Backing up your iOS devices through iTunes is fast and convenient, but each backup you create deletes the previous one. This means that iTunes always leaves you with just the single, most recent backup.

While this is fine as long as everything is ok, it can quickly turn into a trap: let us assume that you accidentally deleted Notebooks (or another app) and its documents from your iPad; you know you can restore everything from your latest iTunes backup, so connect your iPad to iTunes; however, you set iTunes to immediately back up your iPad as soon as it is connected, and that this what iTunes does now: it backs up your iPad, deletes the previous backup containing your Notebooks documents, and leaves you no chance to restore your documents…

But wait! – If you have set up a backup mechanism that regularly backs up your computer’s hard drive (as a Mac user you are probably using Time Machine), you have backups of your iTunes backups, too. It is a bit tricky to retrieve them and get access to your documents, but if you really need them, here is what you do:

  1. On your backup disk, open the folder that contains the iTunes backup that should contain your lost notes and navigate to the following directory:

    Mac: Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup
    PC: \documents and settings\%user name%\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup

    If you have more than one iOS device, there may be several ID numbers and some of the entries have a date and time appended. In this case, the best way to find out which ID belongs to your iPhone/iPad in question is by opening one of the directories, looking for a file “Info.plist” and opening it in a text editor. At the very top of the file you will find something like…

    <key>Device Name</key>
    <string>My iPhone</string>

    … telling you which device the backup belongs to. This makes it easy to identify the backup we are looking for.

  2. Copy that backup folder to your Desktop. When finished, change the title of the folder by appending a date; this should make the folder unique

  3. Move the renamed folder to the backup directory (see above)

  4. If you have not already done so, download a Backup Extractor; a few examples are

  5. When you launch the application, click on Read Backup; this will look into your MobileSync/Backup directory and list all backups that it found, along with the date of the latest backup. The one you just restored from TimeMachine should be there as well. Select it, and then select “Notebooks” from the list of apps that appears and click “Extract”. Select a target folder on your computer (can as well be the Desktop) and click “Extract Here”. This will restore the whole contents of Notebooks to that folder.

    You can then copy the documents you need to Dropbox and sync the contents back into Notebooks.

  6. When finished, you can delete the backup folder, which you restored and copied into the MobileSync/Backup folder.

This procedure is non-destructive and I hope will help you restore your documents!

Retrieve older iTunes Backups from a Backup Disk

One thought on “Retrieve older iTunes Backups from a Backup Disk

  • September 3, 2013 at 10:14 am

    I think you can also chose “archive option” using click+ctrl. Itunes will keep a copy of the old back up archiv. I use snow leopard may be this option is not available on the more recent versions.

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