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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Archive your iOS device backups with iTunes

Note: This story has not been updated since 2021.

iTunes Backup Archives

Beta software carries that label for a reason. Sometimes things just go wrong, and you have to be prepared to wipe everything and start over. With the announcement that Apple is opening up iOS betas to the public, those of us who have worked with pre-release software on our iOS devices have cautioned would-be adopters of the bleeding edge, and advised them–if nothing else–to create a backup.

There are a couple challenges there. Yes, you can simply back up your device to iCloud–but that can introduce problems when iCloud Backup then begins backing up data from your newly-updated device. Savvy users have always resorted to backing up in iTunes, but that too can cause problems if you regularly back up to iTunes.

Prudent folks like my former Macworld colleague Dan Frakes used to get around this by finding the backup file (it lives in ~/Library/Application Support/Mobile Sync/Backup/) and compressing it into a ZIP archive. But that’s a bit of a pain.

Fortunately, Apple’s now made it simpler with an “archive backup” option. Connect your iOS device to your Mac and launch iTunes, then open up Preferences and select Devices. You’ll see a list of all your backups1; control-click on the one you want2 and choose Archive.

Then, should you need to restore your iOS device, you can do so from the archived backup. It’s not without caveats: Apple says you might run into trouble is if, say, you try to restore from an archived backup that is itself from a prerelease version of iOS.

Go forth, then, and back up in safety!

  1. Incidentally, this is a really good area to prune if you’re running out of disk space. iOS device backups are huge, so if you have a bunch of older ones you don’t need, you can free up gigabytes of space. 
  2. Apple’s doc on this says “option-click”; not sure what they were smoking. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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