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How to Backup iPhone to External Hard Drive

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How to Backup iPhone to External Hard Drive

Summary

There is just too much precious data (messages, photos, contacts etc.) stored on your iPhone to risk losing it over an erroneous update or through theft or damages. Making regular backups of your device means that if any of these events occur, your data will be safe, and you can start where you left off.

This article will guide you through how to back up an iPhone to an external hard drive. Due to the sheer size of the data on an iPhone, a backup can take up a colossal amount of space on your computer. Consequently, many people opt to instead store their backups in iCloud or on an external hard drive.

Visit our blog for more general information about iPhone backups, and how to backup to computer, or to iCloud. Or for how to back up iPhone to an external hard drive, read on!

1. Back up iPhone to External Hard Drive the smart way with TouchCopy

Backing up your iPhone to an external hard drive without specialist software can prove tricky - especially if you are not confident with using Terminal on a Mac.

TouchCopy makes it easy to back up your iPhone content to the location of your choice.

  • Windows and Mac: Choose exactly what content you want to save (download to individual message conversations, music tracks, photos and more);
  • Mac only: or tell TouchCopy to perform a full backup to your external drive.
Viewing iPhone content on Windows PC with TouchCopy
Viewing iPhone photos content using TouchCopy on Windows PC

Save iPhone backups to external hard drive with TouchCopy for Mac

The default way to create iPhone backups on Mac is through Finder (or iTunes on older Macs). This is usually fine for users with a lot of spare hard drive space, but it does not offer a choice to save a backup on an external drive (without using command line Terminal shenanigans). Nor does Finder/iTunes allow you to access your iPhone content from within your backup.

To alleviate these concerns, we recommend using TouchCopy. TouchCopy is an app which allows you to create iPhone backups to your external hard drive (Mac-only).

Alternatively, you can choose on a file by file basis what iPhone content to save to your computer (Windows or Mac)!

Let's see how to back up your iPhone to external hard drive with TouchCopy for Mac...

  1. Launch TouchCopy on your Mac and connect your iPhone.
  2. Click Preferences from the menu on the left of the program, then select Backups.
  3. Choose the "External backup location" option.
    Back up iPhone to external hard drive with TouchCopy on Mac
  4. Finally, navigate to the location on your external hard drive where you'd like to save your backup, then click Open to select the location.

Now, when you select a category like Messages in TouchCopy (which requires access to a backup), you can choose to make a new backup. This new backup will be saved to your chosen external hard drive location - so make sure the drive is connected to your Mac when you are using TouchCopy!

Check out our guide for more information about changing backup location in TouchCopy.

Save iPhone content to external hard drive with TouchCopy (Windows or Mac)

So, TouchCopy is fantastic at allowing you to choose where to back up your iPhone on your Mac or external hard drive - but we haven't even scratched the surface of the app's potential.

iTunes and Finder backups do not allow for accessing or extracting files from the backup, but this is where TouchCopy truly shines. With TouchCopy, you can choose exactly what content from your iPhone you want to save, and save it as readable and useable files on your computer or external hard drive. Here's how it is done...

  1. Open TouchCopy on your PC or Mac.
  2. Connect your iPhone using your USB cable.
  3. Select the content you wish to backup (Messages, Photos, Music, Contacts, Call Logs, Calendar, Internet, Notes, Reminders, Voice Mail, Voice Memos, Files).

    Back up messages from iPhone to external hard drive with TouchCopy

  4. Choose a save option in TouchCopy's toolbar.
  5. Choose your external hard drive as the location to save to.
  6. Click Save!

If you have not done so already, you can download TouchCopy from here:

Download iconFree TouchCopy Download (PC) Download iconFree TouchCopy Download (Mac)

TouchCopy enables you to back up any data from your iPhone to your computer. When you connect your iPhone with TouchCopy, you can access Music, Photos, Messages, Contacts and more. Furthermore, you can copy any of this data to your computer to save it securely on your local PC or Mac, or an external drive connected to your computer.

Note that TouchCopy saves individual files to your computer, so you cannot do a full "Restore" from these files to your iPhone like you can with a "Backup & Restore" as seen with iTunes or Mac Finder. You can, however, add many of these files to your iPhone (or another device) if you should need them again though!

For example, you may have backed up your iPhone music and photos to your computer and contacts to Outlook with TouchCopy. If then, for whatever reason, you should delete or lose this data from your iPhone, you can restore it to your iPhone (or to a new iPhone) from the files on your computer using iTunes. Easy!

2. Back up iPhone to External Drive with Finder on Mac

Without the use of a specialist app like TouchCopy above, backing up your iPhone to an external drive can get a bit complicated. But by carefully following the steps below you can accomplish it.

On Mac, this is possible by first moving your existing backup to your external hard drive, then instructing the Mac (using some Terminal 'wizardry') to use the new location when creating iPhone backups in the future.

Move an iPhone backup on Mac to an external hard drive

Moving an existing backup of your iPhone to your external drive is the easy bit.

First, you'll need to locate your iPhone backup on your Mac. If you haven't yet got one, find out how to back up your iPhone to your Mac. Note: you'll need to have backed up to your Mac itself, rather than to iCloud.

Now let's see how to move your iPhone backup from Mac to your external hard drive...

  1. Ensure your external hard drive is connected to your Mac.
  2. Connect your iPhone to your Mac using your USB cable.
  3. Open Finder and select your iPhone under "Locations".
  4. Click "Manage Backups..." to see the device backups stored on your Mac.
    Manage iPhone backups in Finder on Mac
  5. Right-click the backup of your iPhone, and choose "Show in Finder".
    Find iPhone backup location in Finder on Mac
  6. The iPhone backup will be stored in a folder within a "Backup" folder. The backup will be a folder named with a long ID string of seemingly random characters. Right-click this folder and Copy it.
    Copy iPhone backup from Finder to external hard drive on Mac
  7. Finally, select your external hard drive from the list of Locations in Finder and create a new folder called ios_backups. Right-click and Paste your backup into this ios_backups folder.

Now you have a copy of your iPhone backup stored on your external drive! You may wish to delete the original backup stored on your Mac hard drive at this point to clear some space. (Need to clear more space on your Mac?)

Now for the tricky part - creating a 'Symlink' to set up Finder to save your iPhone backups to your external hard drive whenever you back it up in the future. A Symlink (or symbolic link) is a file which tells the Mac that one file points directly to another file in a different location. Using this feature, we can create a link from the standard iOS Backup location on Mac to a folder on an external drive.

As this step will require using Terminal, we recommend first creating a system backup using Time Machine. This way, you'll be able to go back, should something go wrong.

If you are unsure about using Terminal on your Mac, you can stop at the step above. Moving your iOS backups to your external drive manually will still save space on your Mac - you'll just need to remember to do this each time you back up your device. Alternatively, use Method 1: TouchCopy for Mac to back up your iPhone to your external drive without the need for Terminal or symlinks.

That said, let's see how to back up iPhone to external drive using symlink...

  1. First, you'll need to ensure that Terminal has the correct permissions. To do this, open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Full Disk Access. Here, click the 'lock' icon which will allow you to make changes - you'll need to enter your password to allow this. Finally, click the '+' icon, and select Terminal from the list.
    Setting Full Disk Access for Terminal on Mac
  2. Next, use cmd+spacebar on your keyboard. In the search box, type Terminal and hit Enter/Return to open Terminal.
  3. In Terminal, paste the following code. You'll need to replace 'yourexternalharddrivename' with the name of your external hard drive (and if you didn't follow the section above, ensure you have a new folder in the root of your external drive called ios_backups).

    ln -s /Volumes/yourexternalharddrivename/ios_backups ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup/
    Change iOS backup location with Terminal on Mac
  4. Hit Enter/Return, then you can close Terminal.

The symlink has now been made from the original backup location on Mac to the folder on your external hard drive. Now, whenever you make a new backup of a device in Finder, the backup will be saved to your external hard drive, rather than to your Mac. Just make sure that your external drive is connected to the Mac when you want to create a new backup!

3. Can you back up iPhone to External Drive on Windows?

Although iTunes does not provide the option to back up your iPhone directly to an external hard drive, you can move your iPhone backups from PC to your external drive, much like we did for Mac earlier in this guide.

First, you'll need to locate your iPhone backup on your PC. If you haven't yet got one, find out how to back up your iPhone to your computer. Note: you'll need to have backed up to your PC itself, rather than to iCloud.

Now let's see how to move your iPhone backup from PC to your external hard drive...

  1. Ensure your external hard drive is connected to your PC.
  2. Connect your iPhone to your PC using your USB cable.
  3. Open File Explorer and enter this path: %appdata%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup and hit Enter to navigate to that folder.
    Locate iPhone backup in File Explorer on Windows PC
  4. Within this Backup folder, you should see your iOS device backups. They will be named with long random strings of characters.
  5. Use the "Date modified" column to determine which backup is the iPhone backup you just made. Right-click the backup and Copy it.
    Copy iPhone backup from File Explorer to external hard drive on Windows PC
  6. Now you can navigate to your external drive in File Explorer.
  7. Optional: Create a new folder on your external drive to store your iPhone backup in.
  8. Open the folder on your external drive where you wish to save your backup, then right-click and Paste!

If you were unable to locate your iPhone backups at the path in the guide, find where else iOS backups may be stored on your computer.

Unlike on Mac, it is not possible on Windows to create a link to tell iTunes to back up the iPhone to the external drive. Unfortunately, this means you can only manually copy your existing backups to your external drive as noted above.

4. Back up iPhone files directly to External Drive with a USB cable

The other methods discussed in this guide require a computer. But did you know you can back up files from your iPhone directly to an external drive?

That's right - as long as you have the correct adapter to connect the iPhone to the external drive, you can save files to it. Check out Apple's recommendations about USB adaptors required, and ensuring that your external drive is formatted correctly to work with your iPhone.

Using this method, you can back up Photos, Videos and Documents. To back up other content like Music, Messages and more, we recommend using TouchCopy (Method 1).

With that said, let's see how to transfer photos from iPhone to external hard drive with a USB cable...

  1. Connect your iPhone to your external drive using the relevant adaptor is required.
  2. You may get a prompt on your iPhone to Trust the connected drive. Tap Trust.
  3. Open the Photos app on your iPhone.
  4. Tap Select, then tap all the photos you want to copy.
  5. Tap the Share icon, then choose Copy Photos.
    Sharing iPhone photos
  6. Now you can open the Files app on your iPhone and navigate to your connected external drive. Tap "Browse" at the bottom of your screen. The drive will be listed under "Locations". Select external drive on iPhone
  7. When viewing the folder on your external drive you wish to save your photos to, long press inside the folder, then tap "Paste".

Conclusion

There you have it - All the best methods to back up an iPhone to an external hard drive.

As you can see, each method has its own benefits, but you should now be able to make an informed decision about which best suits your needs.

For the most control over your iPhone content, we recommend using the TouchCopy software. With this program, you can copy exactly what files you want to your external drive. TouchCopy for Mac also allows you to make full backups of your iPhone to your external drive without needing to worry about creating symlinks in Terminal!

Or to quickly clear some space on your computer, you can simply move your existing iPhone backup from the computer to your external hard drive. Just remember that, unless you create a symlink on Mac, your computer will still create new backups to the default location on your computer.

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Publisher: Wide Angle Software