How To Backup and Copy Data Between iOS Devices

By Jason Fitzpatrick on January 25th, 2011

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 a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/25/11
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