Most people keep a lot of personal information on their phones, which would be extremely inconvenient or even impossible to replace. And since phones are easier to lose or destroy than something like a desktop computer, it’s vital to have your data backed up so you don’t lose it.
If you have an iPhone, Apple makes it easy to back up your data so you have a copy in case of disaster. Here’s a quick overview of how backing up your iPhone works.
Options for Backing Up Your iPhone
You have two ways to back up your iPhone. One is a cloud backup to iCloud, which stores your data on Apple’s servers. The other is to back up locally to your Windows PC or Mac.
Using both of these options, you can back up essential files like app data, iPhone settings, your Home screen layout, photos and videos, ringtones, and similar. Anything already stored in iCloud, like your contacts and notes, isn’t backed up.
Both of these options have their pros and cons; you may wish to use both at the same time. Let’s walk through how these work and what you should know about each.
Backing Up Your iPhone to iCloud
Backing up to iCloud is convenient, and since the backup copy of your data is stored offsite, it’s not susceptible to damage from theft or natural disaster. However, the main limitation of iCloud backups is that you have a limited amount of cloud storage.
Your Apple ID includes 5GB of storage space for free, which likely isn’t enough to back up everything on your phone. You can purchase more on a monthly subscription if you decide that’s worth it over the hassle of backing up manually.
To check on your iCloud backup status, open Settings on your iPhone and tap your name at the top. From there, choose iCloud > iCloud Backup. If the iCloud Backup slider is enabled, your phone is set to back up to iCloud regularly and automatically. It will do so when your iPhone is charging, has its screen locked, and is on Wi-Fi (as well as cellular data, if you enable the second slider).
Hit Back Up Now to make a backup of the latest data on your device. The first time will likely take a while, depending on how much you’re backing up and how fast your network connection is. Future backups should go faster, since they only back up files that have changed.
You’ll see the last successful backup date and time at the bottom of the list.
Managing Your iCloud Storage
Back on the iCloud page, you’ll see a Storage bar at the top. This gives you a breakdown of what’s using your iCloud storage. If you’re low on space and want to free up some room for future backups, tap Manage Storage and take a look at the list of apps that back up their data in iCloud.
Select an app to delete its contents in your iCloud account; for some apps, you can manage individual files instead of erasing everything. In particular, be sure to tap Backups followed by your device name, as this lets you exclude some apps from backing up to iCloud if you want.
Tap Change Storage Plan if you decide to upgrade. You can get 50GB of space for $0.99 per month, 200GB for $2.99 per month, or 2TB for $9.99 per month.
All three plans are shareable with others through Apple Family Sharing. Speaking of this, don’t forget about Apple One, which is a great shareable plan that can help you cut down on costs. It includes iCloud storage, plus access to other Apple services.
Understanding iCloud Photos
Since photos are one of the most important aspects of a backup, it’s important that you understand how your iPhone handles them.
By tapping Photos on the iCloud menu, you’ll see a slider labeled iCloud Photos. When this is enabled, your phone will automatically upload your photos to iCloud, which allows you to view them on all your Apple devices.
When you have iCloud Photos enabled, your iPhone does not include your photos as part of an iCloud backup, since they’re already in the cloud. If the iCloud Photos slider is disabled, your phone does not automatically sync your photos to iCloud. In this case, making an iCloud backup will back up your Camera Roll to iCloud to protect them.
Note that deleting a photo from your phone with iCloud Photos enabled will also delete it from your iCloud account. iCloud Photos lets you recover erased photos in the Recently Deleted album for 30 days, but they will disappear after that.
Backing Up Your iPhone to Your Computer
If you don’t want to pay for iCloud storage or don’t prefer to back up to the cloud for whatever reason, you’ll need to back up to a computer instead. Backing up using this method doesn’t have any storage limit, beyond the space on your PC. However, it’s not as convenient, since you have to remember to plug in your iPhone and run a new backup.
If you have a Windows computer, or a Mac running macOS Mojave or earlier, iPhone backups use iTunes. On a Mac running macOS Catalina or newer, you’ll need to use Finder instead.
First, download iTunes for Windows if you need. Plug your iPhone into your computer, then open iTunes or Finder. If this is your first time connecting your phone to this computer, you’ll need to authorize the connection.
Once that’s done, click the small device button at the top-left of the iTunes window. On Finder, select your device name from the left sidebar under Locations. Then you’ll find a Backups section.
Click Back Up Now to start a new backup. Before you do, you should check the Encrypt local backup option. When you do this, the process will also back up sensitive information like your info in the Activity and Health apps, plus the passwords in Keychain.
You’ll need to specify a password to do this; make sure you don’t forget it, as it’s impossible to recover an encrypted backup if you forget the password. We recommend keeping it in a password manager.
If you plan to use your computer as your primary backup location, you can check the This computer button next to Automatically Back Up.
Back Up Your iPhone Ahead of Time
It’s important to have a backup for all your devices. Don’t gamble on losing precious memories and files that you can never restore. Make a backup plan today so your phone’s contents are protected from accidents.
Before backing up, you might also want to free up some space on your iPhone to decrease the backup size.