A question mark in front of an iPhone and iPad.

Although we all wish automated backups ran perfectly, you sometimes have to find files manually to restore a backup on your iPhone or iPad.

If you want to restore an iPhone or iPad backup via the conventional method of a local backup (and your computer knows where those backups are), you can use iTunes for Windows or macOS 10.14 or earlier. If your Mac runs macOS 10.15 or later, you can also restore via Finder.

However, if you need to recover iPhone or iPad backup data from an older computer, transfer it to a different machine, or track it down on a remote backup drive, you’ll have to do some digging.

Use an iCloud Backup If Possible

Before you go on the hunt for iPhone or iPad backup files, you might want to see if your device was backed up via iCloud. iCloud Backup saves backup files to Apple’s servers over the internet instead of locally on your computer.

Here’s how to check your iCloud Backups:

  • iOS 11 or later: Navigate to Settings > [user name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backup.
  • iOS 10.3: Navigate to Settings > [user name] > iCloud. Tap the bar graph that shows iCloud usage, and then tap “Manage Storage.”
  • iOS 10.2 or earlier: Go to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage.

Once you’re there on our device, tap “Backups.”

Tap "Backups."

You see a list of the devices linked to your account that have backups in iCloud.

An iPad listed under "Backups" in iCloud.

If there’s an iCloud backup you want to restore, you first have to perform a full factory reset to erase the data on your iPhone or iPad.

After you reset your device, use the Apple ID you created the backups with to sign in to iCloud. Then, select the proper backup during the restore process.

How to Restore a Local Backup

If your PC or Mac already knows where your iPhone or iPad backups are, it’s easy to restore them locally. As mentioned earlier, you can do this via iTunes (on Windows or macOS 10.14 or earlier) or Finder (on macOS 10.15 or later).

After you connect your device, click “Restore iPhone” or “Restore iPad,” and then select the backup you want to restore. From there, follow the instructions in the links above.

Click "Restore iPhone" in iTunes.

Locate iPhone or iPad Backups on a Windows PC

If iCloud backups don’t do the trick, you can also locate iPhone or iPad backups on a Windows PC.

Follow the paths below:

  • On a PC with a standalone iTunes installation: Open Explorer and paste the following in the address bar: %APPDATA%\Apple Computer\MobileSync
  • On a PC with iTunes from the Microsoft Store: Open Explorer and paste the following in the address bar: %HOMEPATH%\Apple\MobileSync

You’ll notice each iPad or iPhone backup is stored in a separate folder and named with a long string of letters and numbers. Each folder represents an entire backup for a single device.

The "Backups" folder in Windows Explorer.

These long encoded names make it difficult to figure out which folder corresponds with which device, so, you’ll have to check in a different way.

If you want the most recent backup, right-click the Explorer window, and then click View > Details. Right-click again, and then click Sort by > Date Modified.

Now you can see the dates beside the folders and choose the backup you want.

Moving and Restoring Data From a Windows PC

If you need to move a backup folder to another device (such as another Windows PC or a Mac) to restore it, simply copy the folder you want to the proper location on the new machine, as shown below:

  • On a Windows machine with a standalone copy of iTunes: Copy the folder(s) to the following location: %APPDATA%\Apple Computer\MobileSync
  • On a Windows machine with iTunes from the Microsoft Store: Copy the folder(s) to the following location: %HOMEPATH%\Apple\MobileSync
  • On a Mac: Copy the folder(s) to the following location: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync

Connect your iPhone or iPad via USB, and then restore the backup through iTunes (on Windows or macOS 10.14 or earlier) or Finder (macOS 10.15 or later).

Locate iPhone or iPad Backups on a Mac

On Mac OS X, you can find iPhone or iPad backups created by iTunes (macOS 10.14 or earlier) or Finder (in macOS 10.15 or later) in ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync.

Each backup is stored in a separate folder named with a long string of random letters and numbers. Each folder represents an entire backup instance for a single device.

The "Backups" folders in Finder.

Again, these long encoded names make it difficult to know which folder corresponds with which device, so you’ll have to check in a different way.

If you want the most recent backup, click the List View icon in the Finder window. Check the “Date Modified” column to see which folder matches the backup you want.

Moving and Restoring Data From a Mac

If you need to copy this backup to another device (such as another Windows PC or a Mac) to restore it, simply copy the folder to the proper location on the new machine as shown below:

  • On a Windows machine with a standalone copy of iTunes: Copy the folder(s) to the following location: %APPDATA%\Apple Computer\MobileSync
  • On a Windows machine with iTunes from the Microsoft Store: Copy the folder(s) to the following location: %HOMEPATH%\Apple\MobileSync
  • On a Mac: Copy the folder(s) to the following location: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync

Connect your iPhone or iPad via USB, and then restore the backup through iTunes (on Windows or macOS 10.14 or earlier) or Finder (macOS 10.15 or later).

Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a Staff Writer for How-To Geek. For over 14 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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