from iPhone to iPad. Thanks for this guide!

  4. rino

    cheers to HTG for covering more iOS devices and stuff!

  5. Samuel

    i have this issue too about copying data and i cant find a way around it.

  6. Kyle

    I’ve used a neat tool called iBackupBot for the same thing. The nice thing about iBackupBot is that it uses the backups made by iTunes. The iTunes backups only contain the user data, like your saves or caches, so you don’t need to be concerned with trying to figure out which files you should or shouldn’t take, and the files are all already on your computer, so there is one less step in transfering your saved data.

  7. LIGHTNING

    Aw man. If only I saw this article earlier.. lol. My Angry Birds, Plants Vs. Zombies, and all my other data is gone.. gotta start from scratch now lol.

  8. Steven powell

    Not working with iOS 4.3 beta 2

  9. peter

    can’t you just use the old data in the trash as a source… :)

  10. Neil

    Any idea how to fix the error saying “iPhone source may be corrupted and could not be copied”?

  11. Mike

    Android doesn’t require ridiculous workarounds.

  12. David Levine

    I couldn’t find any .SAV or .LUA files on my iPhone. I looked in Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies.

  13. J

    Because android still works ridiculously.

  14. noroom

    I get the following message when trying to access an app folder:

    —————————
    iPhone Explorer
    —————————
    File or Directory not found.
    —————————
    OK
    —————————

    Sometimes it works if I restart the app, but as soon as I start browsing through the folders, the message will pop up again, and from that point on, I won’t be able to browse any app folders, even ones I had already opened before.

  15. yticolev

    Is it possible to use this app to email files stashed on a laptop without otherwise transferring them to the iPhone? If I could do that easily, there would be zero need to tether.

  16. JPiot

    @noroom:
    I also got the “File or Directory not found error message”. Workaround is to close the program, and be really quick when expanding the tree view.
    If you wait too long after expanding the tree, almost every subfolder will give the error.
    I had to restart the app each time to restore a savegame in a different folder…

  17. Rushmore

    Perfect! Take that Apple!

  18. misterT

    This is kind of embarrassing, but has anyone had success using this program – or similar – on one of these massive multiplayer games, such as Original Gangstaz or iMob?

    I get similar errors as described above, but even when I do successfully drag and drop the files I backed up from my Touch into my new iPhone, the saved data still is not visible… and my game is starting from scratch.

    I am willing to suck it up on games like Angry Birds, but not these multi player games where you spend a long time developing your player. Silly, I know, but still…

  19. Taskuna

    To those having Corruption problems: Change the permissions of those folders to 775. Unfortunately you can’t do that with this tool but you can with SSH.

  20. Aaron

    HELP! it says “Directory Not Found” when i click on any app folder. i can’t copy, drag, or edit anything i cant even view the contents of a folder.

  21. Andrew

    “Directory Not Found” any fixes?? Help??!!! I need to back them all up so I can jailbreak it :(

  22. Eoin

    I’m looking to copy the save files for my apps. Which folders do I copy over???

  23. Eoin

    Ok, one of the comments above said copy the “Documents” folder to get the save files. So I did that and I went onto the app and I am still starting from the beginning. Do I delete the documents folder originally on my iPod or do I have to sync with iTunes for the data to be properly transferred on??? Please help me with this one!!! :(

  24. me

    just unlock it and leave it unlocked. worked for me

  25. poushag

    I am trying to back up the apps but the copy is not being done properly and all the files are ending up flattened out into the destination directory. Phone is not jailbroken and I don’t plan to do so. I have tried things like adjusting the destination path, changing perms, etc. Could not drag the Apps folder off the iPhone so tried to take the app folders but it’s not going to work as long as the folder structure is not also copied. Any ideas?

  26. georgemck

    In Windows 7, I had to install as Administrator AND run as Administrator.

  27. Master Party

    Thanks to georgemck, you rock!! Administrator rights worked for m.

  28. Rob

    I’m browsing the Apps folder using iPhone explorer and I cannot see the iDos directory or 8HLDK844H7.net.litchie.idos or DosPad, or anything to do with dos!
    Does anyone have any suggestions as to why I can’t see the directory that everyone else seems to be able to see?
    Thanks

  29. h

    When I drag it back into iphone explorer, iphone explorer closes. Is there any way to put apps back onto the iphone??

  30. A

    Buggy software. Same problem as users above: having trouble seeing folders. Could only back the folders up, but one by one, and with a lot of restarting. Save yourself time and stay away until the developer fixes it. I haven’t found any other soft yet that backs up and iphone without using itunes or itunes backups.

  31. Jamaikoa

    Make a uppdate for 4.3.3 Please!!

  32. MauricioMAF

    The idea is great, but it is a pit that in my case didn’t work at all. I could not copy from the iPod4 or iPhone4 to windows 7. Even when I could drag and drop nothing was copied. Other times I also got the message “Directory not found”.
    I tried the iBackupBot but it does not allow to copy files from one backup to the other. This would save a lot of work.

  33. M.

    Hey, for you guys having problems with iphone Explorer, I found a simple solution for the crashing and not being able to transfer anything EVEN IN ADMINISTRATOR MODE: Download the older version. I am using the 0.9.26.0 and it works perfectly on windows 7 ultimate. The newer version is prettier and you can see your apps files with it (not possible with the older version), but with 0.9 you can transfer files (songs, docs, photos, anything else) between devices or computers. You might wanna try it ;)

  34. Kay

    This is a great idea however i am having some issues. I have successfully copied the app data from my Iphone 4. I then connect my Ipad and drag the files into the app folder. However, when i try and open the app on my ipad it just crashes. It wont load at all. I also tried to drag the files to another Iphone 4 and this failed also.

    Any ideas as to why this isn’t working? Could it be the iOS?

    Thanks

  35. Adam

    Or you could just use ifile to copy the app folder and put it in dropbox? simples!
    Or a handy little prog called ifunbox?

  36. KK

    Hi guys, use iFunBox. So far it is steady and I don’t have any problem copying to and from my iPhone 3GS.
    But one thing, copying only the “Documents” folder may not work for all apps. I can’t figure out why.. But for most of the apps putting back the contents in the “Documents” folder will do just fine!

  37. Player

    I am not able to access the app folder because it show there is nothing there, but I have some games there and some files I like to access. anyone know what I can do to show the files?

  38. neilB

    has anyone used this to move data files from either VehiCal or xensetracker to their new 4s?

  39. Bp

    Please, please, tell me how to be free from Apple’s on my device? Android is so much better! What I want to know is how can I read on my PC what I write on my iPod touch like in Awesome Notes and how can I download YouTube videos because I only have dial up and when I have a small window of chance to be on broadband in town. Thank you

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