How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive

Backing up your iPhone is a smart move because it can protect you if you lose your iPhone or if it becomes damaged at some point. Although Apple’s own iCloud backup service is great, it means putting all of your data under the control of Apple (see our iCloud review).

If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, or you’re running out of iCloud storage space, then you’ll want to learn how to backup an iPhone to an external hard drive. This involves moving your previously hidden iPhone backup files from your Windows PC or Mac to an external hard drive.

You’ll need an external hard drive with enough storage to be able to do the job, so look at investing in one of the best external hard drive options before you consider backing up your iPhone files.

How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive

It’s been a while since it was necessary to backup your iPhone using your PC or Mac. Thanks to the magic of iCloud, you’re able to make backups of your iPhone data without needing any other equipment.

This has its advantages, not the least of which is being able to make regular backups without plugging in your iPhone. The biggest problem with this approach, however, is storage. Backing up to iCloud uses your limited iCloud storage. The larger the backup files, the less space you have for essentials, including your camera photos, although you may wish to move your photo collection to the best online storage for photos instead.

That’s why backing up to an external hard drive can be a better method. It’s more involved and does require you to revert to old-school iPhone backups using iTunes or, if you’re using macOS Catalina, you can use Finder instead.

iTunes-Mac

If you have made a backup of your iPhone using your PC or Mac, you can then move the files to an external drive.

How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive on Windows

To begin backing up an iPhone to an external hard drive on Windows, you’ll need to have iTunes installed. Connect your iPhone to your PC and open iTunes once it’s installed.

Once your iPhone is connected to your PC, unlock your iPhone and pressed “trust” on it to allow your PC to connect. Then your iPhone should appear under the “devices” tab in the left-hand menu of iTunes.

Click the iPhone icon in the top left of the iTunes screen. This is located next to the media dropdown menu (i.e. “music”). This brings up the device information menu for your iPhone.

To perform a manual backup of your iPhone to your PC, click “back up now” under the “manually back up and restore” section.

Your iPhone will take some time to finish backing up to your PC. Once it’s completed, you’ll have to manually copy the backup files to your external drive. 

The location of iPhone backup files is C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup, replacing “username” with your own Windows username. You can also type “%appdata%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup” in Windows File Explorer to take you directly to the folder.

Using the “date modified” column, locate the newest backup for your device. Right-click on the folder and press “copy.” You can then attach your external hard drive, open it in File Explorer, right-click and “paste” the backup folder to an appropriate location. You’ll need to do this every time you perform a manual backup of your iPhone to your PC.

How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive on Windows

  1. Open iTunes and connect your iPhone.
  2. Click the device icon in the top left, then click “back up now.”
  3. Once the process is complete, go to the iTunes backup folder (“%appdata%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup”).
  4. Locate the latest backup folder, right-click, press “copy” and then paste it to your external hard drive.

How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive on Mac

The process for backing up an iPhone to an external hard drive on Mac is pretty similar for users with macOS Mojave or older operating systems that, like Windows, use iTunes for iPhone backups. If you use a Mac with macOS Catalina, the process differs, using Finder instead.

If you have macOS Mojave or older, connect your iPhone and open iTunes. Click the iPhone device icon in the top left. If your Mac device is running macOS Catalina, open Finder from the app dock at the bottom of your screen instead.

Click “back up now” in the “manually back up and restore” section of your device information menu. For Catalina users, the “back up now” button is listed under the “backups” section.

This process will take some time to complete, especially if it is the first time your device has been backed up. Once it has, you can begin copying your files to an external drive.

Whether you’re using iTunes or Finder, the typical location for your iPhone backup files is “~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync” — which won’t appear in Finder. Click the search icon in the top right of your Mac screen and type in your backup folder location. Locate the most recent backup folder, right-click and then click “copy.” 

Head to your external drive listed under “locations” in your Finder left-hand menu and paste your backup folder there. 

As with Windows, you’ll need to do this whenever you perform a manual backup of your iPhone to Mac.

How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive on Mac

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac. Macs running macOS Mojave or older should open iTunes. Macs with macOS Catalina should open Finder.
  2. Click the iPhone in the top left (iTunes) or your device name under “locations” (Finder), then click “back up now” to begin a manual backup.
  3. Click the search icon in the top right of your Mac screen, locate “~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync” and double-click on the folder to open it in Finder.
  4. Right-click the most recent update folder, click “copy,” then paste it to your external hard drive.

Final Thoughts

Although it isn’t a straightforward process, backing up an iPhone to an external hard drive can give you control over your iPhone backups. It can also help you reclaim iCloud storage or move your iPhone backups to a cloud backup service like Carbonite in the long run (see our Carbonite review).

Depending on the size of your iPhone storage, making regular backups will require a large enough external hard drive. A 1TB storage device is the minimum size we’d recommend, so be sure to take a look at our best 1TB external hard drive shortlist for options. If you’re worried about Mac support, take a look at our review of the best external hard drive for Mac.

Do you prefer to manually backup your iPhone? Share your iPhone backup tips and tricks in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

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