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How To: Recover iPhone app data after a clean restore (OSX)

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The title should make this pretty clear, but this basic tutorial is for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch users who own a Mac. Sure there may be ways to do this on a Windows PC, but I don’t own one so I can’t really do a walk through without! Also, keep in mind there may be alternate ways to do this, some faster some slower. I really don’t know for sure, but this is the way I found worked best for me in the recent 4.1 update. As I mentioned in a prior post I tend to do a clean update, meaning I install iOS and do not restore my data from backup. Why? I don’t know. I guess having used Windows for so long I got used to a nice clean re-install of the OS every once in while.

However, I’m sure immediately you can see a flaw in plan as some apps don’t sync to cloud, and don’t provide any good way to backup and restore data. For example (iTunes Links) – Momento, Days Off, and Gas Cubby (which does sync but not automatically). All of these apps are ones I store important data in. For example Gas Cubby I’ve been using since March to keep track of (obviously) mileage information. Normally I sync as soon as I put in a new tank, but I forgot last time because I was on my R6 and one my way to work. I also forgot I hadn’t sync’d until naturally AFTER I had done a clean install of iOS 4.1 in my iPhone 4. Instantly, this became a crisis and I set out upon an adventure to figure out how to get my stuff back.

Luckily, I had done a backup before I did the update. Click on through for how I recovered my app data, and how I got back pictures I’d taken but forgotten to pull off the phone into iPhoto.


iPhone /iPod Touch Backup Extractor

iPhone Explorer

An iPhone / iPad / Touch that you’ve backed up recently.

How to:

The steps here are pretty darned simple. Here’s what you do –

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Open up iPhone Backup Extractor. Click that little button that says “Read Backups”. The list isn’t really sorted so don’t freak out if your latest backup isn’t right at the top. Scroll through the list and select the one you want to get data back from. Click Choose.

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Now you’re be presented a list of files contained in the backup. iOS Files contains exactly that – your keychain, some config data and most importantly – your camera roll. If you forgot to pull out your pictures, extract the iOS Files, wait a minute while the magic happens and inside the recovered backup is Media > DCIM > 100APPLE. Library > SMS > Parts contains the images you sent through SMS. I’m sure you can poke around in here and find more fun stuff to recover – but those are the things I was looking for.

Inside those com.company.app folders you’ll find the relevant backup data for the individual apps.

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So, you’ve got the information back in a readable form on your desktop… now what?

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Connect your iPhone / iPad / iTouch and launch iPhone Explorer. Once connected there’s some magic that happens and iPhone Explorer presents a list of your Apps and Folders. Expand out the apps list, expand out the apps you want to put your information back on, and that’s pretty much it. Copy the data from the Documents / Library folders to the corresponding folders in the Apps. Once you’ve copied everything back over you’re done. Launch your app and make sure what you wanted to see is there.

I’ve found that it works best to restore data to applications before you’ve launched them the first time. I’m not sure why … I imagine some of the database uses hash or something the app generates on first launch and by doing this first it doesn’t do that… but who knows.

I also highly recommend you take some time and poke around in iPhone Explorer. There’s a lot of interesting details you can gather from going through the folders.

There you have it. Do you have a better way to recover data that you have backed up or can’t sync to the cloud? Let me know in the comments.

Continue reading:


  • Sean

    This is an awesome guide. I did the exact same thing when I restored to 4.1 and lost all my Milebug information for the whole year.

    • brandonsteili

      Hopefully you still have an older backup and can get that data back!

  • Philip

    Hi, does this method work to restore old SMS messages?


  • Erik

    This does look pretty painless. Now if I can just find the software to do this on a windows 7 PC.

  • Ankush

    What a lifesaver Brandon! Does all of this work with non-jailbroken devices?

  • Nicole

    Thank you for this! I recovered my app data for one app, i do not have the full version but all i need is data from that one app. The problem is, itunes deleted my old backups, so it is the wrong data. How would i go about recovering old backups that have been deleted/overwritten? Also, i am on vista and it seems to work fine except the fact that it keeps crashing when i try to add old data and it says file or directory not found. Anyone else get this?

  • Brandon

    @nicole – I don’t know of any way to recover data if your backups have been deleted. Are you sure there are no other backups… maybe the application is looking in the wrong directory? I’m not sure where iTunes stores them since I don’t use a PC for iTunes.

  • Vina

    Thank you very much! You saved me from reentering a LOT of data on three different apps!

  • beverley

    Hi ! is it possible if i dont jailbreak my iphone? cause mine is the latest version 4.3.5..

    • Brandon

      Should work just fine –

  • Andy

    AWESOME Thanks so much. Got my gas cubby stuff back

  • Jon

    Outstanding information! We were having problems with phones that took a hit with the iOS5 battery drain issue. We have wiped the phones and only restored the data we needed for a few select apps. Thank you so much for the post!!

  • wtf

    typical mac moron. what you do here is simply restore from backup, not recover data.

    • Brandon

      Note the title of the article – AFTER A CLEAN RESTORE. In other words, one where we have restored the iPhone firmware but DO NOT intend to restore all the data from a backup.

      Thanks for not paying attention.

  • asher

    I want to restore sms ans, call history and photos to photo roll, I ended up successfully jailbreaking the phone with redsnow (for iOS5) which is a tethered jailbreak and then was able to see root. Only problem was I couldnt find the right version of library and media to restore the data to. I ended up copying DCIM for photos, but they wouldn’t load then i found the directory structure i was searching for under i think VAR under root, restored the call history but then itunes would sync. Any ideas without rejailbreaking phone? I was able to com,pletely reset the phone and restore syncing capability after going into iexplorer.exe on a win 7 box and deleting all root folders. a regualr itunes restore would clear all my manually entered data from memory. I then forced reboot the phone and closed iexpolorer then the itunes conect prompt came up as it was a blank phone. I then restored via ios 5 and setup as a new phone. Any ideeas how to more easily restore sms and call histories? maybe merge them to newer ones?

  • sean

    I also lost my gas cubby data however I have a Windows 7 machine.
    Can you provide and help to locate this informantion via Windows?

  • When I filled up the tank tonight I realized I hadn’t completely thought through what I might lose doing a clean restore. Thankfully, a Google search landed me here. Once I restored my data to the Road Trip app, I realized there was other data that was actually more important including some that I knew I could copy and paste from a Drobbox backup. You saved me a lot of time. I’ll definitely share your link including in some app reviews where I’ve seen people complaining about apps where they haven’t been able to restore data.

  • D3 Bing

    dude, this is just perfect. I always wanted to do a new phone (I have been using the backup since iPhone 2G) and now I finally can without loosing my Angry Birds progress. Thanks so much.

  • Des

    All I needed was iExplorer, although I had also downloaded Picturescue. This little app is absolutely fabulous. It saved me from a bit of heartache. I’d forgotten to do a full import of all photos on my iphone prior to upgrading to iOS5. iExplorer came to my rescue. Brilliant! Thanks to the people at Macroplant.

  • Afif

    Heylo admin,

    I restored my iphone and i backup myphone with itunes. Suddenly this itunes required password but im totally sure i did not put any password. I came across this website and im very lucky because i can recover my iOS files using iphone backup extrator. BUT my problem is after i extract iOS folder and use the iExplorer to paste all the iOS file into my iPhone i cannot open the file picture. Please please please guide me how to make my old iOS file that contains my old pictures to my iPhone using iExplorer or else i will miss my old priceless pintures ;(
    Thanks in advance~

  • Isaiahnjesus11

    Hello everyone i know that this website wasnt made for questions but i need help BIG TIME!!!!!!!!! Ok i just got done restoring my ipod and now it deleted all data on it!!!!!!!! And i want to know how to get it back!!! Someone help please!!!!!


    Hi. Can you tell me what kind of “backup” you are doing before running these steps. I did an iCloud backup first before running these apps and I do not see these types of files. Thanks for the information.

    • Brandon

      You need to backup to your computer – NOT iCloud.

  • Catherine Ross

    Can I just thank you from the bottom of my heart. I lost 3 years of a gratitude diary by updating the app – and a LOT happened in those years. I thought the beautiful record of my life was completely lost. Using the extractor and explorer – it’s BACK.
    thank you so much.

  • jaime

    This helped me restore the only pictures I had of myself pregnant…along with a lot of other info I would have been sad to lose!!!!

  • gabe

    Thank you so much I was able to restore two years of Bible notes and highlights. Thank you!!

  • oleg

    I lost everything from my iPhone when wrong password was typed too many times (child played).
    Then I respored iPhone from Backup (one month old….).
    I see just one month old photoes…..

    Is it possible to recover all newer photoes now?
    Will it help me if i reset iPhone now -> then make all procedures as you described above

  • Ryan

    Hate to say that this didn’t work for the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 app.

  • Tom

    Will this work on a windows XP? I don’t have an apple.
    Lost my Trip Cubby data.

  • STFU

    fuck you, data off the phone not a backup on your mac!

  • Romandy

    Thank you so much! you make my day 😀

  • Cheryl Thornton Bell

    Hi there – I am not seeing anything listed but the last backup for my iPhone (in your screenshot, multiple backup dates are listed) Can you please help?