How to backup your iPhone to iTunes or iCloud

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Backing up your iPhone or iPad is simple. The best way to do so is using Apple's free iTunes software. This is installed by default on macOS computers, and can be downloaded from Apple's site for Windows users.

Apple create the backups, so we'll defer to their explanation. They've got a great guide here, named "How to back up your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch". It covers backup options using both iTunes and the iCloud.

We can share a few things to consider when creating backups. Unfortunately, you can't choose to back up to both iTunes and the iCloud at the same time, but you can switch between the two without older backups being deleted.

Bear in mind is that taking a new backup overwrites the pre-existing one. Thus, if you're looking to recover data from your device, you should not rush to create a new backup until you have examined the existing one.

Here are some of the things to weigh up when choosing between iTunes and iCloud backups:

Feature iTunes backups iCloud backups
Storage space As large as the hard disk on your computer. Limited to 5 GB without paid storage upgrade.
Storage required No larger than the capacity of your iOS device. The size of your iCloud Photo Library, with additional content potentially close to the size of your device. As backup snapshots are stored with potentially duplicate data, it is possible for a device backup to consume more space than the total capacity of the device.
Security Robust, so long as a secure backup password is chosen. Robust, so long as a secure iCloud account password is chosen.
Speed Very rapid as no cloud access is required. Extremely fast when accessed over USB 3. Speed varies according to the performance of your wi-fi, your Internet connection, and the performance of the iCloud servers at the time.

Given the advantage that iTunes backup have in speed of access, we recommend taking an iTunes backup to your local computer before any iOS upgrade. You don't want to end up waiting hours for an iCloud backup restore!

Backing up your iPhone with iTunes

It is strongly recommended to set a password when backing up with iTunes. This means your backup will be an "encrypted backup". Without this password, anyone who has access to your computer can access the backup, and you probably don't want that.

Also, if your backups are encrypted, Apple will include even more data in them than they otherwise would: such as Health information and the saved passwords in your Keychain. Thus, if you ever lose or replace your phone, and need to restore from a backup, an encrypted backup will give you more back.

Let's look at another handy guide from Apple: "About encrypted backups in iTunes".

If you choose to back up with iTunes with USB it pays to ensure you're using a fast connection. If you have a Mac, all of your USB ports will likely be very fast. If you are using a Windows computer, you'll want to use a USB3 port, if your computer has one. These are generally the ones that are blue, and which are built directly into your PC or laptop. The ports on your monitor, keyboard, or USB hub are likely slower.

If you choose to back up with iTunes, you'll see there is an option named "Sync with this iPhone over wi-fi". That's not actually just about syncing: if you check it, it'll also let you create backups over wi-fi.

iTunes' backup options for wi-fi backups
iTunes' backup options for wi-fi backups

To get backups working with iTunes over wi-fi, you need run through these steps:

  1. Connect with USB and open the iPhone section on iTunes.
  2. Tick “Sync with this iPhone over Wi-Fi”.
  3. Ensure “This computer” is the backup location, not “iCloud”.
  4. Hit “Done” at the bottom of iTunes.
  5. Disconnect the USB.
  6. Ensure the phone is on the same Wi-Fi network as the computer. If so, the iPhone pane should still be available in iTunes.
  7. Click the “Back Up Now” button in iTunes, and an iTunes backup should be taken over Wi-Fi.

If you leave your phone on power overnight, and leave your Mac or PC on, a backup should automatically be taken each night.

Backing up your iPhone with iCloud

Apple iCloud provides Apple users with storage space to back up the content of their iOS devices. It currently offers 5 GB of free storage and up to 2 TB paid storage. They publish some helpful pages on the subject:

One neat thing to note with iCloud storage space is that it can be shared between members of a family configured on the iCloud. If you have your partner or kids connected, you can pool the space between you. So if you upgrade your account, it's possible that they won't need to.

The amount of space you need varies according to your device and how you use it, but these things will likely take up space:

  • Your iCloud Photo Library. This can grow to be larger than the storage on your phone, as it doesn't all have to be fitted onto the phone at any one time.
  • All of your app's data, and any files you store on the device.

We tend to see devices taking around 40 - 60 GB of data.

You can trigger creation of a a backup directly, by going into Settings > [your name] (right at the top) > iCloud > iCloud Backup. You can manage your iCloud storage from the same menu,

How to get regular iPhone backups

Your iPhone is able to back up automatically each night to the iCloud or iTunes if you satisfy the criteria for automatic backups. These are:

  • The device must be locked
  • The device must be powered
  • The device must be connected to a wi-fi network

If your phone is set to back up to iTunes over wi-fi, then your PC or Mac must be left powered on and connected to the same wi-fi network.

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